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The Ten: Nicknames – From ‘All Hands’ to ‘King of Spain’

Ashley Giles (Nicknames)
by Jo Harman and Phil Walker 6 minute read

Phil Walker and Jo Harman sidestepped the safety-first era of ‘Cooky’, ‘Belly’ and ‘Swanny’ to bring you some of cricket’s finer nicknames.

First published in 2014

10. Monde ‘ALL HANDS’ Zondeki

How much Monde Zondeki’s teammates actually used this moniker is a moot point, but for its sheer ingenuity it makes our list. Thought up by English hacks during South Africa’s tour of England in 2003, they were no doubt delighted when the leg-spinner-turned-paceman who liked to hit the ‘deck’ hard was ‘handed’ his Test debut at Headingley. Things didn’t go too well with the ball, a side strain restricting him to 4.5 overs, but he hit a half-century from No.10 – his only fifty in first-class cricket – to help the Proteas to a big win. He played just five more Tests before retiring in May 2013 due to persistent injuries.

9. Mike ‘FEC’ Atherton

Short, unforgettable and really quite nasty, the ‘FEC’ sobriquet was daubed on the young Michael’s locker by one of Lancashire’s furry beasts within weeks of the boy’s emergence – via Manchester Grammar and Cambridge – into Old Trafford’s macho, beery dressing room. “Anybody with a further education was sneered at,” Atherton later wrote of those early days in the Eighties, adding that while the initials were “assumed to stand for Future England Captain” in actual fact the middle word was ‘Educated’ and the others, well, you can work out for yourself. “It was clear I was going to have to work hard to earn my stripes at Old Trafford,” he added, “so I played down my Cambridge education as much as I could.”

8. Kevin ‘FIGJAM’ Pietersen

He’s sure been called a few other things in his time, both on and off the airwaves and in and out of earshot, but the most evocative and enduring of The Ego’s many monikers is Australia’s effort from the 2006/07 Ashes tour, when the hosts abbreviated ‘F*** I’m good, Just Ask Me’ to the cheeky and catchy ‘Figjam’. Other commentators have been less verbally dextrous, and considerably more Anglo Saxon, but this one wins.

7. Ashley ‘KING OF SPAIN’ Giles

With Gilo celebrating his benefit year in 2004 having belatedly been accepted as an England spin bowler, a load of merch emblazoned with the legend ‘The King of Spin’ was ordered to prove it. But when a print error led to a batch of mugs coming back with ‘Spain’ in place of ‘Spin’, the old ‘Wheelie Bin’ jibes, with their hints of haplessness, came flooding back. However, Giles rather brilliantly embraced it, turning a messy episode into an enduring nickname. The only person evidently unamused was a certain Juan Carlos of Madrid: “I do not know who this Ashley Giles is,” the monarch announced, “but I can assure him that I am the King of Spain.”

6. Bert ‘DAINTY’ Ironmonger

Born out of rural hardship in Australia in the 1880s, Bert was tough as old boots and anything but ‘Dainty’ – hence the contrary nickname. As a boy, he lost half his forefinger in a chaff-cutter and went on to work as a labourer on the railways before a late crack at professional cricket. He made his Sheffield Shield debut at the age of 33 and his Test debut 14 years after that, spinning the ball off the stump of his finger to great effect, taking 74 wickets in 14 Tests.

He is widely acknowledged to be the worst fielder ever to take the field for Australia, but his economy rate of 1.69 is unparalleled. The Bodyline series was his last hurrah in Test cricket, at the age of 51, before he retired to return to the soil, working as a gardener well into his eighties.

5. Trevor ‘BARNACLE’ Bailey

In his later guise as a much-loved commentator, the England all-rounder was nicknamed ‘The Boil’ by fellow Test Match Special legend Brian Johnston – reference to East End supporters cheering ‘Come on, Boiley!’ during his time as a an amateur footballer for Walthamstow or Aussie barrackers’ pronunciation of his name, depending on who you listen to. But during his playing days, he was always ‘Barnacle Bailey’. Bulldog spirit, stiff upper lip, Barnacle had it all; blocking as though his life depended on it to dig England out of many a hole. The proud owner of first-class cricket’s slowest half- century, made in 357 minutes during the 1958/59 Ashes.

4. Peter ‘DAISY’ Hartley

Gavin Larsen, metronomic former Kiwi seamer, was known by his teammates as ‘The Postman’, because he always delivered. It’s not usually so simple for bowlers though, and many struggle for that day in, day out consistency. Peter Hartley, former Yorkshire and Hampshire seamer and now a first-class umpire, is a case in point. On his day, he could be devastating. On others, not so much. In other words, some days ‘e does, some days ‘e doesn’t. And so it was that one of county cricket’s wittier nicknames was born.

3. Warwick ‘THE BIG SHIP’ Armstrong

In modern cricketing parlance the former Australian skipper would quite rightly be described as a ‘big unit’. Standing at 6ft 3in and weighing in excess of 20 stone, Armstrong was certainly a sizeable vessel and an uncompromising figure in every sense, indulging in gamesmanship that would make even the most hard-nosed Aussie blush. He famously made Frank Woolley wait a full 19 minutes to face his first delivery in Test cricket while he bowled a series of ‘looseners’ and was known to borrow a newspaper to read in the outfield when games were drifting towards a draw.

2. Johnny ‘WON’T HIT TODAY’ Douglas

One man who felt the full force of ‘The Big Ship’ was former England skipper Johnny William Henry Tyler Douglas, who presided over a 5-0 defeat to Armstrong’s Australia in 1920/21. Not that Douglas couldn’t look after himself. In 1908 he won boxing gold at the London Olympics and he certainly wasn’t one to take a backward step. During the 1911/12 Ashes series in Australia he told a touring function: “Mr Mayor and gentlemen, I can’t make a speech beyond saying thank you but I’m ready to box any man in the room three rounds.”

It was his combative skills with the bat that earned him his nickname; when he batted for 189 minutes to make 33 during that Ashes series, the Victorian crowd dubbed him ‘Johnny Won’t Hit Today’ to match his initials. He batted, wrote Martin Williamson, “as if losing a competitive stroll with a tortoise”. Douglas died at sea in 1930, attempting to rescue his father when their steamer collided with another vessel.

1. Mark ‘AFGHANISTAN’ Waugh

A classic of the genre and a rare example of a cricketing nickname with a political edge. With the Soviet war in Afghanistan raging through the Eighties and the world’s journalists largely ignoring, or ‘forgetting’ about it, over in Australia Steve Waugh had become ensconced in Australia’s Test team at the expense of his more talented twin, Mark. Only when Mark was picked for his own Test debut, against England in 1990, with Steve himself making way, could the ‘forgotten Waugh’ tag be parked for good, replaced by the considerably more boring ‘Junior’ on account of Mark being born four minutes after his big brother.

First published in 2014

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