Cricketers' bad behaviour beefs up the game's appeal

Sir Ian Botham and Ian Chappell's recent verbal battle was a welcome blast from the past. By Tanya Aldred.

So the recent verbal battle between Ian Chappell and Sir Ian Botham was a blast from the past - a past when the hairs on your chest and your alcohol consumption counted as much as getting it in the right areas.

In Botham's new book, Head On, he returns to Melbourne 1977 - a time of woolly-mammoth moustaches, tight-fitting cricket trousers and heavy-drinking Australians. He was supping in the same bar as Chappell. They exchanged insults and then, according to Botham, "I gave him three official warnings, all of which he ignored, so the next time he started, I just flattened him. He went flying over a table and crashlanded on a group of Aussie Rules footballers, spilling their drinks in the process". Botham claims he later set off "in hot pursuit, chasing him down the street and even hurdling the bonnet of a passing car".

Chappell, who has called Botham's book "more cricket fairy-tales" and pontificated that someone would "come to regret" giving Botham a knighthood, has a different view. He says he wasn't flattened and that he declined Botham's invitation to step outside, saying: "I don't fight. You either finish up in jail or hospital and I don't intend visiting either over you." He also says he later called Botham "deary" as he left the bar.

Gracious, we've not had so much unrestrained strutting around in years, particularly from an Englishman. The Fredalo incident was just too much booze while Paul Collingwood had possibly the shortest and most unfulfilling visit to a lap-dancing club in history.

Yet history is littered with testosterone or idiocy-fuelled explosions. Perhaps Botham and Chappell's spiritual heir is Shoaib Akhtar, who was recently sent home from the ICC World Twenty20 after hitting a team-mate, Mohammad Asif, with a bat in a dressing-room dispute.

This after a volatile relationship with the late Bob Woolmer which included an argument about what music to play on the team bus, being called for chucking, throwing a bottle into the crowd in Zimbabwe, being banned for ball-tampering, being banned for testing positive for nandrolone (later overturned) and accused of faking injuries (also not proven).

Ricky Ponting, now a disciplinarian in the mould of Steve Waugh, was not always so. After a fracas in a Calcutta club, he lost his head at the Bourbon & Beefsteak in Sydney and went home with a black eye and an admission that he had an alcohol problem. He was dropped until he sorted himself out.

Sometimes you can see trouble a mile off. Javed Miandad and Dennis Lillee, both made from touchpaper, were made for it. Sure enough, in Perth in 1981 Lillee allegedly kicked Miandad's bottom and a photographer caught them facing off, Miandad with his bat raised in anger, Lillee willing him on, on the balls of his feet. It looked pretty awful, they had to be separated by the umpire and it caused uproar. Lillee had previous, namely the aluminium-bat row, also in Perth in a Test against England in 1979. Miandad, a streetfighter by nature, went on to have words with many others and expertly stoked the flames in the row between Mike Gatting and the umpire Shakoor Rana.

The crowd have copped it too over the years. Sylvester Clarke threw a brick at them and the much missed walking sofa Inzaman-ul- Haq infamously waded in with a bat after being called a potato.

By comparison a run-in between Mark Ilott and Robert Croft in a 1997 NatWest Trophy semi-final seems pretty mild. The unlikely duellists indulged in a finger-wagging and barging incident for a prime-time BBC audience. Actually close friends, they hugged the next morning but still paid �1,000 fines each.

This seems to be the way English cricketers are going: a little puff of anger soon made better again, plus a slap on the wrist. It may make the players better role models but sometimes you can't help hankering for a bit of fire.

I fear the British meat industry will have to dig into other sports for its spokesmen once Botham and Allan Lamb have eaten their fill.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007 * * * 'Peddling lies'


Ian Chappell has come out swinging over England legend Ian Botham’s claim that he decked the former Australian captain in a bar room brawl 30 years ago.

Chappell, 64, accused Botham of “peddling his lies” in the new book and questioned the merits of his recently acquired title, saying “someone is going to regret awarding him a knighthood.”

Chappell’s version, recounted in the Bulletin magazine, is radically different from what he labelled Botham’s “fairytale.”

He claims that after a verbal exchange, Botham held an empty glass to his throat and said “I’ll cut you from ear to ear.”

Chappell said he told Botham that such an attack would prove he was a coward, prompting the Englishman to shove him in the chest, pushing him over in his chair. He said his rival then suggested they settle the matter outside but the Australian replied that he didn’t fight and Botham was not worth ending up in a hospital or jail cell over.

Chappell said he taunted Botham as he left and Australian fast bowler Ian Callen had to restrain the Englishman by clutching him in a bear hug.