Though it is called the ‘Gentleman’s Game’, cricket has seen more than its fair share of scandal. Modern-day professional cricket is plagued by doping scandals, match-fixing, ball-tampering, cheating and riots. Over the past 15 years, cricket has become a target for gamblers and bookmakers, especially in Asia. Big money bets have led to a series of match-rigging cases. But it’s not just about match-fixing, or breaking the rules of the game. Some of the most notable incidents in cricket have simply been breaches of what is considered gentlemanly behaviour, or conduct unbecoming a sportsman. At the same time there are other incidents that have bordered on the ridiculous and downright silly.
Here are some of cricket’s more unusual moments, in no particular order.
The WG Grace angle — 1878
He’s often billed as the first sports superstar. WG Grace was a doctor, and therefore a gentleman in the context of “Gentlemen vs Players” matches. Most surprising of all, in the game which became synonymous with sportsmanship (and in which he was lionised as a living legend) Grace also had a reputation as a cheat and a master of gamesmanship.
Once, when the ball lodged in his shirt after he’d played it, Grace managed to complete several runs pursued by fielders who eventually forced him to stop. He claimed correctly that he’d have been out if he’d handled the ball to remove it.
But his most notable act was his role in the “death of English cricket”. This is said to have been his decision in Australia’s second innings to run out Samuel Jones as the batsman walked out of his crease to tend the pitch. Australia’s demon fast bowler, Fred Spofforth, is said to have been so incensed by Grace’s unsporting, but lawful, act — that he was inspired to produce his match-winning heroics in England’s second innings.
Bodyline series — 1932-33
Bodyline or fast-leg theory was the brainchild of English captain Douglas Jardine. It was a cricketing tactic used in the 1932–33 Ashes tour of Australia, specifically to combat the extraordinary batting skill of Australia’s Don Bradman. The tactic was simple. A Bodyline delivery was one where the cricket ball was pitched short so as to rise towards the body of the opposing batsman on the line of the leg stump, in the hope of creating leg-side deflections that could be caught by one of several fielders in the quadrant of the field behind square leg. This tactic was considered by many to be intimidating and physically threatening. The English players were heavily criticised by both the Australian and English press as they steamrolled their opponents, and intervention from the diplomatic departments of both countries was soon required. Bill Woodfull, the Australian skipper, showed the world just what being a gentleman meant. As Woodfull led the Australians through this incredibly tough period he flatly refused to employ retaliatory tactics. He never publicly complained even though he and his men were repeatedly hit and had to see medics often.
Underarm bowling — 1981
During the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup between Australia and New Zealand, the Kiwis needed six runs from the final ball of the match to tie with the Aussies with only two wickets at hand. Greg Chappel, the then Australian captain, ordered the bowler (his brother Trevor) to bowl underarm, rolling the ball along the ground to prevent Brian McKechnie, the New Zealand batsman, from hitting a six from the last ball to tie the match. In a rather unsportsmanlike fashion Trevor Chappel strolled up to the pitch and rolled the ball along it. Brian McKechnie played the ball anyway and then threw his bat away and walked off the field in disgust. This match was the deciding match of the series. Underarm bowling at that time was within the laws of cricket, but this incident was a black mark on the Aussies.
and Shakoor Rana — 1987
In one of the most controversial incidents in cricketing history, Pakistani umpire Shakoor Rana notably came face-to-face with the English cricket captain. The image of Gatting and an international umpire shouting at each other with fingers wagging in the other’s face was shocking.
The incident in question occurred on the second day of the Test as Gatting was controversially accused by Rana of making an alteration to fielding positions as Eddie Hemmings ran in to bowl. Rana stopped the game and accused Gatting of cheating. Rana had already upset the English by wearing a Pakistan sweater and placing Mudassar Nazar’s cap on his own head. The game was stopped by the incident and only resumed the following day. Rana and Gatting were both accused of using foul language. Shakoor refused to stand again in that Test until he received an unconditional apology from Gatting for the language used in the dispute. Gatting was threatened with being stripped of the England captaincy and was forced into issuing a written apology to Rana. Gatting has since expressed regret at his part in the row.
John the bookmaker — 1994-95
Australian cricketers Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were fined by the Australian Cricket Board for providing an Indian bookie with pitch and weather information.
The Indian bookie, who introduced himself as “John”, offered Waugh $4,000 for the information. Waugh later introduced him to Warne who received a $5,000 ‘gift’ from the bookie. When the information finally made it to the press in 1998 both players and the ACB were criticised for trying to cover up the incident.
Not such a Garden of Eden — 1996
Eden Gardens in Kolkata has witnessed some great moments, but the end of the India-Sri Lanka semi-final in 1996 was not one of them. The crowd of around 100,000 was happy — deliriously so — when Sri Lanka’s big-hitting openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana both carved to third man in the first over. But from then on the day got better and better for the Sri Lankans. They recovered to score 251, but India was going along nicely at 98 for 1, with Sachin Tendulkar in charge with 65 — and then the wheels fell off. Tendulkar was stumped, and a clatter of wickets suddenly made it 120 for 8. Disappointment spread through the crowd, some of whom vented their frustration by lighting fires and throwing bottles onto the outfield. Match referee Clive Lloyd came on and appealed for calm, but an attempted resumption after a 15-minute break proved hopeless, and Lloyd awarded the game to Sri Lanka — who went on to win the final.
Akram and Mushtaq — victims of a legitimate mugging, or was it a brawl? — 1998
Pakistan threatened to walk out of their South African tour in February 1998 when bowlers Mohammad Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq were ‘mugged’ outside their Sandton hotel. Both players were hurt in the incident. But the louder the Pakistanis complained, the more rumours began to circulate that Akram and Mushtaq (who hadn’t made any sworn statements to the police about the mugging) had, in fact, picked up their black eyes and chipped teeth in a bar brawl at a local strip joint called Club 69 ...
Hansie Cronje’s earpiece — 1999
Bob Woolmer was always an innovative coach, but one of his ideas got him into hot water at the 1999 World Cup. Hansie Cronje, South Africa’s captain, came out to field in the first match against India in Hove... fitted with an earpiece. The earpiece was not, as events a few years later might have suggested, tuned in to the local bookies: it was a one-way device, capable only of receiving transmissions from Woolmer, who planned to give his skipper the odd snippet of tactical advice. But the referee made Cronje remove the gadget at the first drinks break, and it was soon outlawed.
The first ever, and only forfeit — 2006
Pakistan became the first team in 129 years of Test cricket and 1,814 matches to forfeit a match after being punished for ball tampering by the umpires, Australian Darrell Hair and West Indian Billy Doctrove.
It all began at 2:30 pm on the fourth day of the match when Trevor Jesty, the fourth umpire, brought out a new box of balls with many assuming the original had simply lost its shape. But when the umpires gave the batsmen the opportunity to choose a new ball it was clear the fielding side had been accused of damaging the first ball. When Hair tapped his shoulder to indicated five penalty runs, Pakistan had been found guilty of cheating.
At first it appeared Pakistan accepted the decision, but it was soon apparent that the situation had turned nasty. Pakistan refused to return when the batsmen and umpires went out to the middle to resume play. The match was forfeited when Hair, the senior umpire “melodramatically removed the bails”, according to Wisden.
Slap-gate — 2008
This incident place in the first IPL series. Indian fast bowler Sreesanth, playing for the Punjab franchise, was slapped by his own Indian team mate, Harbhajan Singh. Singh was banned from playing more games in the first series.
“The match referee studied video tapes of the incident and found the assault by Harbhajan was totally unprovoked. The footage showed that Harbhajan went down the line, wishing all the players, shaking hands with a few players,” said Lalit Modi, then commissioner of the IPL. “Sreesanth was the third player that he met. Instead of shaking his hand he actually slapped him and continued down the line, shaking hands with the other players.”
According to some commentators, Harbhajan warned Sreesanth not to needle his team mates during the match but Sreesanth allegedly persisted in doing so. When the match ended, Sreesanth said “hard luck” to him. As a result, Bhajii lost his temper and slapped him.
Sreesanth was seen crying on the ground after this incident.
Afridi has lunch — 2010
This is something that still boggles the mind. Shahid Afridi bit the ball and ran his teeth along the seam in an extraordinary finale to Australia’s action-packed two-wicket victory at the WACA Ground.
With the match hanging in the balance, Afridi’s brain snap was caught by TV cameras in one of the more bizarre incidents to have been witnessed in international cricket.
With Pakistan on a losing streak, having lost the first four one-day games and well on its way to losing the fifth, Afridi took the cricket ball and actually started biting it, even as the television camera was squarely focused on him doing so. And why would Afridi indulge in this illegal, and rather disgusting, form of ball tampering?
Here is his response, in his own words: “I shouldn’t have done it. It just happened. I was trying to help my bowlers and win a match, one match… There is no team in the world that doesn’t tamper with the ball. My methods were wrong. I am embarrassed, I shouldn’t have done it. I just wanted to win us a game but this was the wrong way to do it.”
So basically Afridi said that ball-tampering is generally OK but his own ‘methods’ were wrong. Hmm...
Maa-gate — 2006-07
Slap-gate isn’t the only unsavoury incident Harbhajan Singh has been involved in. During India’s tour of Australia in 2006-2007, tensions were running high as India was on the receiving side of bad umpiring and a lot of sledging and unsportsmanlike behaviour from a few Australian players. Harbhajan Singh lost his cool in the Sydney match and hurled an abusive term at Andrew Symonds regarding, well, his mother. The Australian players thought that Harbhajan called Symonds a monkey and an official complaint was lodged by them, citing racism. India threatened to call off the tour and eventually Australia dropped the case, but this showed everyone the depths to which competition can take you.
The IPL snub — 2010
Ninety-seven players, including 26 Pakistanis, among them Shahid Afridi and several who had previously participated in the ICL, make themselves eligible for the IPL. However, not a single Pakistan player is bought by the franchises at the auction. Later in the month the PCB rules out the participation of Pakistan players in the IPL and revokes the no-objection certificates it had initially granted to them. Sour grapes?
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 3rd, 2011.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ