Always an afterburn in battle for the urn

Jaco van der Merwe.

Jaco van der Merwe.

Whether it’s on the actual playing surface or the sidelines, there is never a dull moment when Australia and England fight it out for cricket’s famous little Ashes urn.

And as Steve Smith added the rivalry’s next instalment in the history books with his heroic match-winning knock in the first Test in Brisbane at the weekend, another incident made as many headlines, if not more. One that didn’t even take place on the field.

It was something that didn’t occur in close vicinity of the Gabba in fact, but some 4 400km west in Perth a few weeks prior to Mitchell Starc sending down the series’ first ball. The incident that had the media in a frenzy was England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow’s headbutt on Australian rookie Cameron Bancroft during a night out in the Western Australian capital last month. And rightly so, despite claims from both camps that it was blown out of proportion.

Really? A professional sportsman headbutting another in a public gathering? I kinda think it’s a big deal too. And to hear the pair kept on kuiering like it was the most natural thing ever is quite astounding.

The incident will undoubtedly make it’s way into the Ashes folklore recording the other side of the battle that doesn’t involve actual leather balls and wooden bats. And this section is as wellstocked as the numerous cricketing achievements the rivalry has produced down the years. We can go as far back as the Bodyline series in Australia way back in 1932/33, a contest best remembered for infamous England captain Douglas Jardine’s tactics of ordering his bowlers to bombard the Aussies with shortpitched deliveries and setting packed leg-side fields.

There are a few versions of the exact wording during an exchange between the two opposing captains, which as all fairly similar in context. I will use the one depicted in the famous television miniseries, where Jardine waltzed over to the Australian dressing room like a proper stuckup Pommie after a day’s play and complained to Bill Woodfull that one of the Aussies fielding in the slips had referred to him as a “bastard”.

Woodfull gave Jardine a hard stare, flung the dressing-room open and shouted: “Alright, which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?” And the sledging between the arch-rivals has only become sharper over the years.

In one of the famous exchanges in the middle, former Australian captain Steve Waugh’s twin brother Mark welcomed England debutant Jimmy Ormond at The Oval in 2001 with: “What are you doing here, you’re not good enough to play for England.” Only child Ormond couldn’t resist and replied: “Maybe so, but I’m the best cricketer in my family.”

But don’t discard the boys who put sledging on the map. Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, and Ian Healy were once setting a field for Nasser Hussain, who was in ear-shot. “Go field at silly point, I want you right under Hussain’s nose,” Waugh told Ponting.

Healy replied: “That could be anywhere in a three-mile radius.” Whether it involves a bat, a ball, a quick tongue or a hard forehead, you can’t afford to miss the next chapter in Adelaide.




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