Merv Hughes: 11 facts about the fiery, moustachioed Australian pacer

Born on November 23, former Australian pacer Mervyn Gregory Hughes, or simply Merv Hughes, turns 54 today. The pacer, known for a variety of traits such as his disciplined line and length as well as his aggressive charm on the field, will forever go down in history as one of the greatest sledgers in the sport. Such is his association with the art of getting under the opposition’s skin that people to this day turn around and look at him whenever there is a discussion on the topic (as confessed by the person in question himself). Amit Banerjee presents 11 facts on the retired pacer on the occasion of his birthday.

1.  Humble origins: Before going on to terrorise batsmen with hostile spells, Hughes had to endure a lot of struggle in order to make a mark for himself in life. The Victorian worked at a clothing factory as a teenager, following which he worked as a menswear salesman as well as at a toy store. Clearly, life is not a bed of roses, as Merv’s early years would suggest.

2.  Australian-rules football: Australia is known for its sporting culture, where getting involved with sports right from an early age as well as playing more than one sport is quite widely practised. Thus, Hughes was involved both with cricket as well as Australian Rules Football before making his international debut in cricket. In fact his large frame was quite useful for him in Aussie-rules. He, however, had to retire from the sport after 95 appearances for Victorian Football League side Werribee.

3.  Binge-drinking on debut: Hughes was said to have been involved in a ‘titanic drinking session’ with national selector Greg Chapell, in a bid to impress his seniors around the time of his debut in 1985-86. According to an article in The Guardian, an anxious Hughes had downed two beers in the early evening and nervously sipped soda water till midnight in the absence of company.

4.  Sledge-master: The art of sledging is one which the Australians seemed to have trademarked for themselves. “The practice of making taunting or teasing remarks to an opposing player, especially a batsman, in order to disturb their concentration,” reads the definition of the term on the Oxford Dictionary’s website. Over the years, the Australians, fuelled by their aggressive brand of the sport, have gone under the skin of many an opposition player, with Hughes being one of the frontrunners in this regard. His cartoonishly aggressive appearance only enhanced that image.

Among his most famous instances of sledging was his banter with England batsman Graham Gooch, where the latter was unable to pick his line for a long time. Hughes went up to the batsman and was quoted as saying: “Would you like me to bowl a piano and see if you can play that”. Among his other gems is his exchange with Zimbabwe-born English cricketer Graeme Hick, to whom Hughes was once quoted as saying: “Mate, if you just turn the bat over you’ll find the instructions on the other side”.

5.  Crowd favourite: Hughes was loved by the spectators back home, who would often imitate his warm-up stretches in unison (which Ronnie Irani also got to experience during a triangular ODI series at the MCG in 2002-03). The crowd would also go on to chant “Sumo” when he would run up to bowl.

6.  Split hat-trick: Hughes has one of the rarest achievements in international cricket to his credit — a split hat-trick. During the 1988-89 series against West Indies at home, Hughes got rid of Curtly Ambrose and Patrick Patterson off consecutive deliveries — but different overs to bring the West Indian first innings at the WACA in Perth to a close. He then managed to complete his hat-trick by dismissing Gordon Greenidge off the first ball of the visitor’s second innings. His hat-trick was thus spread across three overs and two innings!

7.  Fruit-fly: Yes, that was the nickname that big Merv earned during his playing days for being the pest that he was, which still remains associated with him to this day.

8.  Was offered GBP 25,000 to shave off his moustache: Yes! That was the amount that Hughes was offered to get rid of his moustache — a whopping 25,000 pounds. Although, Hughes was said to have refused the offer, such was his love for his ‘stache!

9.  Controversial stint as selector: His tenure as a member of the national selection panel was not a very happy one, with Australia losing their No. 1 ranking during this period. Not all his decisions and comments as selector were appreciated by the players and public. One of the most famous events during his reign was the 2005 Ashes, in which Australia’s 18-year hold over the urn came to an end in the most spectacular style.

10.  Celebrity appearances: After retiring from cricket due to growing physical concerns, Hughes made several appearances on television, including Channel Nine’s Celebrity Overhaul (where he was the top performer!), as well as the Australian version of I’m a celebrity…Get me out of here!, where he was in for some controversy after threatening to chop a female contestant’s head off with a machete.

11.  Football fan: Hughes admitted to being a fan of English football club Tottenham Hotspur for the last two decades or so. He was once watching the FA Cup final, where “everyone was supporting the other club except the guy who was sitting next to him and supporting the Hotspurs”. The Spurs won, and that made him a fan for life!

(Amit Banerjee, a reporter at CricketCountry, takes keen interest in photography, travelling, technology, automobiles, food and, of course, cricket. He can be followed on Twitter via his handle @akb287)