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
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FOT, Claw and Fergie at Lord's in 1972
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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • jay57870 on March 24, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    Ashley - What's in a Nickname? "That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet"! Pardon Juliet, those are the famous words of Shakespeare - "The Bard of Avon" - England's "poet" par excellence. More a title than a nickname. Methinks the titular "Little Master" is conferred on the best "shorty" batsmen on the sub-continent. Hanif Mohammad of Pakistan was the first great LM. India's best 2 LMs actually have real nicknames: "Tendlya" for Tendulkar & "Sunny" for Sunil Gavaskar. Nicknames aside, there's a whole wide world of cricket Surnames waiting to be explored. A preliminary look in cricinfo shows "Smith" to be popular (27 cricketing nations) primarily in the Anglo world. But even more popular is "Khan" (41 nations) which gives a whole new meaning to the movie: "My name is Khan"! Even Suriname (pardon again) has one cricketer Khan, but surprisingly none in OZ though it has a lone "Sharma"! So Ashley, for name's sake, how about more "Of Khan, Smith, Sharma, & others"?

  • TheBigBoodha on March 22, 2014, 0:55 GMT

    Of course there's Geoff "Henry" Lawson.

    We should also make a distinction between nicknames that are actually used - i.e. their mates actually call them that, and those that are just recollected occasionally as a kind of joke.

    PrasPunter, Gavaskar USED to ridicule everything Australian? Since when did he desist? Chip the size of an iceberg.

  • Jonathan_E on March 21, 2014, 19:39 GMT

    Among English nicknames, Chris Old was "Chilly" (C.Old), Geoff Arnold was "Horse" because his initials were G.G.: Graham Dilley was "Picca", and Mike Brearley, thanks to sporting a magnificent beard on one occasion, became "The Ayatollah". And heading back to Australia, Peter Sleep was "Sounda"...

  • steve48 on March 21, 2014, 18:18 GMT

    @starvethelizard , sorry, was an attempt at ironic humour, trying to mask my disgust at Giles Clarke and the current 'team england' regime!

  • MartinInSydney on March 21, 2014, 12:00 GMT

    Best cricket nickname I ever heard was for South African bowler Monde Zondeki. He was called 'All Hands' Zondeki.

  • C.Gull on March 21, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    @PrasPunter, you gotta love the story behind Church - a young autograph hunter asks Gilly "are you Eric Gilchurch?"

  • on March 21, 2014, 11:46 GMT

    The daddy of them all has been left out - Braddles. WG Grace was The Doc, Spofforth was The Demon and Trevor Bailey The Barnacle.

  • on March 21, 2014, 11:29 GMT

    one of the best nicknames I ever heard that went to an international cricketer was the late New Zealand player Fen Cresswell, who was nicknamed the 'Ferret' because his batting was so poor, he was always expected to come in after the rabbits.

  • aus_trad on March 21, 2014, 9:57 GMT

    Yes, nice article Rowdy. Just one point: I doubt that "Garth" McKenzie would appreciate being told that he had "the build of an Amazon" (google "Amazon")!

  • VicPride on March 21, 2014, 9:45 GMT

    Don't forget Chris 'Buck' Rogers Also no mention of Pigeon and Binga

  • jay57870 on March 24, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    Ashley - What's in a Nickname? "That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet"! Pardon Juliet, those are the famous words of Shakespeare - "The Bard of Avon" - England's "poet" par excellence. More a title than a nickname. Methinks the titular "Little Master" is conferred on the best "shorty" batsmen on the sub-continent. Hanif Mohammad of Pakistan was the first great LM. India's best 2 LMs actually have real nicknames: "Tendlya" for Tendulkar & "Sunny" for Sunil Gavaskar. Nicknames aside, there's a whole wide world of cricket Surnames waiting to be explored. A preliminary look in cricinfo shows "Smith" to be popular (27 cricketing nations) primarily in the Anglo world. But even more popular is "Khan" (41 nations) which gives a whole new meaning to the movie: "My name is Khan"! Even Suriname (pardon again) has one cricketer Khan, but surprisingly none in OZ though it has a lone "Sharma"! So Ashley, for name's sake, how about more "Of Khan, Smith, Sharma, & others"?

  • TheBigBoodha on March 22, 2014, 0:55 GMT

    Of course there's Geoff "Henry" Lawson.

    We should also make a distinction between nicknames that are actually used - i.e. their mates actually call them that, and those that are just recollected occasionally as a kind of joke.

    PrasPunter, Gavaskar USED to ridicule everything Australian? Since when did he desist? Chip the size of an iceberg.

  • Jonathan_E on March 21, 2014, 19:39 GMT

    Among English nicknames, Chris Old was "Chilly" (C.Old), Geoff Arnold was "Horse" because his initials were G.G.: Graham Dilley was "Picca", and Mike Brearley, thanks to sporting a magnificent beard on one occasion, became "The Ayatollah". And heading back to Australia, Peter Sleep was "Sounda"...

  • steve48 on March 21, 2014, 18:18 GMT

    @starvethelizard , sorry, was an attempt at ironic humour, trying to mask my disgust at Giles Clarke and the current 'team england' regime!

  • MartinInSydney on March 21, 2014, 12:00 GMT

    Best cricket nickname I ever heard was for South African bowler Monde Zondeki. He was called 'All Hands' Zondeki.

  • C.Gull on March 21, 2014, 11:59 GMT

    @PrasPunter, you gotta love the story behind Church - a young autograph hunter asks Gilly "are you Eric Gilchurch?"

  • on March 21, 2014, 11:46 GMT

    The daddy of them all has been left out - Braddles. WG Grace was The Doc, Spofforth was The Demon and Trevor Bailey The Barnacle.

  • on March 21, 2014, 11:29 GMT

    one of the best nicknames I ever heard that went to an international cricketer was the late New Zealand player Fen Cresswell, who was nicknamed the 'Ferret' because his batting was so poor, he was always expected to come in after the rabbits.

  • aus_trad on March 21, 2014, 9:57 GMT

    Yes, nice article Rowdy. Just one point: I doubt that "Garth" McKenzie would appreciate being told that he had "the build of an Amazon" (google "Amazon")!

  • VicPride on March 21, 2014, 9:45 GMT

    Don't forget Chris 'Buck' Rogers Also no mention of Pigeon and Binga

  • Vivek.Bhandari on March 21, 2014, 9:29 GMT

    a nice recollection of nicknames by Ashley Mallett. I too can remember a few Aussie nicknames of recent players like Brett Lee was Oswald (as he was due to come in after (Shane) Lee, (Ian) Harvey), Andrew Symonds was Roy, and likes

  • StarveTheLizard on March 21, 2014, 8:45 GMT

    Thanks for the editorial, Tim but I don't think anybody really cares.

    Steve48, we have more than our fair share of "y" names. I would estimate that more than 90% of all nicknames end in one.

  • steve48 on March 21, 2014, 8:23 GMT

    Nice to see the Aussies have a bit more imagination than us English, who only seem capable of adding an 'o' or a 'y' to our surnames! Think the main reason KP had to go under the new regime is he objected to being called 'Kevo', severely damaging team spirit and identity!

  • KLMCMB27 on March 21, 2014, 6:24 GMT

    The best Aussie nickname I've heard of was 'Afghan' for Tugga's twin-brother, I supposed because at some point he was the 'Forgotten Waugh.'

  • on March 21, 2014, 5:23 GMT

    What about James "Catfish" Hopes?

  • PrasPunter on March 21, 2014, 4:59 GMT

    When we played a T20 against Eng during Ashes 06/07, recollect the players' jerseys carrying their nick-names. To recollect, Church ( Gilly ), Clarkey ( Clarke ) , Bear ( white ) , Punter ( you know who..), Wombart ( Hopes i think ) . When we did the same the following year against the indians, recollect how Gavaskar ridiculed it ( as he used to ridicule anything that is Australian ).

  • on March 21, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    wasn't Jeff Hammond called Bomber? and I believe Hanif Mohammed was the original Little Master. my personal favourites are Sounda and Afghanistan.

  • on March 21, 2014, 3:34 GMT

    For what it's worth, Massey Ferguson is not an Australian company but Canandian.

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  • on March 21, 2014, 3:34 GMT

    For what it's worth, Massey Ferguson is not an Australian company but Canandian.

  • on March 21, 2014, 4:57 GMT

    wasn't Jeff Hammond called Bomber? and I believe Hanif Mohammed was the original Little Master. my personal favourites are Sounda and Afghanistan.

  • PrasPunter on March 21, 2014, 4:59 GMT

    When we played a T20 against Eng during Ashes 06/07, recollect the players' jerseys carrying their nick-names. To recollect, Church ( Gilly ), Clarkey ( Clarke ) , Bear ( white ) , Punter ( you know who..), Wombart ( Hopes i think ) . When we did the same the following year against the indians, recollect how Gavaskar ridiculed it ( as he used to ridicule anything that is Australian ).

  • on March 21, 2014, 5:23 GMT

    What about James "Catfish" Hopes?

  • KLMCMB27 on March 21, 2014, 6:24 GMT

    The best Aussie nickname I've heard of was 'Afghan' for Tugga's twin-brother, I supposed because at some point he was the 'Forgotten Waugh.'

  • steve48 on March 21, 2014, 8:23 GMT

    Nice to see the Aussies have a bit more imagination than us English, who only seem capable of adding an 'o' or a 'y' to our surnames! Think the main reason KP had to go under the new regime is he objected to being called 'Kevo', severely damaging team spirit and identity!

  • StarveTheLizard on March 21, 2014, 8:45 GMT

    Thanks for the editorial, Tim but I don't think anybody really cares.

    Steve48, we have more than our fair share of "y" names. I would estimate that more than 90% of all nicknames end in one.

  • Vivek.Bhandari on March 21, 2014, 9:29 GMT

    a nice recollection of nicknames by Ashley Mallett. I too can remember a few Aussie nicknames of recent players like Brett Lee was Oswald (as he was due to come in after (Shane) Lee, (Ian) Harvey), Andrew Symonds was Roy, and likes

  • VicPride on March 21, 2014, 9:45 GMT

    Don't forget Chris 'Buck' Rogers Also no mention of Pigeon and Binga

  • aus_trad on March 21, 2014, 9:57 GMT

    Yes, nice article Rowdy. Just one point: I doubt that "Garth" McKenzie would appreciate being told that he had "the build of an Amazon" (google "Amazon")!