October 1, 2009

How rude, I say

Captains who lacked courtesy towards their opponents (or the game itself)

In the space of two Champions Trophy fixtures, Andrew Strauss has given the impression of being both a paragon of sporting virtue, by recalling Angelo Mathews to the crease after a collision led to him being run out, as well as a gamesman of the highest order, by refusing to allow Graeme Smith to call for a runner. The truth doubtless lies somewhere between the two extremes, but in his honour Cricinfo recalls other examples of captains displaying courtesy towards their opponents, or in most cases, not.

Paul Collingwood v New Zealand 2008
Collingwood is one of the game's more genial fellows and doesn't, as a rule, attract vitriol for his actions. But all that changed during a highly charged ODI against New Zealand at The Oval in 2008, during his brief but ill-fated spell as England's 50-overs skipper. With the match heading down to the wire, Grant Elliott patted Ryan Sidebottom back down the track and set off for a sharp single, only for Sidebottom, in his follow-through, to run straight into his path in a legitimate attempt to field the ball. The resultant body-check was a touch more than Elliott had bargained for, however, and as he was sent sprawling to the turf, clutching his thigh, Ian Bell picked up the ball and lobbed it to the non-striker's end, to complete a controversial run-out. Collingwood was given the chance to retract the appeal but declined, and it was England's good "fortune" that a final-ball fielding error ultimately gifted New Zealand a one-wicket victory, because it took the sting out of the subsequent criticism. For Collingwood, however, the press barbs were nevertheless unpleasant, and Strauss admitted that that incident had been foremost in his mind when he decided to recall Mathews in the victory over Sri Lanka on Friday.

Allan Border v England 1989
The original "Captain Grumpy" reached his apogee during Australia's all-conquering Ashes campaign in 1989, leading from the front with a snarl and a curse, and generally making England's feckless cricketers feel as though they had strayed into a war zone. The roots of his new attitude had been sown on the previous tour, in 1985, when an excessively matey attitude towards England's main men, most particularly David Gower and Ian Botham, had, in Border's estimation, gone a long way towards blunting his team's competitive edge. Four years on, and the extent of the conversation between the two captains was Border's curt "heads" at the toss. Meanwhile, out in the middle, he was prickly beyond compare, as Robin Smith famously discovered when asking for a glass of water during the Trent Bridge Test. "What do you think this is, a &*%^ing tea party?" retorted Border.

Douglas Jardine v Australia 1932-33
Captains don't come much more discourteous than Jardine, whose dedication to the task of winning back the Ashes tore at the very fabric of the British Empire. With his haughty manner, and Harlequin cap and neckerchief, Jardine set himself up as a hate figure throughout Australia, whose people he dismissed en masse as "uneducated" and an "unruly mob", and whose champion batsman, Don Bradman, he briefly reduced to the ranks of the mortals with his Bodyline bowling attack. It was ugly but effective, as the 4-1 series scoreline ultimately confirmed. "They don't seem to like you very much over here, Mr Jardine," said his team-mate, Patsy Hendren, during the second Test in Sydney. "It's f***ing mutual," Jardine is said to have replied.

Moin Khan v England 2000-01
England's tour of Pakistan in 2000-01 was a dirge of a series, played out on lifeless decks and in front of virtually empty stadia. Nevertheless, the tedium of the first 14 days gave way to a stunning heist on the 15th and final day, as England snatched a six-wicket victory in near-darkness, with approximately two minutes of remotely playable conditions remaining. The finale had been made possible by Pakistan's second-innings collapse, but even when England had been left with a plausible target of 176 in 44 overs, Pakistan's captain, Moin Khan, was contemptuous about the prospect of defeat, because he believed that by slowing the game to a crawl, the fast-fading December light would scupper even the most rapid England advance. And so he dallied over the most minute field adjustments, and switched his pacemen from over to round the wicket and back again to eat up further precious minutes, leading to England's 12th man, Matthew Hoggard, being dispatched to man the sightscreen. But no matter how slowly he allowed the game to progress, umpire Steve Bucknor was having none of it. He permitted play to continue long after the sun had sunk below the horizon, and England duly eked out a famous win.

Ricky Ponting v India 2007-08
"Only one team was playing in the spirit of the game, that's all I can say," said the usually mild-mannered Anil Kumble after a devastating defeat in Sydney, which was to have massive repercussions for the previously cordial relations between Australia and India. India slumped to defeat (despite posting the highest score of the match, 532, in their first innings), thanks ultimately to Michael Clarke snaffling three wickets in the penultimate over of the match. But the post-match atmosphere was poisonous to say the least, with Ponting emerging as the principle hate-figure - even among his own public. By even the most one-eyed standards, Australia benefited hugely from a string of umpiring howlers throughout the match, most notably Andrew Symonds, who survived an audible nick on 31 and went on to make a decisive 162. But even with that knowledge to hand, Australia's fielders continued to appeal for everything, however borderline, and when Ponting threw his toys from the pram after having a disputed catch turned down, his lack of grace was galling. "Arrogant Ponting must be fired," demanded Peter Roebuck in an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald. "He has turned a group of professional cricketers into a pack of wild dogs."

Chris Gayle v England 2009
There once was a time when to captain one's country in a Test match at Lord's would be the undisputed highlight of one's career. But when Chris Gayle sloped into England in early May, a mere 48 hours before the start of the first Test of West Indies' tour, it was clear that his priorities were somewhat different. True, Gayle had not been expecting to play in England in 2009 - Zimbabwe and then Sri Lanka had been England's intended opponents, and the riches on offer in the IPL were of far greater interest. Nevertheless, when he followed up a pitiful three-day defeat with a flippant interview with the Guardian, he left himself open to all manner of abuse. "I wouldn't be so sad if Test cricket died out," he drawled, a remark that caused consternation throughout the shires.

Stephen Fleming v Graeme Smith 2004
Smith's first year as an international captain was eventful, to say the least. He was just 23 when he took over from Shaun Pollock following South Africa's traumatic exit from the 2003 World Cup, and such was the limited esteem in which he was held that Nasser Hussain couldn't even remember his name during the pre-series press conference at Edgbaston later that summer - a slight to which "Greg" Smith responded with twin scores of 277 and 259, and Hussain's head on a pike after a 10-wicket victory at Lord's. But in New Zealand the following March, Smith's strutting start hit a black-capped roadblock in the shape of the uncompromising Kiwi captain, Fleming. Moments before Smith walked out to bat in the ODI series decider at Eden Park, Fleming crawled right under the skin of his young opponent with a pre-meditated volley of personally abusive invective. A bewildered Smith stumbled to 15 from 33 balls, and never recovered his poise as South Africa sleepwalked to a 1-5 series defeat. "I was just sharing some captaincy thoughts about the game with Graeme, which are mutually beneficial, I think," was Fleming's coy explanation.

Sourav Ganguly v Steve Waugh 2000-01
During his time as Australia captain, Waugh was never averse to a bit of mental disintegration... except when the tactic was turned back on himself. Never was this more successful than during the epic three-Test series against India in 2000-01, when Waugh's opposite number, Ganguly, got right up his nose. When Ganguly wasn't tapping up the groundsman and making suggestions about the surface he ought to prepare, he was turning up late for the toss then walking off by himself straight afterwards, an attitude that Waugh admitted "wound him up". The net result was one of the most memorable series turnarounds of all time, and while VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh could take most of the credit for the 2-1 scoreline, Ganguly nevertheless goes down as the only captain to outwit Waugh during his six-year tenure. Recently he claimed that the reason for the toss delay was his lack of blazer, and if that is the case, it was a masterstroke of absent-mindedness.

Viv Richards v England 1989-90
Viv Richards is the undisputed king of Caribbean cool - not even Gayle can hold a candle to him in that regard - but when England toured in the spring of 1990, he was a man under intense pressure. After a shock defeat in the opening Test, at Sabina Park, Richards missed the back-to-back draws that followed, where England came agonisingly close to a 2-0 lead in the closing stages at Trinidad. With two Tests of the series remaining, a decade-long unbeaten record was in some serious jeopardy. And so, on the penultimate evening in Barbados, with England set an improbable 356, Richards was determined to make even the slightest half-chance count. England had already lost Wayne Larkins early when a ball from Curtly Ambrose appeared to flick Rob Bailey's thigh pad on its way through to Jeff Dujon. Lloyd Barker, the umpire, initially turned down the appeal but Richards came charging down the pitch from first slip, wagging his finger maniacally. Barker was most of the way to square leg before he belatedly raised his finger, and at 10 for 2, England were in deep trouble. "When I looked at the TV replays he had clearly missed it... my angle and position told me he had hit it," Richards later admitted, but he added that while had had appealed "long and loud", the umpire was to blame. "It was up to him to retain his composure and make his decision."

Arjuna Ranatunga v England 1998-99
Sri Lanka's Napoleonic general was the great galvanising influence that transformed his team from serial whipping boys to World Champions, but he wasn't afraid of putting noses out of joint along the way. The list of players he rubbed up the wrong way is longer even that the list of charges levelled at him by the ICC's match referees, but perhaps his most infamous standoff involved the Australian umpire Ross Emerson during a foul-tempered ODI against England in Adelaide in 1998-99. Four years earlier Emerson had called Muttiah Muralitharan for chucking, and even as the match got underway, speculation was rife that history was about to repeat itself. Sure enough, Emerson obliged, whereupon Ranatunga's reaction was to lead his players from the field. They eventually returned to pull off a thrilling one-wicket victory chasing a hefty 303, but by then the spirit of the game had crumbled. Darren Gough feigned a head-butt at Roshan Mahanama, while England's captain, Alec Stewart, barged Upul Chandana, but Ranatunga, the great stirrer, was the only man to appear in the dock afterwards.

Garry Sobers v England 1968
As if to prove that courtesy has no place in the hard-nosed world of international sport, Sobers' moment of generosity during an otherwise attritional series against England in 1968 cost him not only the series but also huge swathes of his hard-earned reputation as well. Going into the penultimate Test of the tour, and with three drawn matches already chalked up, Sobers' gambling instincts took hold of his senses and ran with them, as he opted to declare on the final day of the match with a slender lead of 214, and two-and-three-quarter hours still remaining. It was an opportunity that England's batsmen could not resist, as Geoff Boycott and Basil D'Oliveira chalked off the runs with seven wickets standing and only three minutes of play in hand. By the time they had dug in for a tense draw in Guyana the following week, England had secured a 1-0 lead that would be their last victory in the Caribbean for 36 years. Sobers finished the tour with 545 runs at 90.83 and 13 wickets, but alas, his name throughout the region was mud.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments