Whether a call to arms, words of warning or an ill-thought out gaffe, off-field speeches have long bound together some of cricket’s greatest, funniest and most desperate times. Vithushan Ehantharajah lists the game’s 10 classic speeches.
10) “If you consult your [Headingley] notebooks, it will save us a lot of time” – David Gower, 1989
David Gower’s press conference after England toiled on day three of the second Ashes Test at Lord’s in 1989 was a colourful affair that reflected his dismay with his side’s performance as much as it did his disdain at having to face the English press on the cusp of consecutive defeats to Australia. “Righto, I’ve not much to say. All the questions you asked last time still apply, and the answers are all the same too.”
When asked about the prospect of little cricket on offer for those turning up for the final day, Gower snapped: “We’ll be trying our bollocks off! If that’s what you want me to say, I’ll say it.” As the England skipper became more and more disconsolate as the enquiry went on, he got up, announced he had a theatre engagement – Tim Rice’s production of Anything Goes at the Prince Edward theatre – and a taxi meter running, and flounced out of the press tent.
Gower came back on the fourth day to score his 15th Test century, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a six-wicket win for Australia.
9) “Finally, I’ve managed to win the World Cup” – Imran Khan, 1992
“I just want to give my commiserations to the England team. I want them to know that by winning this World Cup, personally, it means that one of my greatest obsessions in life, which is to build a cancer hospital, I’m sure that this World Cup will go a long way towards completion of this obsession. I would also like to say that I feel very proud that at the twilight of my career, finally I’ve managed to win the World Cup.” After an incredible international career spanning 21 years, he probably deserved to end on a high such as the 1992 World Cup – Pakistan’s first, no less – but a “Cheers lads, thanks for the help” wouldn’t have gone amiss for cricket’s most renowned player-turned-diplomat.
8) “If they’re down, they grovel” – Tony Greig, 1976
Before the first Test against a trailblazing West Indian side in 1976, Tony Greig was interviewed for the BBC’s Sportsnight programme and used the opportunity to indulge in what, in hindsight, we can file under ‘misguided fighting talk’. “I’m not really sure they’re as good as everyone thinks,” he said. “These guys, if they get on top they are magnificent cricketers. But if they’re down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel.” A poor choice of word, particularly coming from the mouth of a blond South African. In recent years, Sir Viv Richards has revealed that Clive Lloyd’s pre-match speech was superfluous – Greig’s words alone providing motivation enough as the West Indies took the series 3-0. “I’m a press-man’s dream,” remarked Greig sheepishly after the series. “If you talk to me long enough I will say something controversial. I am bound to offend someone and get myself into deep water. ‘Grovel’ was simply an instance of that.”
7) “It’s tough being me in this dressing room” – Kevin Pietersen, 2012
Fresh from receiving the Man of the Match award for the second Test against South Africa after a staggeringly good 149, England’s one-man box office opened the Headingley press conference with a call for hurry; keen to get home and unwilling to wait for then captain Andrew Strauss. In a radio interview minutes before the press conference, Pietersen alluded to the possibility that this could be his last Test match but refused to shed light on the issue, only offering the nugget that all was not as it seemed. “You can ask me 100 times – I’m not going into it.”
After six months, a peculiar YouTube interview, endless crisis talks, the closing of a parody Twitter account, a first series win in India for 27 years and a reintegration, KP seems a lot comfier in that dressing room.
6) “Players should be ready to give up a little personal space and personal comfort for this game” – Rahul Dravid, 2011
With an evocative 37-minute speech, the ever classy Rahul Dravid took on the challenge of being the first cricketer outside of Australia to be asked to give the annual Bradman Oration speech in 2011 with great aplomb. “Bradman scored a hundred at Lord’s before lunch,” he began, the audience already in the palm of his hand; “my hundred there took almost an entire day.” On an occasion used to mark the contribution and role cricket has played in shaping the Australian culture and way of life, the Indian legend held court in Canberra with witticisms and warnings, that the “mad merry-go-round” of the three forms of the game, coupled with increased player power, could leave cricket at breaking point.
5) “It just doesn’t look good” – Michael Holding, 2010
Whether disheartened by an exciting young bowler led astray or the sullying of the game he loves, Michael Holding was fighting back the tears live on Sky Sports as he tried to comprehend what was afoot in the dark shadows, and watched back clips from Mohammad Amir’s brace of no balls from the previous day. That morning, the News of the World ran their story exposing the young left-armer, Mohammed Asif and captain Salman Butt for their part in plotting to fix parts of Pakistan’s Lord’s and Oval Tests against England in 2010. Insistent that Amir was targeted because of his youthful naivety, Holding submitted a statement to court in Amir’s mitigation, based purely on the teenager’s ability.
4) “Some of you are going to have to take some serious growing-up pills and take the issue very seriously indeed” – Nasser Hussain, 2003
A decision left, inexplicably, to a group of cricketers who found themselves with a political buck passed down from on high. Amid gross unrest in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, England skipper Nasser Hussain, under immense pressure from the ICC and ECB, put it frankly to his side in a meeting at the Cullinan Hotel, Cape Town, as they discussed whether they should fulfil a fixture in the country as part of their 2003 World Cup programme.
“Look, I know sometimes when we are discussing cricket and tactics, some of you fall asleep at the back during my team talks, but that doesn’t concern me now. I know a lot of you are young and I apologise for putting this on you, but it’s looking as though everyone is going to leave us to make some pretty big decisions here.”
After further strained and tense talks with the ECB, ICC and a secret meeting with an exiled member of the Zimbabwe opposition to Mugabe, the players decided to boycott the match. Hussain then fronted up to give one of the great, from the heart press conferences of our time. “This has become more than just a game of cricket,” he told the world.
3) “We’re an inquisitive and fun-loving people, smiling defiantly in the face of hardship and raucously celebrating times of prosperity” – Kumar Sangakkara, 2011
“The most important speech in cricket history,” gleamed the late Peter Roebuck, and few would argue that claim. The youngest person to deliver the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture, and the first still playing international cricket, Sangakkara’s hour-long speech touched on Sri Lanka’s cricket and socio-economic history; painting a picture of the world he grew up in and the administrative and human threats to it. A harrowing description of his experiences during the terrorist attacks in Lahore on the Sri Lanka team bus and his call for an end to corruption within his own board took the immediate headlines, but it was Sangakkara’s challenge to cricket that struck a chord and is still reverberating around the world today.
2) “In the 45 years that I have followed cricket, I have seen it threatened from all sides by the horrors of modern life” – Stephen Fry, 2009
In a 20-minute love-letter to cricket at the Home of Cricket, on the eve of the second Test of the Ashes, Fry took an audience, littered with internationals, past and present, on a journey through his career as an admirer of the game. His memories of the Basil D’Oliveira affair –“The filth of racism and international politics beginning to stain the pure white of the flannels” – and Kerry Packer’s arrival to sow “his own blend of discord” interspersed a speech filled largely with reverence and whimsy. A homage to cricket’s imitation of life by one of the modern day’s most revered bards. “I for one do truly believe that the game itself will continue to provide unimagined pleasures, that true drama will once more come centre stage, booting into the wings the tragedy and farce we have witnessed over the past decade in particular.”
1) “Follow me…” – John Barclay
The key to a good speech is the climax: a crescendo of enthusiasm and weighted words to spur your troops onto the field with fists clenched and maybe even a tear in the eye. Never a cacophony of laughter. Given the honour of captaining the Test and County Cricket Board XI in the summer of 1981, Sussex’s off-spinning allrounder John Barclay delivered a rousing pre-match speech to his players, in front of chairman of selectors Alec Bedser. As his words started to sink in, he turned to leave, only to open the wrong door and end up in an airing cupboard.