The imperative to tell ourselves it’s not our fault is strong, but the excuses can be a whole lot of fun. Matt Thacker lists down the best and worst of the lot in issue 18 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly.
Tom Cartwright – do the right thing
Warwickshire’s metronomic medium-pacer was a man of substance. Asked to tour South Africa in 1968 when most thought Basil D’Oliveira would be picked, the left-wing Cartwright was presented with a moral dilemma. Originally he believed the tour should go ahead, but “went cold” when he learnt that the white parliament in Cape Town had stood and cheered when D’Oliveira’s exclusion was announced. A shoulder injury suddenly flared up, but his distaste for apartheid seems the more likely reason for his turning down the tour. D’Oliveira replaced Cartwright, South Africa cancelled the tour in protest and the teams would not meet again until 1994.
Nasser Hussain – “Come to Harare and you will die”
Those were the words used by the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. England, unsurprisingly, refused to play against Zimbabwe in Harare, forfeiting the points. Skipper Nasser Hussain said: “How could a person like me, so lacking in interest in politics that I’d never voted, be going into crucial meetings with the South African prime minister, Zimbabwe freedom fighters and even Nelson Mandela? The ECB used emotional blackmail to force us into going to Zimbabwe.” Despite this, England pulled out of the match, with the official reason being players’ personal safety rather than any moral opposition to the treatment of Zimbabweans. Hussain later added: “We fudged it and probably wish we could have done it like Andy Flower and Henry Olonga but it wasn’t our place to go into another country and make a political statement. Basically I didn’t want to go to Zimbabwe and play cricket, and a lot of our team didn’t. So we didn’t.”
Geoff Boycott – nominative determinism
From 1974 to 1977, our Geoffrey was on a one-man Test boycott. Even now, we’re not sure why. Stress? Pressures in the Broad Shires? The appointment of Mike Denness and Tony Greig to the top job Boycs coveted? A weak immune system which made touring the subcontinent hazardous? Lots of fast bowlers at their peak (I think we can discount that one)? We may never truly know. But what we do know is during his last Test tour, of India in early 1982, Boycott claimed he was too ill to field. Which didn’t stop him being spotted on the golf course…
Ted Dexter – what planet is he on?
In 1989 Dexter succeeded Peter May as chairman of selectors after the farcical summer of four captains. And managed to oversee a period that was perhaps even more shambolic. He wanted Gatting and got Gower as captain, succumbed to a 4-0 Ashes defeat, and saw a rebel tour to South Africa announced halfway through the series. At the end of the summer, Dexter told the slavering press pack that he couldn’t think of any mistakes he had made, suggesting, tongue in cheek perhaps, that the “lines of Venus were in the wrong juxtaposition”.
Ray Illingworth – creative thinking
Yorkshire to his buttoned down shirtsleeves, Illingworth was never really out. Two of his greatest excuses were: the umpire gave him the wrong guard; and, in the West Indies when dismissed just after lunch, a plantain had sprouted on the pitch during the interval.
Sri Lanka – tailor’s a tinker
When they were outplayed by Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final of 2001 in Sharjah, Sri Lanka came up with a novel excuse, with captain Sanath Jayasuriya saying it was their tailor’s fault for providing ill-fitting shirts that left them so uncomfortable they undertook their own alterations in the dressing room. Jayasuriya had this to say: “We had to add extensions to the trousers as they were dangerously too short and the T-shirts were too tight and looked more like the tight-fitting women’s blouses.”
First published in issue 18 of Wisden Cricket Monthly