David Gower in St Vincent on England's 1985-86 tour of West Indies

Répondez, s'il vous plaît, with a cheesy one-liner

© Getty Images

The Jury's Out

The best quote

From tigers to soft cheese: five writers on cricket's memorable lines

"It's not Old Reptonians v Lysmeswold"

By Matthew Engel

"It is a Test match. It's not Old Reptonians v Lymeswold, one off the mark and jolly good show. You are not expecting life to be made easy for you." - David Gower, August 11, 1984

The essence of a good quote is that it should express a universal truth pithily. This one does, which is why I love it. But the explanation requires a certain amount of context: cricketing and otherwise.

It came on the third evening of The Oval Test: England v West Indies, the final encounter of what became known as the "blackwash" series, when Clive Lloyd's team finally turned their long-standing dominance over England into a 5-0 victory. Gower was the vanquished captain.

Was it really 32 years ago? Seems like last week to me. But, yes, it was a very different game. West Indies were by a mile the most fearsome and feared team in the word, mainly due to their battery of fast bowlers, led then by Malcolm Marshall.

Tests in England began on a Thursday (a rhythm that had massive advantages in maintaining public involvement) and Sunday was still normally a rest day. We did not have the modern nightly press conferences whereby players are paraded to utter twaddle, which is dutifully transcribed but almost never read. However, the England captain - who at that point was indisputably in charge of the team - was expected to turn up before the day off and answer questions, of which the most regular one was, "Can we save this one, then?"

Not surprisingly these occasions were often pretty spiky. Bob Willis was sometimes monosyllabic; Gower once walked out to go to the theatre. But by The Oval 1984 blame was not on the menu. Everyone understood that England were up against a formidable and probably unstoppable fighting force, urged on at The Oval by large numbers of Caribbean migrants in an atmosphere heightened by political tension. It was a decade of race riots in South London.

Production of Lymeswold ceased in 1992; England now has first-class cheeses, and might even win a five-day cheese Test against France

At first, the game went well for England. Led by a resurgent Ian Botham, they bowled West Indies out for 190. But then, as Wisden reported: "Next morning they were devastated by Marshall, who took five for 35 in an almost brutal display of fast bowling that many considered to have been barely within the bounds of the law relating to short-pitched deliveries." On the Saturday, Desmond Haynes extended a lead of 28 towards infinity. That was the background, and that night the press were calling on Gower to cry foul.

Repton is one of England's leading cricketing schools (founded 1557) and alma mater of CB Fry. Lymeswold was an English soft cheese, invented by marketing men in 1982 to compete with Brie and deliberately named to sound like an idyllic cricket-on-the-green village. The fact that it tasted of soap was considered a minor detail. As a fictional fixture typifying the ancient spirit of amateur cricket, Old Reptonians v Lymeswold represented a brilliant choice of imagery by Gower.

In a few seconds he told the world that he was not the softie of popular imagination; that he was not going to whinge; that his players were there to deal with the problems they confronted; and that he and they would stand or fall accordingly. It was a magnificently judged response.

England lost of course, by 172 runs. But the following year Gower would secure an outstanding triumph in India and then regain the Ashes at home. Just over a year after his Lymeswold moment, with a Caribbean tour coming up, he stood on the Oval balcony and said West Indies would be "quaking in their boots". He was being ironic, a quality now eradicated from England captains' verbal armoury. England were blackwashed again, and Gower was soon sacked. He is now a commentator, though not one renowned for electrifying wordplay. Repton still thrives. Production of Lymeswold ceased in 1992; England now has first-class cheeses, and might even win a five-day cheese Test against France.

West Indian cricket, you know about. English cricket? That's complicated. But the captains almost never say anything worth mentioning.

Matthew Engel was formerly cricket correspondent of the Guardian, and editor of Wisden for 12 years. He writes for both the Guardian and the Financial Times


"I want my team to play today like a cornered tiger"

By Rob Smyth

Imran Khan: big cat of Pakistan cricket

Imran Khan: big cat of Pakistan cricket © Fairfax Media via Getty Images

A picture is worth a thousand words. But it can also work the other way. The phrase "cornered tiger", famously used by Imran Khan during Pakistan's 1992 World Cup victory, prompts a Proustian rush of mental images. The most powerful is of Wasim Akram making the ball talk, and then making it say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious against England in the final. But it is not confined to 1992.

"Cornered tiger" is the most vivid, succinct summary of a ceaselessly fascinating team - a two-word dissertation that stimulates all kind of memories: Shoaib Akhtar lasering yorkers through Stephen Fleming and Adam Gilchrist, Abdul Qadir punching a heckler, Javed Miandad sledging bowlers, Wahab Riaz roughing up Shane Watson.

It also acts as a mantra. Pakistan are invariably at their best when they play cricket that is somewhere between unfettered and feral; when anger is an energy and adversity a stimulus. It is about raw talent and also mood: a mood of anarchy, defiance, menace, perpetual emotion, mischief - and, when England are the victims, of doing it for Ian Botham's mother-in-law.

Pakistan are at their best when they play cricket that is somewhere between unfettered and feral; when anger is an energy and adversity a stimulus

Never was that truer than during the 1992 World Cup. The actual significance of Imran's speech, made before the match against Australia in Perth, is still debated. Aaqib Javed says it was life-changing; Zahid Fazal says it didn't happen. What we do know is that, at the toss, Imran wore a white T-shirt depicting a tiger waiting to pounce, and announced an ethos that would take Pakistan, on the brink of elimination, to glorious victory 14 days later. In the first coloured-clothing World Cup, it was a white T-shirt that won it.

Pakistan won their last five games in uber-Pakistan style, two of them against the previously unbeatable co-hosts New Zealand and another, the final, against England's finest one-day team. Bowlers were supposed to be the hunted in limited-overs cricket, even back then. Imran made them the hunters. He told them, especially the key pair of Wasim and Mushtaq Ahmed, to forget worrying about no-balls and bad balls.

The result was spectacular. In the first five games, pre-tiger, Pakistan took 22 wickets; in the last five they took 43. Inzamam-ul-Haq, who had experienced a dreadful tournament, made 102 match-winning runs from 72 balls in the semi-final and final.

For someone who had never seen Pakistan play before, the experience was a revelation. They were the antonym of an admirable, brilliant but limited England side. The final was the only time I have been heartbroken and fallen in love at the same time. An instant fascination with Pakistan became something more later that year when Wasim and Waqar turned 1992 into the English summer of reverse swing.

Whether it was the T-shirt, the speech or something else, Imran's team played with almost total freedom in the second half of that World Cup. Even if he did nothing, even if it is a case of history being written by one of the victors, the quote endures because it is a perfectly evocative précis of one of the most thrilling and charming victories in cricket.

Rob Smyth is the author of Gentlemen and Sledgers: A History of the Ashes in 100 Quotations


"No normal sport in an abnormal society"

By Niren Tolsi

To be poor and black in South Africa is to always be on the other side of the fence

To be poor and black in South Africa is to always be on the other side of the fence © Getty Images

Mfuneko Ngam remembers his playing days with a clarity unhindered by nostalgia. The reassuring call from an injured Allan Donald on the eve of his Test debut in 2000, Daryll Cullinan twice dropping Adam Parore off his bowling on the first morning, his eventual figures of 2 for 34 in a rain-shortened match. As well as his final Test appearance at Newlands a month later, the stress fractures and injuries cut short his career in 2007 at the age of 28.

Smooth in his run-up, devastating in his delivery, Ngam was heralded as the "Black Thunder" to Donald's "White Lightning". Instead, his battered body became the living, breathing, wretched epitome of the slogan that there could be "no normal sport in an abnormal society".

Reports vary as to whether the term was coined by journalist Jimmy Atkins or by Hassan Howa, the president of the non-racial South African Cricket Board of Control. The slogan became the rallying call for the South African Council on Sport (SACOS), the radical umbrella body that organised non-racial sports for blacks ("Black African", "Indian" and "Coloured" or "mixed-race" people) during apartheid and successfully campaigned for the international isolation of racist South Africa's all-white teams.

The early premise was simple: there could be no "normal" sport in a country warped by fantasies of racial superiority, where black people required passbooks to move between racially segregated areas, where interracial sport was illegal and love across the colour line was banned.

Nor could the playing fields be level. Sporting facilities in black townships, if they existed, were inadequate. With blacks largely consigned to pools of cheap labour in ghettoes and Bantustans, doing menial jobs in white households or working as migrants on the mines, there was scant money to buy their children sports equipment, pay for proper coaching or ferry them to practice. White capital also entrenched notions of white superiority through its meagre sponsorship of black sports. In 1978, for example, Simba Quix, the potato chip company, offered to sponsor a national non-racial schools tournament with two boxes of its product.

The early premise was simple: there could be no "normal" sport in a country warped by fantasies of racial superiority

By the time of Nelson Mandela's release in 1990, the process of unifying the various sports associations in the country had begun, but SACOS maintained its intransigent stance that until a "normal society" was achieved with the adoption of an egalitarian constitution and the voting in of a democratic parliament, South Africa remained an "abnormal society". As such, sporting isolation should continue. The council also requested finalised grass-roots development plans to normalise sport in black communities before readmission.

Twenty-five years after the return to international cricket, SACOS' stance seems prescient. The country, riven by escalating racial tensions and a widening economic chasm between the poor (black and unemployed) and the rich (largely white, with a smattering of black elites), remains a society that is anything but equal.

Sporting transformation remains elusive. One's chances of making the Test side is greatly enhanced by attending privileged schools like Herschelle Gibbs' Bishops College in Cape Town, or Kagiso Rabada's St Stithians College in Johannesburg, where annual tuition fees are R113,400 (approx $7400) and R114,200 respectively. In South Africa, a poor black child's mother, if she is lucky to have a job - usually of a maid - earns between R2000 (approx $130) and R4000 per month, about the price of a good cricket bat.

Ngam bucked that trend. Of the seven Black Africans to play Test cricket for South Africa since readmission, he was the only one not to have attended an elite, former whites-only school.

When the stress fractures in his legs and feet crippled his career, theories abounded about his early childhood malnourishment and the lack of calcium in his diet. Today, Ngam, who describes his childhood as "never privileged" says the tests proved that his "bone density was okay" but that he still doesn't know what went wrong. He thinks it may have been because of his enthusiasm to succeed - and a lack of proper coaching.

"I used to come home from training and then run an extra five to ten kilometres a day, or bowl more overs," he told me. "I wasn't thinking about the effects this would have on my body. I probably needed guidance from a coach to tell me to rest up, but I never got that. I come from a township where cricket and rugby was just another sport - people didn't think too deeply about it."

That there can be "no normal sport in an abnormal society" is easily transmuted from the cricket and rugby fields onto the social fabric and body politic of contemporary South Africa. It is an echo from a violent, racist past, trenchantly reminding the country that it remains untransformed; a most abnormal of societies, especially if you are poor and black.

Niren Tolsi is a Johannesburg-based journalist, and co-editor of the long-form and literary journal The Con


"Just one last thing, lads"

By Sharda Ugra

Sourav Ganguly marched to his own tune

Sourav Ganguly marched to his own tune © AFP

Bangalore 2008, a room full of tetchy reporters relieved that the press conference had ended. As usual they had been kept waiting beyond the scheduled time, and headed towards the table to pick up their recorders. A half-hour wait for a 15-minute tête-à-tête. Typical. Then comes, "Just one last thing, lads."

A Gangulyesque pronouncement. Prosaic at the start, over the shoulder, off the cuff. Followed by the rocket, launched from the corner of his mouth. "Just one last thing, lads, before I leave, I just want to say that this is going to be my last series. I've decided to quit."

Sure he got asked a lot of questions about his dotage - he was 36 - but for the previous two years he had cussedly worked himself into what looked like the best batting nick of his life. After the extended pantomime involving him, his captain, his coach and his team-mates, his return to the Test team brought three centuries and nine fifties, and the runs ticked over at better than his career average. Back in the afterglow of public adoration, he had earned a sustained gloat. The actual winding down of his career was expected to be one final, inflammatory round of epic theatre. We had strapped on seat belts and were ready to brace ourselves. Then this?

Sourav Ganguly spoke in the low, urbane tone reserved for all hyperventilating beings before him. "I told my team-mates before coming here. These four Test matches are going to be my last and hopefully we'll go on a winning note." Before any jaws could be picked off the floor, he was gone. The poster boy for Indian cricket's 21st century Dadaism, Ganguly was an anarchist when it came to stereotypes - to do with the team he led, and with the manner in which he dealt with its captaincy. His engagement with the public and his public was never through the measured word but the grand gesture. This clipped farewell, the stiff-upper-lip ladness of "one last thing" was most unlike him. You didn't even have to be in the room to know what it felt like. This was Ganguly. About him, everybody felt everything - the entire shebang of human response.

This clipped farewell, the stiff-upper-lip ladness of "one last thing" was most unlike Ganguly

At the time it was strongly suspected that Ganguly was shoved. Today, who cares? His peers and colleagues had a range of departures: Kumble's announcement was to come up on a scoreboard in Delhi a few weeks later. Dravid and Laxman held sober media briefings, Sehwag's was a response to a question at a launch event for a T20 seniors tournament, Tendulkar had a month-long prelude and then unleashed a tidal wave of tears with an extempore speech. Ganguly was a one-off. Wherever he belongs in the Indian pantheon, whether he was shoved or not, "just one last thing, lads" belongs to the coolness hall of fame.

Three years later, Ganguly and I ran into each other (as people of a certain predilection do) over the tea and cake table at Trent Bridge. India's first innings was tottering; he was part of the commentary team. I asked him to please put on his pads and go out to bat. Ganguly smiled his tolerant smile and, patting a rather happy midriff began, "I shouldn't have…"

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo


"Dear Sir, on Friday I watched JM Brearley very carefully... "

By David Hopps

Upturned collar? Greying hair? Captain of England?

Upturned collar? Greying hair? Captain of England? © Getty Images

Beyond the banal promises delivered in daily media conferences by media-coached, suspicious cricketers to "get the ball in the right areas", cricket possesses a treasure trove of wonderful comments, from the pithy to the revelatory to the downright rude. Some become the stuff of blaring headlines, important for a week and then forgotten. Others grow in stature as the years progress, revealing their historical importance over time. All tell you something valuable about the game.

ESPNcricinfo religiously records the best of them and I still fondly retain the hope that these quotes will be assembled one day on a searchable database: a sort of literary Statsguru, the history of the game in miniature.

My obsession with cricket quotes began 30 years ago when I produced a few collections with Peter Ball, a fellow scribe and friend. The computer age had barely taken hold and we skim-read hundreds of books, pored over decades of cricket magazines and went hazy-eyed looking at newspaper microfilm. When it came to putting the quotes into some sort of order, the Ball kitchen table was buried under a confused pile of glued-up paper. All it would take was a waft of an open door and a quote intended for chapter five would sail across the table and find itself repositioned several chapters further back. This was most likely to happen late at night when Peter's taste for Rioja was beginning to have a deleterious effect.

Peter preferred the literary quote. Had he alighted upon it, he would have loved this on Sachin, from back in 1998, by the Mumbai poet CP Surendran: "Batsmen walk out into the middle alone. Not Tendulkar. Every time Tendulkar walks to the crease, a whole nation, tatters and all, marches with him to the battle arena. A pauper people pleading for relief, remission from the lifelong anxiety of being Indian, by joining in spirit their visored saviour."

I still fondly retain the hope that quotes will be assembled one day on a searchable database: a sort of literary Statsguru

To balance things out, I tended towards the instant, and less cerebral, wit and wisdom of the spoken word, scribbled down at the time by journalists who knew a good quote when they saw one. Such as Matthew Hayden, the Australian batsman, again on Sachin: "I have seen God. He bats at No. 4 for India." Or Maurice Leyland's "None of us likes fast bowling, but some of us don't let on", a quote that has stood the test of time for around 80 years and one that resonated even more in the days before helmets, when batsmen survived with little more than a box, a flannel down the leading thigh and a fatalistic air.

For a quote filled with political and historical tension, from whatever standpoint you look at it, try this from Robert Mugabe. "Cricket? It civilises people and creates good gentlemen. I want everyone in Zimbabwe to play cricket in Zimbabwe. I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen."

Now ESPNcricinfo's Quote Unquote section carries the tradition forward. I had a giggle at Simon Katich's recent memory of grabbing Michael Clarke by the throat in the Australian dressing room - a clash between Old and New encapsulated by Katich's summary: "The hardest part about the whole affair was that it took me a month to get the fake tan off my hand." It was a natural one-liner for any cricket dinner.

For a quote of import, it would be wise to choose something of historical significance such as the satirical death notice - "In affectionate remembrance of England cricket" - that was placed in the Sporting Times in 1882 and from which the Ashes was born.

To encapsulate the upper classes' lauding of the Spirit of Cricket in England a century ago, little beats the speech of the great English autocrat Lord Harris on his 80th birthday: "You will do well to love it, for it is more free from anything sordid than any game in the world. To play it keenly, honourably, generously, self-sacrificingly is a moral lesson in itself." A view of its time.

But if I must nominate a favourite quote, I will rely on the verdict already passed down by Frank Keating, the originator of quotes collections, who awarded the honour not to an off-the-cuff observation, a momentous speech or a great piece of writing, but a letter written to the Guardian after a Test match at The Oval in the summer of 1981, when Mike Brearley returned to the England captaincy and supervised the rebirth of Ian Botham.

"Dear Sir, on Friday I watched JM Brearley very carefully as he directed his fieldsmen. He then looked up at the sun and made a gesture which seemed to indicate that it should move a little squarer. Who is this man? Yours sincerely, SA Nicholas, Longlevens, Glos."

As a humorous quote perfectly capturing the essence of the times it is hard to beat. If only all reader responses could aspire to the same quality.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps