How Tony Greig launched sledging in India

Published : Aug 30, 2003 00:00 IST

FROM swearing to sledging on the field of "display" I move. Zeroing in on one Test match, played 30 years ago, as a telling example of how it all really started nowhere but here in India.


FROM swearing to sledging on the field of "display" I move. Zeroing in on one Test match, played 30 years ago, as a telling example of how it all really started nowhere but here in India. As the thin end of the Greig wedge. Sunil Gavaskar has identified Australia as the game's sledge leader. As a leader of men, Steve Waugh's certainly refined sledging into a near art form. Not a harsh word, just a muttered observation calculated to sting the victim where it hurts most. After Steve's "That's the World Cup you've just dropped, son", take the West Indies-Australia landmark Antigua Test. A Test of nerves in which we saw skipper Steve Waugh intimidate his Windies counterpart in a bitter-sweet strain that had umpire David Shepherd sharply intervening to ask Brian Lara to pipe down.

Skipper Lara's 68 & 60 in that May 2003 St. John's Test were crucial to setting the Ramnaresh tone for the West Indies to touch a record 4th innings high of 418 for 7. A storybook ending to a Test match with a fairy-tale beginning. A beginning having the West Indies bowling out Champions Australia (when leading 3-0) for 240. It was as Brian Lara had yet to get his fluid left-hand drive going that the Windies captain chose to stand firm in the teeth of a vociferous appeal for caught behind. As Lara, having clearly got a touch, so stayed put, Steve turned the knife in the "gentleman" wound by taunting: "You always walk when you nick one, don't you — why then are you still standing?" That suavely subtle dig pricked Lara's conscience no end. Brian had sedulously built this high personal reputation of being a spot walker. But, here at St. John's, it involved, in the last lap of Lara's career, the future of the Windies team he was leading — while himself on a tortuous comeback course. Nothing else explains Lara's tart outburst that found David Shepherd, almost as broad as he is tall, stepping in between Brian and Steve as cricket's immovable property.

Was this then the first time Brian Lara had failed to walk? I really would not know, for our adulating memory of the man is of Lara's trudging off when 91 (c Nayan Mongia b Venkatapathy Raju) in the second innings of the December 1994 Mohali Test. How we viewers applauded Brian Lara as he so graciously headed for the pavilion when just 9 short of a Test ton. When umpire S. Venkataraghavan still had his finger firmly in his pocket. As Lara so pushed off, Venkat was viewed slowly to raise his Mohali finger. I pinpoint that belated midriff-level finger lifting by Venkat, if only because that century-spurning departure of Brian Lara (91) became, later, the subject matter of a scrutiny. A scrutiny to which Steve Waugh, as the know-all captain of Australia, could well have been privy. What if Steve's Antigua barb had obliquely suggested that "Mohali Brian walk" as a "must-follow precedent" at the core of the Lara lore? Had Venkat then originally got that Lara decision right, after all, in spite of Brian's opting to walk?

Let me next talk of a batsman who should have walked but did not. Of skipper Ajit Wadekar (0) standing his Chepauk ground when he well knew that he had been cleanly caught by Tony Greig at second slip. During the January 16, 1973, Tuesday evening of that series-determining third Test vs Tony Lewis' England at Madras. In my long haul on the cricket beat, I have been Third Eye witness to many a nasty incident. But nothing quite as unnerving as this one at Chepauk. What we here had was a regular streetside brawl. Therefore I say that sledging began in its most malevolent form here — in India. In that 1972-73 India-England series that must justly rank among the disgrace-abounding contests in the world's cricketing lexicon.

How England, here at Chepauk, came to be hoist with its own petard was succinctly summed up by John Woodcock as he agonised in The Times, London: "If a side has a reputation for extravagant appealing, they will, in the end, become victim of it. This could well have happened in the morning (final day of the Madras Test) when Salim Durrani, who was 15 at the time, was given not out in a passionate plea from Alan Knott and Keith Fletcher for a catch at the wicket."

That was following all hell's having been let loose the previous evening. It was at the start of the fifth morning's play, witnessing Salim Durrani (38) all but hitting India to victory with two of his trademark sixes over the midwicket boundary. Salim later candidly admitted to me that he had been out (caught behind) when 15. But Salim's generation never did belong to the walking school. Alan Knott's dismay at not getting the above John Woodcock-underpinned Salim decision, in his favour, was reflected in the way that wicket-keeper threw up the ball — to a height of three storeys — after he had, later, caught Chetan Chauhan (11), off Pat Pocock, for umpire M.V. Nagendra to uphold the appeal.

So over to Tony Greig. A Greig as flamboyant, then, in catching the ball as he is, now, in holding the mike. First the nitty-gritty of the Chepauk Test that led to a near trading of bazaar blows centrestage. In a grimly fought Test in which our legendary spin (B.S. Chandrasekhar: 38.5-9-90-6) gave us an Ekky Solkar edge (3 short-leg catches) by the end of the first day itself, England was dismissed for 242. India's well-grafted response of 316 was primarily organised by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (a score of 73, now, on his return to the Test fray under Ajit Wadekar). India's lead of 74 proved decisive as England came to be bowled out for 159 in the second stanza (Erapalli Prasanna's 10-5-16-4 sensationally rounding off Bishan Singh Bedi's classic 43-24-38-4 act).

That left India with but 86 to get for a win. This was when the fun began after tea on the fourth day — as the wordy climax to the third Test of a five-match series. A series fought eyeball to eyeball up to that pincerpoint. A series sprinkled with some of the foulest language heard on a cricket field. On to the fifth day then. With Sunil Gavaskar nursing a hand injury, Farokh Engineer and Chetan Chauhan began India's quest for those 86 runs. After Wadekar's India — back from our milestone (1-0) series wins in the West Indies and in England — had listlessly surrendered the first Test, at Kotla, by 6 wickets. A 28-run photo-finish win, in the Eden Gardens Test following, retrieved, for Ajit Wadekar (being again challenged by a Tiger Pataudi seated alongside Jim Swanton in the press-box) that Super Lucky Captain tag. This third Test at Chepauk, given the snarling turn in that wicket, looked like being the rubber decider — Kanpur and Bombay to follow being benign tracks for the last two matches.

As Engineer opening came to be halted in his Chepauk tracks, when 10, by umpire Ahmad Mamsa — ruled lbw, to Chris Old as he raced down the pitch for a swift single — 11 for 1 it was. In stepped Ajit Wadekar, who had hit a patchy 44 in the first innings. Now Wadekar (0) edged a dream outswinger, from Chris Old, for Tony Greig (at second slip) to latch on to the knee-high catch. But umpire Mamsa stood transfixed there, as the entire England team went up in celebration. From the press-box, we could see that Wadekar had been neatly consumed by the ogre in Greig. "I just took a chance since it was Tony Greig appealing!" Wadekar sheepishly excused himself to me later. Umpire Mamsa, for his short part, was to contend that, since he had crouched for the Old new ball to be delivered, he found (in the act of upraising himself) his view to be obstructed by the fact of Greig's being ultra-tall.

Upon Mamsa's now standing statue still, Tony Greig had to be seen in action to be believed. It was later suggested that Greig rose from the slips like the dinosaur, advancing upon the man even before poor Mamsa could give a final ruling. Nothing of the kind. I was there, viewing Wadekar and Mamsa straight. Umpire Mamsa in fact, had already decided in batsman Wadekar's favour. So the provocation was there. But surely not provocation enough for Greig, (a frightening spectacle at six foot seven and a half) to go stomping down the Chepauk wicket, the held ball raised high in his right hand, even as Tony suffixed — to "I caught it, you..." a double obscenity, highly personalised.

The picture of David so being gherao'd by Goliath was frightening to watch. Indeed Greig looked to be on the point of manhandling Mamsa, having beanstalked his way down the wicket with a gesture of terrible things. Was it cricket — as Tony Greig so ran up — for Alan Knott to take off his gloves and fling them off? For Barry Wood (from gully) to go charging down Chepauk in support of one already presenting the aspect of a dragon breathing fire? I tell you, in a trice, Chepauk ceased to be the most sporting cricket venue in India. At near gunpoint did they get Mamsa (after a show of consulting with M.V. Nagendra) to reverse his decision to: "Wadekar c Greig b Old 0". To think that something so hideous happened a full three decades ago and we are still (in 2003) debating about how to stamp out sledging from the game with the fanciful name!

"I have to report," wrote Crawford White in the Indian Express, "that MCC Manager Donald Carr has personally expressed his regret to members of the Indian Board for anger shown by England players when Wadekar's dismissal decision was delayed on Tuesday night. The players have also been rapped and I don't think it will happen again. I still reckon it was the heat, because they are a good bunch!" They certainly did not look a good bunch as they turned the heat on Mamsa that eerie evening. As for Crawford White's "I don't think it will happen again", the England team was viewed to be bellicose, still, the following morning. In the face of posters having sprung up in the Chepauk stands. Posters screaming: "MCC, Win or Lose, Be Sportive" — "In Defeat, Defiance: Winston Churchill".

"Defeat," wrote Michael Melford in The Daily Telegraph after Wadekar's India had scraped through by 4 wickets to lead 2-1, "has been accompanied by an element of dishonour. It is not pleasant to have spectators stop you to comment on England's unsporting cricket." Fine words butter no parsnips.

The Michael Melford sop was not a sentiment in sync with Tony Greig's being anointed with the England captaincy for the 1976-77 tour of India to come! Today your gush is as good as mine about whether Tony Greig is English, South African or Australian. Channel 9 gives Tony a vantage telly tower perch from which to hold forth on "sledging" as dating back to the Eskimo era! You can no more root out sledging from this game than you can dislodge Tony Greig from the Channel 9 summit. Just wait and watch the fur fly during India's oncoming tour of Australia. A Test rubber with no Steve-Sourav holds barred.

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