Much is written these days about sledging and fielders abusing batsmen. In December 2003, there was a row after Muttiah Muralitharan claimed that Nasser Hussain had called him a "****ing cheat" as he came out to bat. There is a tendency to think that such behaviour is a product of the modern era, but history shows that exchanging such pleasantries is as old as the game itself.
One of the more unsavoury episodes occurred in February 1903, during a match against Canterbury at Lancaster Park on Lord Hawke's tour of New Zealand. The protagonists on that occasion were Bernard Bosanquet of England and New Zealand's Arthur Sims.
Bosanquet was an object of curiosity, having only just revealed his new-fangled googly - or Bosie - in his repertoire. People were intrigued to see what the fuss was about, and so there was a fair amount of interest when Canterbury were set 391 to win.
Bosanquet, who had taken 1 for 50 in a lacklustre first-innings performance, came on to bowl second-change. With his third ball he appeared to bowl Walter Pearce, Canterbury's No. 3, round his legs as he attempted a heave to leg. But what followed was utter confusion. The umpire, Charles Bannerman (who scored Australia's first Test century at Melbourne in 1877), said that he couldn't see whether the ball had hit the stumps as the batsman's body had been in the way. The square-leg umpire was consulted, but admitted that he had been ducking and so had not seen anything. Sims, the non-striker, urged his partner to stay put.
Sims took up the story in his biography, 84 Not Out, as Bosanquet and Arthur Whatman, the wicketkeeper, rounded on him. "The players gathered round the umpires and Whatman said there was no doubt about it, Pearce had been bowled around his legs. Bannerman returned to his position and gave a not-out decision. Bosanquet said to Sims, who had remained at the non-striker's end: 'You're a nice cheat. I bowled him round his legs. Anybody could see that.' Sims replied that there was reasonable doubt, as he didn't see the ball hit the wickets."
At the end of the over, Whatman called Sims a "bloody cheat" as he walked past him. "Arthur took his stance, the bowler made his run. Just as the ball was about to bounce and he was making his stroke he heard Whatman say: 'Just a bloody cheat. Why don't you get back where you belong'." Shortly afterwards Sims was bowled - ironically by Bosanquet - and Canterbury went down to a 133-run defeat.
The Christchurch-based Press newspaper rounded on the tourists. "For English gentlemen to so far forget themselves as to openly dispute such a decision, and to say that it was the worst decision they had ever heard, was strange conduct. If Canterbury men had done such a thing 'shockingly bad form' would be the mildest comment to expect from University-trained players.
"But that is not all," the report continued. "Sims was told that it was a disgrace for him to suggest an appeal to the umpires, though in doing this he was not only within his legal rights but he was in no way transgressing the very strictest etiquette of the game. Hopes were audibly expressed by the field that he would be bowled, and he was subjected by the wicketkeeper to a running fire of disconcerting remarks."
Sims was widely supported, but was also criticised in some quarters for ungentlemanly conduct in advising Pearce to stand his ground. He was later asked to play for New Zealand in the two internationals that followed, but the Lyttleton Times printed a report stating that his employers, Canterbury Frozen Meat, had refused him time off.
He was told that: "In view of all the circumstances, I do not think the letter appearing in this morning's papers, over the signature of the captain of the team, is a sufficient apology. I do not, therefore, think you can, with dignity to yourself or to the credit of cricket in Canterbury, play any further matches against the English cricket team, unless Messrs Bosanquet and Whatman apologise personally to you for their conduct. Failing your obtaining this apology I must withdraw your leave of absence from this office for further matches against this team."
Bosanquet did apologise, both to the Canterbury Cricket Association and Sims, but not quickly enough for Sims's employers to relent - he wrote that he told Bosanquet to "forget all about the incident". Whatman also apologised to the umpires, but not to Sims, maintaining that he had never made the comments attributed to him.
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84 Not Out. The Story of Sir Arthur Sims Alan Mitchell (1962)