Too much of cricket humour has come to be intertwined with sledging these days. While the latter has undoubtedly had its high moments (who can resist a chuckle at the image of the portly chicken farmer Eddo Brandes giving it back to Glenn McGrath?) there has to be a place for mirth outside the aggro and competitiveness of the cricket field. In this brief foray I recollect a few of the funnier moments from cricketing lore - and invite others to share their own.
One of my favourites dates back to the 1974-75 West Indies tour of India. When the series got to Chennai, West Indies led 2-1 but were on the back foot both because of a spirited Indian fightback in the third Test (and, in their view, some indifferent umpiring by the local talent). Satyaji Rao, in particular, was seen by them as a serial offender. As the West Indies team bus wound its way down Mount Road to get to the Chepauk stadium one day, it came to a halt at a famous landmark - the statue of the late chief minister and Tamil politician CN Annadurai. It so happened that this statue showed Annadurai with one arm upraised and his index finger upright - resembling nothing more than an umpire sending a batsman on his way. Cue Alvin Kallicharran, who promptly jumped to his feet inside the bus and intoned, "Good morning, Umpire Rao." One can just imagine the mirth that must have followed. (I must confess that I have been unable to track the story down on the internet, but have a vivid recollection of reading about the episode in the media coverage at the time.)
Another favourite, though this one is certainly apocryphal, involves two brothers-in-law who shall go unnamed but were the backbone of Indian batting. One of them, let's call him A - for Artist - was known to be partial to a drink or three, while the other (let's call him R for Rationalist) was very professional and stayed well clear during matches. Once, they were batting together and A was clearly having a rough time of it - no timing, no footwork, playing and missing constantly. A mid-wicket conference was called and A confessed to R that his problem was that having dined well but not wisely he was seeing two cricket balls and not one. After some thought, R suggested that A play the ball that was inside as chances were that the one outside was an illusion. A struggled on - but with barely any improvement at all. A second mid-wicket conference ensued and R inquired what the problem now was. A's reply: "I think I know which one is the real ball now, but I'm still having a problem deciding which of the two bats in my hand I should use." (Disclaimer: any resemblance to real-life individuals in this story is purely coincidental.)
"As the West Indies team bus came to a halt at the statue of the late Chief Minister CN Annadurai with one arm upraised and his index finger upright. Alvin Kallicharran intoned, "Good morning, Umpire Rao"
Alan Mullally is one of those run-of-the-mill English medium-pacers who is unlikely to be remembered for too many of his exploits on the field. But thanks to the talents of David "Bumble" Lloyd as raconteur, Mullally may have secured his place in cricket history. A triangular series in Australia once, involving the home team, England and Sri Lanka was preceded by a corporate fundraiser that required all the cricketers to autograph a large number of cricket bats. The Sri Lankan cricketers were the last ones to have their turn, and as every fan knows, their leading fast bowler had more initials than letters in his name - WPJUC Vaas. The English had a team meeting late that evening to discuss strategy and Lloyd - as coach - loved showing off his mastery over Vaas' full name (a skill he picked up during his time as a Sky cricket commentator). As Lloyd asked the players how they proposed to deal with Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas and the new ball, Mullally piped up from the back that they wouldn't have to worry about him as come the morning he would probably still be autographing the bats. (The story loses a lot without Lloyd's distinctive delivery -viewers may want to catch it here.)
This one comes from across the border, courtesy a Pakistani fellow cricket tragic. As many know, with Zaheer Abbas it was either feast or famine. He looked a million bucks when in form but quite forlorn when not. During one particularly lean trot, according to my friend, Zed was waiting his turn to bat, getting his eyes used to the sunlight in a front-row armchair in the pavilion, all padded up. He'd just lit a cigarette when one of the batsmen got out. Ruefully Zed handed the cigarette to the team-mate sitting beside him, saying in Urdu, "Isse pakro, main abhi aa raha hoon [Hang on to this, I'll be right back]".
My final tale involves characters who never made it into the limelight. Cricket in my college hostel was a decidedly amateur affair and it was often difficult to rouse an XI on a Saturday morning after Friday-night festivities. One such morning we were a man short and a mystery player was drafted to make up our side. When the skipper asked him what his specialty was, he replied that he was a fast bowler. Showing a touching faith in the lad the captain tossed him the brand new ball and off the fellow went to mark his long run-up. His first five balls were fast all right - the problem was that none of them touched the turf. They all sailed over the startled batsman's head in the general direction of the wicketkeeper. The skipper, nursing a bad hangover, walked across from mid-on to ask our man what the problem was. "I'm not finding the length, captain", came the chirpy reply, to which the captain responded with, "Let's not get ahead of ourselves now - why don't you first find the @#$!%&* pitch?"