England news January 23, 2015

Flintoff embroiled in ancient sledging war

Andrew Flintoff, seen on a guest appearance with England, will wonder whether to keep the gloves on © Getty Images

The debate over the extent of sledging in international cricket has taken an unusual turn as Andrew Flintoff and Daryll Cullinan have become embroiled in a debate over what really went on in the Bad Old Days.

Flintoff's insistence while making a guest appearance in the England nets that things were far worse in his day - and that Cullinan was the worst of the lot - has stung Cullinan into dismissing him as a "has been" and a "cricket comic".

The public stand-off between an Englishman who has come out of a five-year retirement to have a final tilt at Twenty20 and a South African who has not played first-class cricket for almost 10 years just goes to show that you can take an old cricketer out of the fire, but you can never quite take the fire out of an old cricketer.

Cullinan, the mainstay of South Africa's batting in the 1990s, gained a reputation as a champion sledger because of his famous riposte to Shane Warne, the Australian legspinner, who regarded him as a bit of a bunny.

"I've been waiting two years for another chance at you," Warne said as he came to the crease.

"Looks like you spent it eating," Cullinan replied.

There was less good humour around, however, after Flintoff, England's former allrounder, rounded off a Big Bash League stint with Brisbane Heat by naming Cullinan as the worst sledger he had ever experienced: a man who went beyond what was socially acceptable.

Current players, lambasted almost daily for on-field behaviour, will be grateful that attention has briefly turned to a spat between two cricketers who with respect have known better days.

"Twenty years ago, sledging was 10 times worse," Flintoff told the BBC. "Now, with stump microphones and cameras all over, everything gets picked up.

"One of the first Test matches I played against South Africa, there was one fella ... he was the worst I have ever come across - Daryll Cullinan.

"He was horrible. I was only young... the words he called me, I didn't even know what they meant. He just went at me and I don't think there's any place for that in any sport or any society."

Cullinan has shown no inclination to accept pariah status. Far from it. Instead, he has hit back strongly at the suggestion that he was cricket's most persistent sledger in an interview with the South African radio station CapeTalk567.

"I think he has embellished the story a bit too much," Cullinan said. "I think he's typical of a has-been at the moment. He's trying to stay in the limelight, travelling around the world and I think someone should just sit him down and just say to him he's being quite a cricket comic quite frankly."

It was tempting to assume that a former cricketer had responded to sledging allegations in the way he knew best: by sledging some more.

Cullinan's reference to Flintoff as a comic hardly does justice to someone who has fought back from career-ending injuries to play in last summer's NatWest T20 final with Lancashire.

But his Big Bash involvement, where he mixed TV commentary with stints on the microphone during his appearances for the Heat, and finished his season with a prolonged Elvis Presley impression on the boundary did have more in common with a celebrity light entertainment show than a serious sporting contest.

As to what passed between Cullinan and Flintoff in the English summer of 1998 when Flintoff, 10 years younger, took his first uncertain steps in international cricket, it must for the moment remain dimmed by time.

Cullinan is not even sure how long ago it was. "You're asking me about something 19 years ago," he said. "What's the point in having something to say about it. I think he's looking for attention quite frankly."

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

Comments