@Jimbo_Cricket 4 minute read
Sticks, stones and cricket balls may break bones, but words can also harm, writes James Wallace as he lists the best and worst nicknames in Issue 27 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly.
Robin Smith – ‘The Judge’
The truth is England have a history of the beige nickname. Just ask the splendidly named Eric Honeywood Partridge. Partridge coined the term the ‘Oxford-ers’ in his 1937 work Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English to describe the addition of ‘er’ or ‘ers’ to a name, place, or anything really, giving them more than a whiff of Wodehouse. Googlers informs me that it has roots in Rugby School and Oxford. I wish I knew this when I arrived at university and met a seemingly endless parade of ruddy-cheeked chaps all called Rollers or Bollers who loved ruggers and chuggers (rugby and drinking).
Test Match Special is a prime example of this phenomenon: ‘Aggers’, ‘Blowers’, ‘Johnners’, ‘Tuffers’ to name just a few. It is against this beige backdrop of nomenclature that English nicknames must be assessed, so when one comes along that departs from the norm-ers it does carry more weight. Step forward ‘The Judge’ himself, Robin Smith. So-called because of the magisterial crinkle of his hair but also surely the whip-crack of his trademark cut shot, deployed so dismissively it would make any gavel-wielding official proud.
“Smith was particularly brutal off the back foot and swiftly moved into three figures, as a vociferous Edgbaston crowd woke up to England’s unlikely revival.”https://t.co/jJXVsT18vM
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) June 23, 2020
Bob Willis – ‘Bustlin’ Bob’/ ‘Goose’
Known as ‘Goose’ due to his elongated stature and for his stuttering run-up reminiscent of a grey-lag attempting flight, exerting every ounce of effort through those famously creaky knees. Willis was a huge Bob Dylan fan with the buoyant brown barnet to match, changing his name by deed poll in homage to the raspy-voiced folkie. Dylan himself changed his name, maybe in homage to Dylan Thomas and maybe not. If Dylan’s other early adopted stage-name of ‘Elston Gunn’ had stuck then popular music and Stoke d’Abernon’s most famous son could have transpired differently.
Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham christened Willis ‘Bustlin’ after the 1981 Ashes. Whatever name he took, no batsmen in his right mind wanted to be at the other end when he was bowling. You’d suspect, for Robert George Dylan Willis, that would be fundamentally gratifying. Not that he’d show it of course.
Honourable mentions: Michael ‘Sybil’ Slater /Paul ‘Human’ Romaines, Wilf ‘Tiddlypush’ Barber
‘Trott-y’, ‘Bell-y’, ‘Swann-y’, ‘Harm-y’, etc
Must try harder. It’s tempting to suggest that the blandness of these nicknames is a weary nod to the homogenisation of players and the game in general becoming more professional and, just perhaps, a little blander for it. England are undoubtedly the main offenders when it comes to the boring moniker, with every post-match interview littered with references to ‘Woakesy’, ‘Stokesy’, and ‘Rooty’ enough to leave you yearning for a mention of a ‘Barney McGrew’, ‘Dibble’ or ‘Grubb’ to add some, any variety. We are a long way from ‘The Rawalpindi Express’, ‘Sultan of Multan’ or ‘Turbanator’ here lads. You could almost feel the collective synapses of the team straining when mentioning Alastair Cook as ‘Chef’ and not Cookie, which unfortunately also served to conjure images of balls that are chocolate and salty, rather than Kookaburra or Dukes.
David Steele – ‘Crime’
As wise a man as David Brent said: “If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s nicknames. Because nicknames are… bad… names. They’re not helpful. They can be very hurtful.” Just ask Chris ‘Big Goober’ Tremlett or Mike Atherton (‘Iron Mike’/ ‘Athers’/ ‘Dready Mike’) who famously had ‘FEC’ scrawled on his Lancashire locker as young man. Only the very naïve believed the initials stood for ‘Future England Captain’ and not something more explicit. David Steele, memorably described as the “bank clerk who went to war” for his obdurate repelling of Lillee and Thomson in ’75, was also known to be such a frugal and unforthcoming teammate that he was referred to as ‘Crime’ – as in, ‘doesn’t pay’. Surely more brutal than anything ‘Menace’ or ‘Thommo’ lobbed at him.
Matt Prior – ‘Cheese’
Just to clear this up my nickname is/was cheese (from the character in Old School) NOT big cheese…thanks https://t.co/inw2VqeSr5
— Matt Prior (@MattPrior13) November 25, 2017
Kevin Pietersen wrote in his autobiography that Prior was a “Dairylea triangle thinking he was Brie”. The former England keeper hit back on Twitter to say he took his name ‘Cheese’ from a character in a Will Ferrell movie and not ‘The Big Cheese’ as ‘KP’ insinuated. The whole thing played out in public, sullied the memory of that record-breaking side and ponged more than that Italian cheese containing live maggot larvae left out to congeal on a plastic sun lounger in the Sardinian sun. Take my word for it on that.
First published in Issue 27 of Wisden Cricket Monthly