March 21, 2014

Of Scarlet, Fitteran, Cho, and others

Cricket nicknames have been a part of Australian cricket for centuries, and they don't look like they are going away anytime soon

FOT, Claw and Fergie at Lord's in 1972 © PA Photos

If you grow up playing cricket in Australia, chances are you will be given a nickname. And while nicknames have always been a part of England, they caught on Down Under, seemingly from the instant convicts started being transported to Botany Bay in 1788. The Cockneys and Yorkies especially always loved - still do, I suspect - calling a bloke with red hair "Bluey", and the Aussies love that sort of raw humour.

The first documented cricket nicknames date from 1868, when an Australian Aboriginal team toured England. The men had been given sobriquets because their pastoral lords apparently could not pronounce or correctly spell their tribal names. The specialist batsman Ballrinjarrimin was called Sundown. He never bowled and was a poor fieldsman, yet Sundown recorded his highest score in England - 1, in 1868. Extraordinarily for a specialist batsman, that one run was the only time he ever scored a run in any match in his life.

However, others excelled. Unarrimin, or Johnny Mullagh, hit 1698 runs at 23.65, and took 245 wickets in 45 matches. Murrumganarrimin, or Twopenny, hit a ball so high in the air against the Gentlemen of Sheffield at Bramall Lane on that tour that the batsmen ran nine.

Australian opening batsmen Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford were called Mutt and Jeff, after the comic-strip characters. Clarrie Grimmett was known variously as Grum and Scarlet: as a boy of 14, Bill O'Reilly, who later became a great Test legspinner, saw Grimmett play at Goulburn when the Victoria side was returning home after a fixture against NSW after World War I. The scoreboard attendant had Clarrie's surname wrong: it read "Grummitt". So from then on for O'Reilly, Grimmett was always "Grum." Imagine how Charles Dickens might have used Grimmett or Grummett in David Copperfield or Oliver Twist. The other sobriquet, Scarlet, came from Grimmett's habit of always wearing a red singlet under his shirt.

Some nicknames are clever, based on the conventions of rhyming slang, like that of the Australian opening batsman of the 1970s, NSW-based Alan Turner, who was called "Fitteran".

Dennis Lillee got his when he had just begun playing for Western Australia. His captain, Tony Lock, called him aside and said, "Dennis, you are bowling like a flippin' old tart." WA team-mate John Inverarity coined a nickname from that utterance, and Lillee from then on was known as "FOT".

Rodney Marsh became Bacchus - not derived from the god of wine, but from when the side took a train through the Victorian countryside once and they stopped momentarily at a station, where they set eyes on a sign emblazoned with the phrase "Bacchus Marsh".

Opening batsman Ashley Woodcock became Splinter Dick; David Sincock was Evil Dick. And Victoria allrounder Johnny Grant became "General."

Rutherford explained that he was trying to calculate the height and speed of an aircraft that was flying high above them. "From now on, Rutherford, you will be known as Pythagoras," Miller decreed

Johnny Gleeson, the finger-flick spinner of the 1960s, was called by the obscure name of CHO. As with Lillee's, it was an acronym; in Gleeson's case it meant Cricket Hours Only, because that was the only time you saw him.

Fast bowler Jeff Hammond was called Crayfish, for his action, which was "all arms and legs". Test allrounder Alan Davidson was Claw, in the wake of some outstanding one-handed grabs around the corner, diving. Test batsman Martin Kent was called Super, in a reference to Clark Kent. Speaking of comic-book heroes, in 1956 the great opening batsman Bill Lawry was the first to turn up at a railway station to travel with his Victoria team-mates. When the others turned up, he was seen sitting on a bench reading a Phantom comic. Naturally, he was tagged with the name. Graham McKenzie, who had the build of an Amazon, became Garth, after a muscle-bound British newspaper comic-strip character.

Fast bowler Jeff Thomson was Two Up, a nickname that evolved from a favourite gambling haunt in Sydney, Thommo's Two Up School.

Bob Massie, the swing bowler who took an amazing 16 wickets in his debut Test at Lord's in 1972, was known as Fergie, a name derived from that of the company* Massey Ferguson.

Allrounder Graeme Watson had a haircut that resembled those that pop stars of the '60s wore, and so he became Beatle. Also in the realm of music, fast bowler Jason Gillespie was inevitably named Dizzy, after the famous jazz trumpeter.

During Australia's tour of England in 1956, WA opening bat John Rutherford was standing at third slip alongside Keith Miller, when Miller (who himself had a nickname, "Nugget"), noticed Rutherford looking skywards. On enquiry, Rutherford explained that he was trying to calculate the height and speed of an aircraft that was flying high above them, leaving a vapour trail. "From now on, Rutherford, you will be known as Pythagoras," Miller decreed.

A few others from around my day include Tony "Rocket" Mann, Kerry "Skull" O'Keeffe, Eric "Fritz" Freeman, Neil "Ghoul" Hawke, and John "OGO" McLean.

Other cricket-playing countries have their share of nicknames. South Africa's Hugh Tayfield was Toey because of his habit of tapping the top of his right foot on the ground just before he began his short approach to the wicket. Then there were Eddie "Bunter" Barlow and Barry "Glue" Richards. Natal youngster Barry got his sobriquet after standing his ground when apparently caught close to the wicket once on Australia's 1966-67 tour of South Africa.

West Indies have had some enduring nicknames and phrases for their players. Viv Richards was the Master Blaster, Michael Holding became Whispering Death, and Clive Lloyd was the Groover or Super Cat. I don't know where, "Rohan, Kanhai Seymour Nurse?" fits but it is a phrase that had possibilities.

England had a few good 'uns, such as "Fiery", which relates to both Fred Trueman and Geoff Boycott. Keith Fletcher was the Gnome, Colin Cowdrey was Kipper. There were also Frank "Typhoon" Tyson, Ian "Beefy" Botham, and Derek "Deadly" Underwood.

New Zealand had Richard "Paddles" Hadlee, and Martin Crowe was called Hogan, given his likeness to US actor Bob Crane, who played the part of Colonel Hogan in the sitcom Hogan's Heroes.

I haven't learnt of many nicknames among cricketers in the subcontinent. Of those I've heard of, the Nawab of Pataudi, who led India, was known as Tiger, and of course, Sachin Tendulkar, was the Little Master - as was Sunil Gavaskar before him.

Nowadays nicknames still abound Down Under. Michael "Pup" Clarke comes to mind, and from the recent past, Tugga for Steve Waugh. So the tradition continues.

When I first came to Adelaide from Perth in 1967, I was 12th man for the first match. Not a word did I utter unless I was answering a question from one of the players. After pouring the drinks at the close of play on day three, the keeper, Barry Jarman, walked past me, stopped abruptly, turned and yelled: "Shut up, you rowdy bugger!" The nickname stuck. And some, as we know, live forever.

04:59:06 GMT, March 21: Massey Ferguson was initially wrongly identified in the article as an Australian company

Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson, Ian Chappell, and most recently of Dr Donald Beard, The Diggers' Doctor