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Snow and Sunny's argy bargy

Cricket history is littered with no-nonsense characters, and two of the most single-minded ones came into contact when England met India at Lord's in 1971

Martin Williamson

August 11, 2007

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Flashpoint: John Snow and Sunil Gavaskar collide © The Cricketer

Cricket history is littered with no-nonsense characters, and two of the most single-minded ones came into contact when England met India at Lord's in 1971.

Public-school educated and a writer of poetry, John Snow was a fast bowler whose career took some time to take off, but when it did he became one of the great English fast bowlers. He was at his best in internationals - the county grind often bored him and he made no secret of the fact; and he wasn't overly worried who knew it.

In 1971 he was at his peak following an Ashes-winning winter in which he had taken 31 wickets. That tour was dogged by poor on-field conduct and it culminated in England leaving the field after Snow had felled Terry Jenner and sparked crowd trouble in the seventh Test at Sydney. Snow might have been a hero to supporters, but he was far from popular with those who ran the game.

Sunil Gavaskar was a diminutive opening batsmen who had exploded onto the Test scene with 774 runs in his first four Tests in the Caribbean, including four hundreds, as India pulled off a remarkable series win. He arrived in England with a fearsome reputation as "a young batsman of quite exceptional ability".

The three-match series kicked off at Lord's, where Snow starred with the bat, making a career-best 73 as they recovered from 71 for 5 to score 304. India replied with 313, Gavaskar making only his second score under 50. His dismissal came almost immediately after a dog had strolled on to the ground and sniffed around him. Gavaskar, who has a phobia about dogs, was rattled.

India's spinners bowled England out a second time for 191 - unsurprising as they had taken 109 of the 124 wickets to fall on the tour coming into the game - and India were set a last-day target of 183.

They lost two early wickets before Gavaskar and Farokh Engineer, who were both to open three years later, mounted a decent recovery. On the verge of lunch, Snow bowled to Engineer, who dropped the ball into the leg side and called for a quick single.

Snow, whose follow-through had taken him off the pitch but ahead of Gavaskar, changed direction to intercept the ball. At the same time Gavaskar, sensing that he was struggling to make his ground if the bowler fielded, accelerated. Snow sensed that "Gavaskar was doing the one thing all batsmen are taught and expected to do when they find themselves in that type of situation ... namely run over the ball".

Expecting a collision, Snow, who at more than six feet tall towered over the 5' 5" batsman, shifted his weight in anticipation. But Gavaskar did not do as expected and actually ran wider off the cut pitch. Snow, off balance, crashed into him.

"I found to my surprise that he was level with me," Gavaskar said, "and, with the ball nowhere near him, the hefty fast bowler gave me a violent shove. Now, Snow is well-built fast bowler with strong shoulders, so that poor little me had no chance!"

"As I made contact and Gavaskar started to fall, I could sense the shocked silence in the MCC committee room," Snow recalled. "I knew I was going to be in trouble. "

Gavaskar was sent sprawling. As he got up, Snow picked up his bat and gently tossed it to him "with not the best will in the world" the Times noted.

Gavaskar, though, wrote later that Snow "did not fling it as some newspaper reported". David Constant, the umpire, ambled towards Snow and said: "Come on now, we can't have any of that."

It was just one of those things

Gavaskar to Snow

The over finished and the players headed off. As Snow entered the dressing room he was met by Alec Bedser, the chairman of selectors. "Sorry about that," Snow said. "It was a bit unfortunate wasn't it?" Bedser asked him if he was going to apologise. "Sure," Snow replied. "Just let me get my shirt off and wipe away the sweat."

As Snow changed and prepared to head across the pavilion to the Indian dressing room, the door burst open and in stormed a fuming Billy Griffith, secretary of the Test & County Cricket Board (the forerunner of the ECB). "That's the most disgusting thing I've ever seen on a field," he spluttered.

Snow explained that he was going to apologise but Griffith wasn't about to let it go at that, and Snow certainly wasn't the kind of man to be bowed by an authority figure such as the MCC secretary. In the end Ray Illingworth, England's captain, had to ask Griffith to leave.

As a result of the row, Snow was in no mood to walk through the members to the Indian dressing room, and so he made his apology to Gavaskar when the players returned to the middle. "Sorry about that," he said. "Are you okay?" "Yes," Gavaskar replied. "It was just one of those things."

In an era before match referees, that was thought to be the end of it, and according to Snow both Gavaskar and the Indian management were happy when the sides had a drink later in the day after rain had washed the game out with India 38 runs short of victory and England needing two wickets.

The television coverage, while not as invasive as it is now, still replayed the incident many times, and it looked bad. On the Saturday following the match Snow was summoned to speak to Bedser and told he had been left out of the squad for the second Test. Bedser then explained that this was not a selectors' decision but that the order had "come from above".

Tell them they can stuff themselves

Snow's message to the selectors on being told he was dropped

There had been no hearing and Snow was livid. "If you're sending messages one way then you can send a message back," he said. "Tell them they can stuff themselves."

The media were told that Snow had not been considered for "disciplinary reasons" and Sussex then closed ranks with the establishment and told the press that they too were considering action. Nothing came of it but it fuelled speculation that Snow, who had talked about emigrating to Australia, would not sign a new contract with them (in the end he did, seeing out his career at Hove).

The press reaction was mixed. "Bedser is to be congratulated on his uncompromising comment and forthright action," thundered The Cricketer. "Players will soon adjust their attitudes once they know that certain standards will be consistently applied." The News of the World straddled both camps, running two articles which contradicted each other.

Snow was also omitted from the side for the deciding Test at The Oval, but was called up on the eve of the match when Middlesex's John Price failed a fitness Test. He was not at his best in a game where India made history, recording their first Test win in England and, in so doing, securing a 1-0 series victory. His only solace was that he dismissed Gavaskar in both innings, for 6 and 0.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

Sunny Days by Sunil Gavaskar (Rupa & Co, 2002)
Cricket Rebel by John Snow (Hamlyn, 1976)
The Cricketer

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo.

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