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The Ten: Hysterical Overreactions

by Wisden Staff

Ten moments when perspective got flogged over mid-wicket.

10) The ‘Tiger Moth’ moment

All hell broke loose during the 1990/91 Ashes when David Gower and John Morris jumped aboard a Tiger Moth biplane during a tour match against Queensland.

England had endured a wretched series and morale was at rock bottom so after watching the aircraft passing over the ground for the past three days Gower and Morris hatched a plan to bring some much-needed levity to proceedings.

Just as Robin Smith reached his century Gower and his accomplice Morris buzzed over the Carrara ground at a little over 200 feet to celebrate their teammate’s return to form. Smith and Allan Lamb happily acknowledged the moment.

The England management failed to see the funny side and fined each player the maximum permitted fine of £1,000. Relations between Gower and captain Graham Gooch – never good at the best of times – reached an all-time low. Gower, who had been in sublime form prior to the incident, barely got a run for the rest of the tour, admitting in his autobiography that, “it did not have an uplifting effect on my spirits.”

He was discarded after just five more Test matches and Morris’s brief Test career was over.

9) Dirty Athers

The dirt-in-pocket affair during the 1994 South Africa series provoked outrage in the English press. But the incident appeared to be smoothed over after the TCCB (old ECB) fined Atherton £2,000 for his offence – half for using dirt to dry his fingers and half for lying to the match referee Peter Burge.

Burge was still livid with the England skipper’s deception though, and later said he would have suspended Atherton for two matches. In the final Test of the summer at the Oval, Burge exacted his revenge.

Atherton was struck on the pads first ball of the innings by South African seamer Fannie de Villiers and given out despite a clear inside-edge.

Atherton expressed his disappointment with a gentle, barely discernable shake of his head as he trudged back to the pavilion and Burge had the ammunition he needed. He fined the England skipper 50 per cent of his match fee for his ‘dissent’.

8) Jellybeans

The media reacting hysterically to an England defeat is nothing new. But the hysteria following the defeat to India at Trent Bridge last summer was novel for its subject matter.

It wasn’t England’s batting, bowling or fielding that caused consternation – but rather their unsporting use of confectionary.

The debate raged so fiercely that Michael Vaughan had to set matters straight. “We did not lose the game because of jellybeans,” said the England skipper.

But the victim of the assault Zaheer Khan did look full of beans as he ripped through the England batting line-up. Paul Collingwood appeared to be the only one who appreciated the absurdity of the reaction: “He wasn’t too pleased. I think he prefers the blue ones to the pink ones”.

7) Bucknor sacked

The ICC’s code of conduct states that to show dissent at an umpire’s decision is strictly prohibited. Unless, it seems, you show enough dissent to get him sacked. India’s tour of Australia in 2008 was on the verge of implosion, with India threatening to walk out on the tour after a series of bitter rows.

The volatile atmosphere was further intensified by the Indian authorities’ fury at umpire Steve Bucknor who had made several errors in their second Test defeat at the SCG. Something had to break. It was to be the ICC’s resolve to follow their own code of conduct.

A veteran of over 120 Test matches, Bucknor was the easiest scapegoat, and axed for the third Test as the ICC attempted to defuse the situation.

ICC Chief Malcolm Speed said: “We could have taken a heavy-handed approach, a letter of the law approach. What we need to do is alleviate some of the tension that is focused on this match. I think this gives us an opportunity to move on.”

Never mind the reputation of one of the most respected figures in the game then.

6) ‘Colly’s Shame’

Send 'im: Colly makes his call

Send ‘im: Colly makes his call

Paul Collingwood’s decision to uphold the appeal that saw Grant Elliot controversially run out at The Oval in 2008 after a collision with Ryan Sidebottom was met with righteous indignation by the Kiwis.

And understandably so in the heat of the battle. No laws had been broken but the spirit of the game had been stretched to the limit.

But after the England skipper admitted his error – a split-second decision made in a tense finale – and Vettori accepted his apology, the issue should have been done and dusted.

What followed in the press was the vilification of a man who throughout his career had epitomized professionalism. Collingwood was left to face the tabloid vitriol alone, receiving criticism from fellow professionals and little or no support from upstairs. Within six weeks Collingwood had resigned his post as ODI skipper.

5) Gatting a goner

Mike Gatting had few friends at the TCCB following his infamous exchange with umpire Shakoor Rana during England’s 1987 tour of Pakistan.

The episode proved a huge embarrassment for the TCCB as relations between England and Pakistan soured and the Foreign Office became involved. Gatting kept the captaincy, but his job was hanging by a thread, and that thread snapped as the tabloids went big on a story that Gatting had invited a barmaid to his hotel room during a Test match versus the West Indies.

Trial by tabloid was good enough for the TCCB who now had the excuse they wanted to remove their controversial skipper. “We don’t think he made love to the barmaid, but he shouldn’t have invited her to his room,” said the TCCB, in a classic line straight out of a PR textbook.

4) The Vermeulen time bomb

The former Zimbabwe Test batsman had always been somewhat erratic. Back in 1996 he had been banned from representing his Harare school for walking off with the stumps and locking himself in the changing room after disagreeing with an umpire’s decision.

But after he was struck on the head by a bouncer in 2004, Vermeulen’s strange behaviour took a turn for the worse. First he went berserk in a Lancashire League match in 2006 – hurling a cricket ball into the crowd, brandishing a boundary marker as a weapon and tearing down an advertising boarding. He was also twice seen banging on the gates of the Presidential Palace in Harare, demanding to speak to Robert Mugabe.

Vermeulen’s increasingly bizarre behaviour culminated in his arrest in 2007 for setting fire to the offices of the Harare Sports Club and the National Academy. He pleaded not guilty on the grounds of psychiatric problems following the blow to his head in 2004, and was subsequently cleared of arson. These days he is a reformed man.

3) India’s World Cup Exit

When it comes to cricket-induced hysteria there’s nowhere quite like the subcontinent. Indian cricket fans didn’t take well to being dumped out of the 2007 World Cup at the group-stage.

Riots ensued as they took to the streets in their thousands, burning effigies of their former heroes for shaming their country.

The higher the pedestal the harder the fall, and the previously adored MS Dhoni fell hard. Furious fans vented their anger on his house and young fans that had grown their hair to imitate their idol chopped off their locks in disgust.

But for some distressed fans a haircut wasn’t enough. Twenty-eight villages in Haryana decided that cricket was no longer for them and banned the sport entirely, while a West Bengali farmer was so distraught that he hung himself at his Calcutta home.

2) Bodyline

Bodyline: bloody hell, what a hoo-har

Bodyline: a tremendous hoo-har

Questions raised in Parliament, frantic late-night phone calls, a breakdown in relations between the United Kingdom and Australia and scars that remained for generations, all over a few bumpers?

When Jardine, Larwood and co. hatched the Bodyline tactic to counter Bradman in the 1932/33 Ashes no one could have envisaged a controversy of such seismically silly proportions.

A riot was narrowly averted in the third Test at Adelaide after Larwood struck Aussie skipper Bill Woodfull above the heart and smacked wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield on the head. It prompted Woodfull’s famous comment that “only one team is playing cricket out there”, and got so out of perspective that England were ready to jump back on the boat and head home after accusations of unsporting behaviour from the Australian Cricket Board.

A truce of sorts was eventually reached when Australia withdrew their complaints fearing the financial loss of a cancelled tour, but the bitterness and anger provoked by Bodyline lasted for generations.

1) England v Pakistan, The Oval, 2006

Where do you start with this shambles? Let’s start with Darrell Hair, who kicked things off with his initial overreaction, based on an accusation itself rooted in ball-tampering hysteria dating back over 20 years. It was a quiet Test match at the end of the summer, when, on the fourth afternoon, Hair suddenly decided, on his own, that Pakistan had been illegally scuffing the ball. Ignoring the sensible route (a quiet word in private with Inzamam and then, in the worst case, issuing a report at close of play), Hair instead showily accused Pakistan of foul play and declared, in the middle of the session, that a five-run penalty be doled out to these common cheats.

Now it’s a grave claim, and particularly sensitive to Pakistani cricketers. But the game is the thing, and in the tailspin everyone forgot this one crucial point. After the tea break Inzamam’s team refused to take to the field, deciding instead to skulk about in their dressing room, a bunch of stroppy teenagers hiding in their bedrooms and turning Nirvana up full blast after being accused of scoffing all the custard creams.

After a half-hour of crazed and fruitless diplomacy, umpires Hair and Billy ‘Silent Bill’ Doctrove marched to the square a few minutes after tea, ostentatiously knocked off the bails, and declared the game a forfeit! After 1814 Tests over 129 years, we had our first ever forfeit!

So the fifth day was cancelled, England (who had wanted to play the game) were awarded the match, and everyone went home confused and disillusioned. The dust hadn’t even begun to settle when the ICC got involved, calming matters as only they can by suspending Hair, and calling a press conference a few days later to read out the private email he had sent them demanding bundles of cash in return for keeping his girth out of the courts. The phrase ‘hung out to dry’ had rarely seemed more apt. In response Hair took his case to the High Court, claiming he had been a victim of racial discrimination! We’re not kidding.

Inzy had also had his day in court. The ICC chose The Oval’s conference room to stage their own trial, and the Pakistan captain was duly cleared of ball tampering, but banned for four ODIs for ‘bringing the game into disrepute’ for his refusal to return to the field of play; this was a ruling he absolutely wasn’t going to appeal against.

Not finished quite yet, two years later in an unprecedented move the ICC changed the result of the match to a draw, provoking a furious response from the MCC and a resignation from ICC committee member Michael Holding. That decision was later overturned but the sour taste remains to this day.

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