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By Suresh Menon
“I want to clarify,” said Shane Warne recently, that “this nightmare thing was a joke. Sachin is the best batsman of my time, but I am not scared of him or anybody for that matter.” This, more than a decade after the bowler had been quoted as saying that he experienced sweaty nights following Sachin’s assault on him match after match on an Australian tour of India.
Joke or not, at least Warne did say it. That is not the case with many of cricket’s best known quotes.
Some were made up by imaginative writers with a deadline to meet. Neville Cardus is the patron saint here, with his insistence that “this is what they ought to have said.” Of Emmott Robinson he wrote: “I imagine that the Lord one day gathered together a heap of Yorkshire clay and breathed into it and said, ‘Emott Robinson, go and bowl at the pavilion end for Yorkshire.’” Year later, Robinson remarked, “I reckon Mr Cardus invented me.” But then that is Cardus’s version too…
Many reporters see it as part of their job to put words into their interviewee’s mouth. And if it is a good line, everyone is happy. The player’s image as a wise-cracking, one-liner spewing old pro is enhanced; or if he is one of those shy and retiring types who have shot their bolt after a preliminary “Huh”, then the reporter can bask in the glow that comes from getting his subject to say something articulate. And readers are happy they have a good read.
Occasionally, at press conferences, someone will lead a captain on to a quote. For example, “Would you agree that batting is a trial by a 11-man jury?” The captain has only to nod his head, and he is credited in the following day’s paper as having originated the quote. You see a lot of this during tennis press conferences with Spanish or Russian-speaking players being hailed for using the kind of puns and cross cultural references that might have emerged from a stand-up comics writing team.
Wouldn’t we like to believe that Arthur Wood the Yorkshire wicket keeper actually told the left arm spinner Hedley Verity (after South African batsman Cameron had hit him for 30 in one over), “Go on Hedley, you’ve got him in two minds. He doesn’t know whether to hit you for four or six.? Or that George Hirst said “We’ll get them in singles” to Wilfred Rhodes (before a last-wicket stand of 15 as England beat Australia at the Oval in 1902) although David Hopps in his A Century of Great Cricket Quotes thinks the story is apocryphal?
When David Gower says “Its hard work making batting look effortless,” it feels authentic, because that sounds like him. Where sporting quotes are concerned, therefore, the traditional test must be stood on its head. You can usually tell what kind of a person someone is if you know what he says. When a sportsman speaks, however, you can only decide if what he says rings true if you know the kind of person he is.
Often no one wants to let facts interfere with a good story. A fine example is Ian Botham’s much-trumpeted reason for not playing in apartheid South Africa: “I could never look Viv Richards in the eye again.” Botham got enormous mileage out of that one, and his image as the boys own hero was enhanced. As Botham points out in his autobiography, they were stirring words, but he never uttered them. “That comment,” he writes, “made in good faith and sent to all the newspapers was attributed to me in a statement prepared on my behalf by (the journalist) Reg Hayter which I never saw.” Botham is honest enough to tell us how close he came to actually joining the rebels.
The Guardian writer Frank Keating has been seen as the originator of the sports quote cottage industry. In the foreword to Hopps’s book, Keating explains how, in the sixties, he began to collect quotes ‘for fun’. His collection, was published in 1978. There are, however, few Indians quoted in the ‘Indian’ section of A Century of Great Cricket Quotes. I would have loved to see some favourites from my collection: B S Chandrasekhar’s plaintive cry to the umpire after yet another bad umpiring day in New Zealand: “I know he is bowled, but is he out?” Or Eknath Solkar’s challenge to Geoff Boycott: “I will out you bloody.”