December 2002

Feuds for thought

Simon Wilde picks his top five rivalries

Simon Wilde picks his top five rivalries

1 Shane Warne v Daryll Cullinan
This will be many people's favourite. It had everything: comedy, tragedy, a clear winner and a clear loser. Cullinan was talented but fragile, which - the Australians noticed - he covered up for by sledging between dropping slip catches. Like plenty of South Africans, he had problems dealing with Warne's leg-spin but that did not stop him dishing out the who-ate-all-the-pies jibes. "Go and deflate yourself, you balloon," was one. But Cullinan himself deflated fast at the sight of Warne and in 1997 unwisely admitted in a newspaper interview that he'd sought psychiatric help. Warne greeted him with the words, "Daryll, I've waited so long for this moment and I'm going to send you straight back to the leather couch." Cullinan was out for nought and missed the rest of the series. The South African camp unsuccessfully sued for peace and the two spoke properly only after swapping shirts following the 1999 World Cup semi-final. "I expect this will take pride of place in the bunny's section," said Cullinan dolefully.

2 Merv Hughes v Mike Atherton
Merv Hughes right was one of the first of the modern Australian guard to indulge in what he called "verbal pressure" and he claimed it brought him around a quarter of his 212 Test wickets. He terrorised the young and faint-hearted with his sweating face, staring eyes, absurd moustache and crude wit. Mike Atherton readily fell into Hughes's sights in his debut series in 1989. "He snarled at me constantly through his ludicrous moustache," Atherton wrote in his autobiography. "He was all bristle and bullshit and I couldn't make out what he was saying, except that every sledge ended with `arsewipe'... I smiled and shrugged and saved my energy." Atherton was never a big talker but he got to know his foe by making a point of socialising with him after play; he found him extremely affable and after that was able to laugh off the abuse and take runs off Hughes in the next two Ashes series. But it did not stop Hughes continuing to call him an arsewipe.

3 Allan Donald v Mike Atherton
Atherton is an unlikely man to gain two entries in such a list, but his cussedness got under the skin of opponents, especially the rigid-thinking South Africans who couldn't think of ways to get round England's immovable object. Allan Donald, the serious-minded Afrikaner, suffered more than most. Perhaps he'd have done better if he'd shared Hughes's gift for humour. Atherton's heroics at Johannesburg in 1995-96 provided the basis for the rivalry but it was the duel at Trent Bridge in 1998 - which they each viewed as a career highlight - that showed both men in true colours. Atherton's refusal to walk despite plainly gloving a catch to the keeper emphasised his uncompromising nature; Donald's decline from demonic pace to uncontrollable impotence via technicolor expletives was a reminder that he could wilt when things went against him. But he plotted his revenge and gained it back at Jo'burg in 1999-2000 when Atherton humiliatingly collected a pair and England were routed. The match set up South Africa's series win.

4 Dennis Lillee v Derek Randall
Donald might have thought Atherton annoying but it could have been worse, he could have bowled at Derek Randall, who viewed batting as such a lonely occupation that he talked constantly to himself. Randall drove the Australians up the wall with his antics. Playing the innings of his life in the Centenary Test of 1977 above, he gave Lillee a running commentary as he hooked, pulled and fell out of the way of well-directed bouncers. "That was a good one, Mr Lillee!" he would shout, grinning broadly. On receiving the match award, he thanked Lillee for giving him a bump on the head: "If it had hit me anywhere else, it might have hurt." His opponents did not disagree. Lillee normally liked to sledge but nothing he said had an effect on the madman from Retford. "I hate bowling at you," Lillee once snarled. "It's so much harder hitting a moving target." But in the end, Randall's fidgeting around the crease got him into problems against pace.

5 Geoff Lawson v Desmond Haynes
By the mid-1980s, Geoff Lawson below left was arguably the world's foremost white fast bowler. Clive Lloyd, general of the mighty West Indies, saluted him as such and Lawson was not the type to disagree: he thought he was pretty good too. This was a period when the Australians, sick of being pummelled by Lloyd's pace battery, tended to try too hard to compensate for their shortcomings. Lawson, Desmond Haynes below right recalled, "was always chatting, saying abusive things". When West Indies toured Australia in 1984-85, the hosts virtually declared war by stating that they would not go to the aid of a stricken batsman. Then, at Brisbane, Lawson needled Haynes into making a two-fingered gesture, an incident for which Lawson was fined A$2,000. Relations between the sides went into freefall and the teams endured two further acrimonious series - although Lawson's involvement did not get beyond one match because his jaw got in the way of another Caribbean cannon. Unlike his face, the feud with Haynes was never patched up.