Cricketing Rifts 5: 1950s - Many mutinies against the skippers

Sir Garfield Sobers (left) and Rohan Kanhai share a joke together after arriving at Brisbane International Airport in Brisbane, Australia, in November 2000 to attend the 40th anniversary celebrations of the first-ever Tied Test. But things were not so cool when the two champion batsmen were at the pomp of their careers and Sir Frank Worrell had to intervene to nip a potentially-epic rivalry in the bud © Getty Images


The Dhoni-Sehwag rift may have been true or blown out of proportion by the media. However, far from being unique, discords such as this have been commonplace in the history of the game. In this series, Arunabha Sengupta looks at some of the most famous feuds of cricket. 


Hutton and Trueman – Yorkshiremen at odds  


Freddie Trueman was never at a loss for a rejoinder on the ground, and some of his captains copped it fair and square. Once, on being called back to bowl after only a two over breather, with the rousing words, “Come on, Fred,England expects,” he had mumbled back, “She expects, does she? No wonder she is called the ruddy Mother Country.”


Most often the banter tended to be good humoured and typical Yorkshire, and most captains ended up with a good chuckle. However, during his first overseas tour to the West Indies in 1953-54, the conflict with the captain, who himself was an archetypical Yorkshireman, turned dead serious and was to keep him out of several subsequent tours.


The situation in the Caribbean at the time of the tour was extremely volatile. The old colonial rule was being challenged and people were demanding independence. The off the field atmosphere was on a knife’s edge and the team could have done well with a charming diplomatic skipper. However, Len Hutton was the first professional cricketer who had been entrusted with leading a touring England team, and he wanted to win at all costs.


The English team was an extremely strong one, boasting players like Peter May, Denis Compton, Tom Graveney, Jim Laker, Tony Lock, Trevor Bailey, Brian Statham, Johnny Wardle and Godfrey Evans apart from Trueman and Hutton. And the first instruction given to this group by the skipper was not to fraternise with the opponent.


This attitude rubbed the West Indian press and public the wrong way. CLR James wrote that this team was actively disliked. Trueman himself was far from amused. He was a gregarious soul who thrived on fraternising and had made friends with Frank Worrell and other West Indians while playing English league cricket. He objected strongly to Hutton’s policy, and claimed that he was not alone, especially as the captain did not back the order with reasons.  For his own part, Trueman was not exactly someone to allow others dictate his choice of friends.


On his first tour as a big fast bowler, the new hero of English cricket, Trueman found himself in hot water for incidents on and off the field.


In one of the first games, a thunderbolt hurled by him hit the esteemed and aging George Headley, and fractured his arm. This, even though largely unintentional, did cause a lot of problems. However, constantly barracked by the crowds, he did himself no favours during one of the warm-up matches by hitting a batsman deliberately with a bouncer and going back to his bowling mark without making any attempt to find out how he was.


Soon, he was nicknamed Mr Bumper Man and a calypso was composed about him based on The sea shanty Drunken Sailor.


His image as a troublemaker was thus intensified, and once he and Tony Lock were squarely blamed for some off the field episode that they were not responsible for – and was in fact carried out by the Golden Boy of English cricket, Denis Compton.


There is a fascinating story about Trueman during the tour, which in all probability is a manufactured legend, but brings out his trouble-seeking image during the tour. At a social dinner, he is said to have ordered a local dignitary, apparently the Indian High Commissioner, with the words – “Pass t’salt, Gunga Din.”


Whatever was the true extent of his exploits on the tour, Hutton described the fiery fast bowler as a problem child and largely due to the captain’s report, Trueman was docked his good conduct bonus.


In all fairness to Hutton, on and off the field, this was a difficult tour. West Indies took a 2-0 lead early on beforeEngland clawed back to square the series 2-2, with the crowd baying for their blood. And Trueman was really somewhat difficult to handle in the circumstances.


But, ‘Fiery Fred’ as he was called, despite having the highest regard for Hutton the batsman, was never able to forgive his captain. He did not tour again till 1959, and as a result missed quite a few Tests in his career. His ultimate tally of 307 wickets from 67 Tests stood as a world record for more than a decade before Lance Gibbs trudged past it, and at an average of 21.57, it still stands as one of the best records of any fast bowler.


However, till the end of his life, Trueman carried the grievance that had it not been for Hutton’s unfair treatment, he would have played at least 100 Tests for England and topped 400 wickets.


Off-spinner put off by the skipper’s comments


Jim Laker is still remembered for his 19 wickets against the hapless visiting Australians at Old Trafford in 1956. His 193 wickets in 46 Tests at 21.24 reads like the career record of a champion fast bowler, and to many a good batsman his off-spin seemed as scary as the fastest of deliveries. With left-arm spinner Tony Lock, he formed one of the most intimidating spinning partnership for England and Surrey, instrumental in seven consecutive county championship victories from 1952-58 for the latter.


His first-class tally of 1,944 wickets at 18.41 makes it incredibly difficult to believe, but on one occasion, the Englandand Surrey captain Peter May did accuse him of not really trying during a 1958 county fixture.


Needless to say, Laker was not amused. Reacting to the skipper’s slight, the great off-spinner withdrew his availability for the forthcoming Ashes tour. It was an ego clash that hung in the air for an eternity. Neither of the legends showed any inclination of backing down, and it was only after some astute diplomatic manoeuvres of the selectors that the impasse was resolved and a compromise was found so that Laker could go to Australia.


The Ashes series was not a happy one. There were a lot of controversies with regard to ‘throwing’ and a much younger Australian line up easily routed the English side 4-0. Laker himself had a successful tour, capturing 15 wickets at 21 apiece, but he was critical of the management and the tactics of the English team.


Back in England, in the county championships of 1959, Surrey’s seven-year winning streak came to an end. In the process, Laker ended up having increasing doubts about the captaincy of May both at the first class and Test levels.


In 1960, a rather patchily-ghosted autobiography of Laker was published. In this book, titled Over to Me, Laker severely criticised May’s captaincy, the management of the English team during the 1958-59 tour, as also the attitude of both May and the Surrey club authorities towards their county side. The writing was largely ordinary and dry, but the views of Laker were explosive and caustic. It resulted in a lot of sensation, and eventually his loss of honorary memberships of MCC and the Surrey County Club.


Laker did apologise for some of the passages when he owned up that he had not spent sufficient time with the writer who had ghosted the work. The lost memberships were restored to the greatest off-spinner in the history of England, but he never again played for Surrey or the country.


When the fast bowler pulled a knife on the captain


Roy Gilchrist was one of the fastest bowlers West Indies has ever produced, and given that we are talking of a cricketing power that used to produce high quality fast men by the dozen, it is saying a lot.


When Wes Hall undertook his debut series in India in 1958-59, he himself bowled at a Pace Like Fire – later the title of his refreshingly-entertaining autobiography. And yet, when the clueless Indian batsmen faced the duo, they tried to score off Hall because compared to Gilchrist he seemed less lightning fast and more playable.


In spite of his formidable reputation, Gilchrist played just 13 Tests for West Indies, capturing 57 wickets at 26.68.


His career could have been considerably longer, but was cut tragically short due to altercations with the opponents and finally a showdown with his captain, the Cambridge-educated Gerry Alexander.


Gilchrist had a penchant for intimidating batsmen by overstepping by yards and hurling beamers from up close. In the fourth Test match at Nagpur, when struck for three consecutive boundaries by AG Kripal Singh, he charged beyond the line by six yards and bowled a bouncer that struck the Sikh batsman on the head.


Warned by his captain, Gilchrist claimed that the Cambridge University man was speaking down to him and not at him.


Things came to an irreversible head when, in the next match against North Zone at Amritsar, the fast bowler started bowling beamers at left-handed batsman Swaranjit Singh.


Alexander, who had known Swaranjit at Cambridge, asked Gilchrist to stop the barrage at once, but the paceman refused to listen. During lunch, the captain substituted him and said, “You will leave by the next flight. Good afternoon.” It is rumoured, but never explicitly verified, that Gilchrist had pulled a knife on his captain.


That marked the end of a promising Test career. Later Gilchrist did play in the Lancashire League and had the dubious distinction of uprooting a stump and hitting a batsman on the head with it.


A legendary captain turns epic rivalry into positive energy


However, not all the rivalries in this era ended in mutinies. When increasing personal landmarks and adulation across Australia had threatened to create cutthroat competition between two young touring West Indian batsmen called Garfield Sobers and Rohan Kanhai, the ideal captain, Sir Frank Worrell, had stepped in.


The West Indians were themselves divided in the evaluation of the two champion batsmen. So were the Australian cricketers.


When ex-cricketer and journalist Jack Fingleton had discussions with some of the Australians on board a ship bound for England, no consensus could be reached. Those who had seen them play in Sydney and Brisbane leaned towards Sobers, and the others from Melbourne and Adelaide vouched for Kanhai. In those days, it boiled down to the number of people in front of whom the batsmen had made runs.


Worrell was not slow to realise what this rivalry could do to his team, especially as Kanhai had already been spurred by the comparisons to become impulsive in his calling, featuring in many a run out.


In Tasmania, Worrell called for a special team meeting and spoke straight and to the point, sparing neither sentiment nor feelings. The West Indies team, he made clear, was in Australia to make a reputation for the country, not for any individuals. Additionally, he pointed out, that both the phenomenally-talented youngsters formed the bulwark of the batting.


A budding rivalry of epic proportions, which might have ended in self-destructive bitterness for the West Indian team, was thus nipped in the bud, and the two greats ended up with more than 14000 Test runs and 41 centuries between them.


(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)


Cricketing Rifts – 1: The Bradman-centric & religion-fuelled Australian feuds


Cricketing Rifts – 2: Vizzy, Lala Amarnath & CK Nayudu


Cricketing Rifts – 3: The intense animosity between Don Bradman & Wally Hammond


Cricketing Rifts – 4: India in the 1940s Merchant-Hazare and Amarnath-De Mello