March 21, 2013

Deciphering the myths of sledging

From Steve Waugh telling Herschelle Gibbs he's dropped the World Cup to Ian Healy's "Mars Bar" sledge, many infamous cricket yarns have taken on lives of their own - to the point that some seem to have been completely fabricated

Did Daryll Cullinan ever suggest to Shane Warne that he had spent two years eating? © Getty Images

Got it again the other day. The email of those famous cricket "sledges". You know the one: Steve Waugh telling Herschelle Gibbs he dropped the World Cup, Ian Healy telling Arjuna Ranatunga he wasn't allowed a runner because he's overly fond of Mars Bars. All that.

Like electronic Chinese whispers these yarns have morphed and taken on lives of their own, becoming urban legends featuring any of a dozen cricketers per story. And in these days of the high-speed gossip medium called the Internet, with the malarkey zapping about at 47-million zetabytes per second, by the time the last person in the chain receives the message, Mark Waugh is giving Eddo Brandes' wife a packet of biscuits. Or whatever. But substantiated it is not. Until now.

A few years ago I went to the source - the principles of these tales - and asked them: did this happen? What I found may surprise and it may not. Arjuna doesn't like Mars Bars and Merv Hughes is a very funny man.

The Tale During a Test match in the West Indies, Merv Hughes was staring at Viv Richards after deliveries. Richards said: "Man this is my island, my culture. Don't you be staring at me like that." Merv didn't reply. But after he dismissed Richards he announced to the batsman: "Mate, in our culture we just say f*** off."

True or false? True. "When Viv came out to bat we had the West Indies in a bit of trouble," Hughes recalled. "On the last ball of an over I thought I had him fairly adjacent lbw but the ump didn't agree. I gave Viv a bit of a glare - as you do - and he was saying: 'This is my culture, these are my people, don't be staring at me like that'. And I just thought, 'Phew, he's a bit serious.' Next over, Allan Border could sense something happening and he's brought Dean Jones into silly mid-off, right under Viv's nose. And Viv's tried to slog me - Deano's eyes were like, 'Aaaah' - but been caught at mid-off. When I ran past I said: 'Mate, in our culture we'll just tell you to f*** off.'"

The Tale After Herschelle Gibbs dropped Steve Waugh during the 1999 World Cup, Waugh said: "Son, you've just dropped the World Cup."

True or False? False. "I wasn't quite that clever," Waugh confided to Australia's Inside Cricket magazine. "I wish I could claim that and the myth is sort of perpetuated and I'm going to break it a bit but it wasn't quite that. I just said: 'Look, do you realise you've just cost your team the game?'"

The Tale Glamorgan fast bowler Greg Thomas, after beating Somerset's Viv Richards a few times in an over, said: "Hey Viv, it's round, it's red and it weighs five ounces. Now try playing it!" Viv responded by smashing the ball out of the ground and saying to Thomas: "You know what it looks like, now you go and find it!"

True or False? True. While the players in this yarn have been cited as Ricky Ponting, Shaun Pollock, Ian Botham, Mark Waugh and Sir Garfield Sobers, it was the great IVA Richards who made the famous remark, as Glamorgan' archivist, Andrew Hignell, confirmed: "Greg's comments were: 'It's red, it's round and it's fast.' Their discussion happened in a match between Glamorgan and Somerset at Taunton."

True or False? After Arjuna Ranatunga called for a runner on a particularly hot evening in a one-dayer in Sydney, Ian Healy said: 'You don't get a runner for being fat'

The Tale Ian Botham came out to bat and was greeted by Rod Marsh who said: "G'day Ian. How's your wife and my kids?"

True or False? False. "It didn't happen," Marsh said. "It's not true at all." Ian Chappell concurred: "I wasn't playing in the 1977 series but Rodney would never have said that. We were always aware that references to wives, girlfriends, mothers etcetera were verboten."

The Tale In the 1991 Adelaide Test, Javed Miandad called Merv Hughes a "fat bus conductor". A few balls later Merv dismissed Miandad and as he ran past the departing batsman said: "Tickets please".

True or false? True. "Though he actually called me a fat bus driver," Hughes laughed. "We had them 3 for 20 when Javed came out. He played and missed a few times and I'd give him a glare and really wanted to say something but it was team policy not to target him verbally. Next over he bat-padded just short of David Boon, nicked one through slips and played and missed. I'm standing there mid-pitch and I really, really want to have a crack but AB was shaking his head. Then Javed called me a fat bus driver! When I got him I said: 'Tickets please.'"

The Tale After Arjuna Ranatunga called for a runner on a particularly hot evening in a one-dayer in Sydney, Ian Healy said: 'You don't get a runner for being fat".

True or false? True - up to a point. "I told him he couldn't have a runner for being unfit," Healy said. "He said, 'I've got cramp'. I said 'Yeah, because you're fat. Have a look at yourself'. But that e-mail thing, it's bullshit. I've never called anyone ever in my career a c-word or a coloured word. That's not right."

The Tale Healy to Ranatunga in the same match: "Hey Warney! Put a Mars Bars on a good length, that'll get him out of his crease!"

True or false? False. "That wasn't to Arjuna," Healy said. "That was said to a little guy in South Africa called Kosie Venter."

The Tale Shane Warne to incoming batsman Daryll Cullinan: "I've been waiting two years for this." To which Cullinan replied: "Looks like you've spent it eating."

True or false? Not completely sure … but probably false. Warne and Cullinan elected not to comment on this one, perhaps fearing that in a David-Boon-drinking-52-cans-on-a-flight-to-London-type way it might feed grist into the rumour mill. So perhaps it's true. Likely, though, it is not. Ian Healy kept in every innings Cullinan faced Warne and he has "no memory of it happening whatsoever".

The Tale In a Sheffield Shield game between New South Wales and South Australia, Steve Waugh was taking an eternity to take guard, asking the umpire for centre, middle and leg, two legs - the whole gamut. Then he stepped away towards leg side and had another look around the field, before re-checking centre. Jamie Siddons at slip decided enough was enough. "For Christ's sake," yelled Siddons. "It's not a Test match." To which Steve replied: "Of course it isn't. You're here."

True or false? False. "I don't remember it ever happening," Siddons said. "And wicketkeeper Tim Nielsen, who stood beside me when I was at slip most of my career, can't remember it happening either. Sorry. It's a good line - even witty - but it didn't ever happen."

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here