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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Princepurple1979 on March 22, 2013, 11:37 GMT

    The historic 1999 WI Vs Aus test..McGrath hit Lara on the helmet. Lara went for a run and while reaching the bowlers end he banged into MacGrath and both had a very very heated argument. Next ball saw a single and Lara getting back the strike! As expected Glen bowled a nasty short pitched delivery and lara hooked it for four! This was when the crowd was going ballistic which all made it one of the most memorable event in test cricket.

  • PakiPace on March 22, 2013, 8:32 GMT

    Javed Miandad to Dilip Doshi at Sharjah (in Urdu), after blocking each ball: "What's your room number?" After a few of these, Dilip finally back frustrated: "Why do you need to know my room number?" Miandad: "So I know where to hit you!" Next ball smashed out of the ground in the direction of the nearby team hotel.

  • on March 22, 2013, 7:27 GMT

    Ormond was involved in a notable piece of sledging; when, in a Test match against Australia in 2001, Mark Waugh asked him, "Mate, what are you doing out here? There's no way you're good enough to play for England." Ormond replied "Maybe not, but at least I'm the best player in my own family", a reference to Waugh's brother Steve, who was the captain of the Australian team.

  • Square-cutter on March 23, 2013, 9:25 GMT

    @ Mrcricket-eng....I heard a story that Michael Vaughan made a chainsaw noise to an Australian player after his pet gold fish was sawn in half by a crazy man in a ice hockey goal keeper's mask....i'm obviously joking....see how easy it is to slander someone with a ridiculous comment??? Any chance you could explain how it is you came across this information about Steve Waugh or are you just a gutless keyboard warrior making up ridiculous stories???

  • bsheep on March 23, 2013, 5:23 GMT

    So many good examples of sledging and banter without a single mention of Fiery Fred. I can vouch for Trueman's willingness to pass the fast jibe personally while on the field. Two not so well known comments made within my earshot on the Yorkshire tour to Canada in 1964 spring to mind. While batting against Ontario in Toronto, he hooked a ball over the trees into a neighbouring garden. The tinkle of glass prompted the comment "there'll be a breeze in the old boghouse tonight." I had a go at him from the other end, put a bouncer past him, and was challenged by "what did you have for breakfast, Spanish fly?" Surprisingly, off the field, clad in tour blazer, he was a model of quiet responsibility!

  • MrCricket_Eng on March 23, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    @ waldinho1... Totally agree the article above is making the Aussie's look all nice.

    Now I don't know if this is true or not but I have heard a story about Steve Waugh making a train sound to a Kiwi player whose wife died in a train crash of something similar. I can tell if it really happened the Kiwi must get an award for self-control because if it was me Australia would have been without Steve Waugh

  • JosRoberts on March 22, 2013, 15:08 GMT

    My Favourite was Darren Gough's ghost impression to Shane Watson (http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/image/410585.html). All he said was "WoooOooOooh". Australia were sleeping in a supposedly haunted hotel in Durham and Watson had apparently had to sleep on Brett Lee's floor after he got scared.

  • on March 22, 2013, 14:00 GMT

    what about when ian botham got dismissed and aemer sohail said him why dont he send his mother-in-law next to bat

  • on March 22, 2013, 13:51 GMT

    Flintoff to Best: Mind the windows Tino.

  • cricket-india on March 22, 2013, 13:43 GMT

    what about some oz 12th man to shastri...i'll effing run you out; to which shastri said if you're so effing good, you'd not be the 12th man...or something likethat?

  • Princepurple1979 on March 22, 2013, 11:37 GMT

    The historic 1999 WI Vs Aus test..McGrath hit Lara on the helmet. Lara went for a run and while reaching the bowlers end he banged into MacGrath and both had a very very heated argument. Next ball saw a single and Lara getting back the strike! As expected Glen bowled a nasty short pitched delivery and lara hooked it for four! This was when the crowd was going ballistic which all made it one of the most memorable event in test cricket.

  • PakiPace on March 22, 2013, 8:32 GMT

    Javed Miandad to Dilip Doshi at Sharjah (in Urdu), after blocking each ball: "What's your room number?" After a few of these, Dilip finally back frustrated: "Why do you need to know my room number?" Miandad: "So I know where to hit you!" Next ball smashed out of the ground in the direction of the nearby team hotel.

  • on March 22, 2013, 7:27 GMT

    Ormond was involved in a notable piece of sledging; when, in a Test match against Australia in 2001, Mark Waugh asked him, "Mate, what are you doing out here? There's no way you're good enough to play for England." Ormond replied "Maybe not, but at least I'm the best player in my own family", a reference to Waugh's brother Steve, who was the captain of the Australian team.

  • Square-cutter on March 23, 2013, 9:25 GMT

    @ Mrcricket-eng....I heard a story that Michael Vaughan made a chainsaw noise to an Australian player after his pet gold fish was sawn in half by a crazy man in a ice hockey goal keeper's mask....i'm obviously joking....see how easy it is to slander someone with a ridiculous comment??? Any chance you could explain how it is you came across this information about Steve Waugh or are you just a gutless keyboard warrior making up ridiculous stories???

  • bsheep on March 23, 2013, 5:23 GMT

    So many good examples of sledging and banter without a single mention of Fiery Fred. I can vouch for Trueman's willingness to pass the fast jibe personally while on the field. Two not so well known comments made within my earshot on the Yorkshire tour to Canada in 1964 spring to mind. While batting against Ontario in Toronto, he hooked a ball over the trees into a neighbouring garden. The tinkle of glass prompted the comment "there'll be a breeze in the old boghouse tonight." I had a go at him from the other end, put a bouncer past him, and was challenged by "what did you have for breakfast, Spanish fly?" Surprisingly, off the field, clad in tour blazer, he was a model of quiet responsibility!

  • MrCricket_Eng on March 23, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    @ waldinho1... Totally agree the article above is making the Aussie's look all nice.

    Now I don't know if this is true or not but I have heard a story about Steve Waugh making a train sound to a Kiwi player whose wife died in a train crash of something similar. I can tell if it really happened the Kiwi must get an award for self-control because if it was me Australia would have been without Steve Waugh

  • JosRoberts on March 22, 2013, 15:08 GMT

    My Favourite was Darren Gough's ghost impression to Shane Watson (http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/image/410585.html). All he said was "WoooOooOooh". Australia were sleeping in a supposedly haunted hotel in Durham and Watson had apparently had to sleep on Brett Lee's floor after he got scared.

  • on March 22, 2013, 14:00 GMT

    what about when ian botham got dismissed and aemer sohail said him why dont he send his mother-in-law next to bat

  • on March 22, 2013, 13:51 GMT

    Flintoff to Best: Mind the windows Tino.

  • cricket-india on March 22, 2013, 13:43 GMT

    what about some oz 12th man to shastri...i'll effing run you out; to which shastri said if you're so effing good, you'd not be the 12th man...or something likethat?

  • on March 22, 2013, 8:30 GMT

    You forgot harbhajan and symonds!

  • waldinho1 on March 22, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    Hmm perhaps the Aussies have a little bit of selective memory of anything that makes them look a wee bit bad??

  • mikefm on March 22, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    Brian MacMillan to Watkinson(?) in Cape Town after the latter had been dismissed for 0. "Never mind mate, Bradman got a duck in his last test innings". Brian was right, it was his last test innings!

  • on March 22, 2013, 6:33 GMT

    What about the one in the WI where Pigeon lost his rag? Was it Lara or Chanderpaul? I thing McGrath had the first go, and got smashed back, but I can't remember the specifics........

  • on March 22, 2013, 5:44 GMT

    @Robert Houlette: As far as I know, "at least I'm the bets player in my family" was said by England's James Ormond, standing in the slips to Mark Waugh, probably in the 2001 Ashes Test at the Kennington Oval (that was the only game in which both the players featured). Interestingly, Waugh scored a century in the game as did his brother.

  • andrew-schulz on March 22, 2013, 1:13 GMT

    Re 'about the author', Geoff Boycott never batted for days in the 1978/79 Ashes series. Mostly he was a very easy knock over for Hogg and Hurst.

  • on March 21, 2013, 23:50 GMT

    what about "at least I'm the best player in my family"? who to who?

  • keithmillersmesserschmitt on March 21, 2013, 23:35 GMT

    Good fun. Please serialise it. Perhaps we could vote on favourites. Make some suggestions for future sledging, and thereby do our bit for the cricket book publishing industry.

  • goldeneraaus on March 21, 2013, 23:32 GMT

    these are gold! thanks for doing the research.. merv hughes is a legend! haha and I hope that siddons one is true.. its bloody brutal

  • goldeneraaus on March 21, 2013, 23:32 GMT

    these are gold! thanks for doing the research.. merv hughes is a legend! haha and I hope that siddons one is true.. its bloody brutal

  • keithmillersmesserschmitt on March 21, 2013, 23:35 GMT

    Good fun. Please serialise it. Perhaps we could vote on favourites. Make some suggestions for future sledging, and thereby do our bit for the cricket book publishing industry.

  • on March 21, 2013, 23:50 GMT

    what about "at least I'm the best player in my family"? who to who?

  • andrew-schulz on March 22, 2013, 1:13 GMT

    Re 'about the author', Geoff Boycott never batted for days in the 1978/79 Ashes series. Mostly he was a very easy knock over for Hogg and Hurst.

  • on March 22, 2013, 5:44 GMT

    @Robert Houlette: As far as I know, "at least I'm the bets player in my family" was said by England's James Ormond, standing in the slips to Mark Waugh, probably in the 2001 Ashes Test at the Kennington Oval (that was the only game in which both the players featured). Interestingly, Waugh scored a century in the game as did his brother.

  • on March 22, 2013, 6:33 GMT

    What about the one in the WI where Pigeon lost his rag? Was it Lara or Chanderpaul? I thing McGrath had the first go, and got smashed back, but I can't remember the specifics........

  • mikefm on March 22, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    Brian MacMillan to Watkinson(?) in Cape Town after the latter had been dismissed for 0. "Never mind mate, Bradman got a duck in his last test innings". Brian was right, it was his last test innings!

  • waldinho1 on March 22, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    Hmm perhaps the Aussies have a little bit of selective memory of anything that makes them look a wee bit bad??

  • on March 22, 2013, 8:30 GMT

    You forgot harbhajan and symonds!

  • cricket-india on March 22, 2013, 13:43 GMT

    what about some oz 12th man to shastri...i'll effing run you out; to which shastri said if you're so effing good, you'd not be the 12th man...or something likethat?