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5 biggest controversies in English cricket

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ATHERTON BALL INCIDENT 1ST TEST
Michael Atherton in a press conference following the incident

England is the oldest cricket playing nation in the world and the country played its first ever Test match, way back in 1877. Over the course of its long and complicated cricketing history, English cricket has been through its fair share of triumphs, disasters and plenty of controversies. At the same time, it is perhaps necessary to point out that, controversies and scandals are part and parcel of all cricketing nations and in that regard, England is no exception.

Starting from disputes between the different category of players to questionable tactics on the field and finally to dubious tours to a certain country, the English cricket establishment has had to weather storms of varying degrees of infamy. It is always tough to choose from such a wide range of controversies but here are the famous 5 that are always going to be associated with English cricket.


#5 Michael Atherton and ‘dirt in the pocket’

After England had been trounced at home by Pakistan back in 1992, there had been widespread allegations of ball-tampering on the Pakistani team and particularly on their irresistible swing kings, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. However, two years later, their captain Michael Atherton was caught trying to keep the ball dry by applying dirt that he had kept in his pocket during the course of a Test match against South Africa at Lord’s.

That was not the end of the controversy though. When Atherton was hauled up by the match referee Peter Burge and asked about the reason why he had kept dirt in his pocket, he stated that he had it so that he could keep his hands dry. A captain lying to the match referee is unprecedented, particularly when he had been caught in the act. It was a monumental controversy and one that must have been deeply embarrassing for the English cricket establishment. Atherton got away with a £2000 fine but it is an incident that is recalled to this day whenever a ball-tampering controversy erupts.

#4 Somerset declare their innings after an over in a domestic ODI

Brian Rose of Somerset
Brian Rose of Somerset

Bending the rules of the game to snap points is something that has happened plenty of times in a range of sports and cricket is no stranger to that. Back in 1979, Somerset were faced with a bit of a problem as regards their qualification to the quarter-finals of the Benson & Hedges Cup one-day international tournament.

Their game against Worcestershire was going to determine their fate. If they lost, then Glamorgan and Worcestershire would be level on points along with Somerset and the qualification would be based on the bowling strike rate. So, Somerset’s captain Brian Rose figured that they should declare their innings after playing a single over and allow Worcestershire to win quickly so that their bowlers’ strike rate could be preserved.

That is exactly what happened as Rose declared the innings after the batsmen had scored 1 run in an over and then the target of 2 was knocked off in 10 deliveries by Worcestershire. The bowling strike rate was preserved and Somerset qualified. However, it created an almighty uproar and particularly for Brian Rose, who was thought to be the ringleader. Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack stated that the Somerset captain had ‘sacrificed all known cricketing principles by deliberately losing the game’.

On the other hand, there was the consideration about the spectators who had come to the ground expecting a full game but the game was over in 18 minutes and many of them had not even taken their seats by then. After a vote taken by the Test and County Cricket Board (precursor to the ECB), the members threw out Somerset from the championship through an overwhelming majority of 17 to 1.

#3 Kevin Pietersen’s Textgate

England Press Conference
Kevin Pietersen at a press conference

He is among the greatest batsmen to have ever played for England but Kevin Pietersen is perhaps one of the most polarising figures in English cricket’s recent history. Throughout his career, he had had run-ins with captains, coaches and figures of authority, but during the home series against South Africa back in 2012, it all boiled over into one of the most unsavoury controversies to have hit English cricket.

His relationship with the powers that be in English cricket was already strained since he was not able to participate in the lucrative IPL and following the 2nd Test of the drawn Test at Leeds, it emerged that he had exchanged text messages with the South Africans during the game.

Additionally, those were not harmless messages but those disparaging the captain Andrew Strauss. Apparently, Pietersen called Strauss a ‘doos’, which in Afrikaans is a well-known slang referring to a vital organ of a human body. Pietersen was eventually dropped from the team for the 3rd Test, despite having scored an imperious 149 in the 2nd Test.

#2 Rebel tours to South Africa in the 1980s

Images From The Book 'In The Moment' - By Tom Jenkins
Graham Gooch

Following the Basil D’Oliveira affair ahead of England’s tour to the country back in 1968-69, South Africa had become a pariah of world cricket due to their stance of apartheid. However, the South African public and their administrators were eager for international cricketers to play in the country. Since official teams were not going to play South Africa anywhere, they offered teams from some countries large amounts of money to visit the country on ‘rebel tours’ and play against their team.

The first to take up that offer were a group of top English cricketers, who took the large sums of money and took a ‘rebel’ England side to South Africa. It was led by Graham Gooch and the team played in the country, despite the boycott that had been placed on South Africa for their treatment of coloured sportspersons.

The England team were criticised widely not only by their own press but by press from all over the world and what made it particularly galling was that another group of cricketers went on a rebel tour in 1989. It remains one of the most controversial episodes in England’s cricket history.

#1 Bodyline

Bodyline Controversy
England bowling to a packed leg-side field.

This is not only the biggest controversy in English cricket but perhaps one of the biggest controversies in cricket history and it is still regarded as a blot on the game. In the 1930 Ashes series in England, Sir Donald Bradman had made a mockery of the home side’s bowling attack by plundering 974 runs in 5 Tests. So, when the 1932 Ashes in Australia came along, England captain Douglas Jardine decided that he had to take recourse to extreme measures if the urn was to be regained.

The ploy was simple, brutal and controversial. Additionally, it had the blessings of the Marylebone Cricket Club. England were going to use their pair of lightning-quick bowlers in Harold Larwood and Bill Voce to bowl at the body of the Australian batsmen, while packing the leg-side field so as to catch anything that went up in the air. It came to be known as ‘Bodyline’ and the series is often called the ‘Bodyline Series’.

The plan was wildly successful as Australia was pummeled into submission and Bradman’s averaged dropped. England won the series 4-1 but the series sparked tensions between the two nations that eventually led to diplomatic tensions and the unsporting nature of the triumph has forever consigned it to infamy. Additionally, Australia’s refusal to retaliate with similar tactics made Jardine and England’s look particularly unsporting.

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Edited by Aadya Sharma
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