Cricket’s sprawling canvas offers unrivaled opportunities for sportsmen to develop, hone and (dare I say) perfect a range of idiosyncrasies that would have delighted Sigmund Freud. One can only speculate on what the Austrian would have to say about Eoin Morgan’s recent exaggerated squat coinciding with such an er… crappy run of form. But the Irishman is hardly alone in his eccentricity – cricketers’ idiosyncrasies vary from the absurd affectation to something approaching technical innovation, and all add to the enjoyment of the spectator (with one or two exceptions – I’m looking at you Billy Bowden).
Batsmen, being literally the centre of attention, catch the eye with rich variety of tics and compulsions. Jonathan Trott ploughs the furrow marking his guard ball after ball, even after the match is over. Sadiq Mohammad would spin his bat in his hands, a trait later taken up by Alex Stewart. Marcus Trescothick left the ball by gently swinging his bat inside the line, hinting that he had played the ball – but he hadn’t. Robin Smith would blink, not so much with his eyes, as with his whole face purportedly to get his eye muscles working. In his early days, Viv Richards liked to bang the top of the bat handle with the palm of his hand and Somerset team-mate Ian Botham would walk to the crease swinging his bat round and round in full arcs like a sledgehammer. Ian Chappell preferred to adjust his box vigorously between deliveries, prompting a dry comment from Jim Laker (or possibly Don Mosey) that he needed “one more for his century”.
Other batsmen’s idiosyncrasies were more technical. To deal with the West Indies fast men of 1976, Dennis Amiss moved back and across in his crease long before the ball was released, the better to give himself more time. Graham Gooch achieved the same objective ten years later by standing with his bat at half-cock, something Tony Greig had tried in the Grovel series with less success. Possibly meeting Dennis Amiss coming the other way across the crease would be Kim Barnett, who walked into his shots having taken guard somewhere around Short Leg. The sideways shuffle into shots was later adopted by lefties Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Michael Yardy, with somewhat mixed results.
Then there are the outré habits of Stephen Waugh, with his ever-present red handkerchief, Jack Russell with his everlasting teabag, Alan Knott who liked to stand in cold water in the middle of the night and Neil McKenzie who, well, there’s not enough space here for his almost pathological habits and suspicions.
Bowlers are hardly immune from the bug either. Asif Masood would start his run-up facing the wrong way, a styling adopted by Sir Richard Hadlee in his largely undistinguished career before he turned thirty, ran in properly and became an all-time great. Bob Willis’ early career was marked by an almost sideways approach to the crease, starting his run about short mid-wicket. Another great with a habit was Michael Holding, whose majestic, silent approach to the wicket was preceded by a couple of shuffling steps and a look down at his mark, before the head was tossed back and the whispering death unleashed. Lasith Malinga kisses the ball gently before each delivery – Merv Hughes favoured a slobbery (and frankly unhealthy) full lick of the leather.
Slow bowlers are no less susceptible to such behaviours. Phil Edmonds would bend all that way down and rub his fingers into the dirt the better to grip the ball – but was it necessary after every delivery? Fellow Middlesex lefty Phil Tufnell seemed always to be knocking his fringe out of his eyes. Batsmen claimed to be able to read Abdul Qadir’s googly by watching the grin play across his face as he released it. Shane Warne’s tongue, a well-travelled instrument it’s safe to say, was on show as he sent down this week’s new delivery (and the next week’s and the week after that’s). Geoff Boycott bowled (sort of bowled) in a cap in a World Cup Final and Ashley Giles always wore the shades. Did either accessory make any difference?
Umpires, and we shouldn’t be surprised at this – they are ex-players – are not immune either. David Shepherd would hop about whenever a multiple of Nelson (111) was on the board; Dickie Bird had the white cap come rain (often) or shine and Billy Bowden – well, let’s leave him with Neil McKenzie shall we?
Fielders get off lightly, but even they would muscle in on the act, whether warming-up and, (would you believe it) playing to the gallery like Ronnie Irani or standing at second slip with hands casually on the knees and then catching pigeons like Ian Botham. The biomechanics experts have got into throwing these days, so we have lost such delights as dear old Angus Fraser bowling it in from Third Man and Keith Boyce slinging it sidearm with both feet off the ground flat over the stumps from anywhere within 100 yards of the keeper.
So there are some of the idiosyncrasies I can recall without so much as a click on youtube – I’d be delighted if readers were to contribute some of their favourites below the line.