Crikey, as the man who met a stringray might have said, international relations between two of the world’s most famous commentators and former cricketing adversaries have hit rock bottom as a new war of words reverberates around the planet, and it is all over the papers.
The Guardian: Ian Chappell yesterday launched an astonishing verbal attack on cricket’s newest knight, Sir Ian Botham, labelling the record-breaking former England all-rounder a liar and saying the decision to award him a knighthood will be regretted.
The Telegraph: Former Australia captain Ian Chappell has accused Sir Ian Botham of “peddling lies” over a bar-room brawl between the pair 30 years ago. In his latest autobiography, ‘Head On’, former all-rounder Botham has again claimed he “flattened” Chappell at a Melbourne bar in 1977 because he was ridiculing English cricket.
Sir Beef’s retort to the claims: “Ian Chappell worries me about as much as a cold. I couldn’t care less what he says.”
Writing in Canary Yellow gossip rag (oops.. sorry, Australia’s most respected news and current affairs magazine for 127 years) The Bulletin, Chappell labelled Sir Beef’s tale of flattening the former Australian captain in a Melbourne bar-brawl “a load of bollocks”. The following is in Chappell’s words:
The book recycles another version of our 1977 spat with added twists. He relates how, during the Centenary Test – it was actually a month earlier, during a Sheffield Shield match between Queensland and Victoria – I started rubbishing English cricket in a bar. “I gave him three official warnings,” writes Botham, “all of which he ignored, so the next time he started, I just flattened him. He went flying over a table and crash-landed on a group of Aussie Rules footballers, spilling their drinks in the process”.
After explaining how I bolted for the door, he couldn’t contain his Superman self-image, describing how he “at once set off in hot pursuit, chasing him down the street and even hurdling the bonnet of a passing car”.
Apart from having us in the same bar, the rest is a fairytale. How did we happen to be together in a bar in Melbourne in 1977?
Botham was in Australia on a Whitbread scholarship playing for Melbourne University in the VCA district competition. I was playing for North Melbourne and the previous Saturday – the first of a two-day contest – Botham had injured his shoulder batting and had his arm in a sling. I was rather surprised then to discover that when University had to bowl one over later that afternoon, it was Botham who took the new ball.
The following Friday night I arrived at the MCG bar, a small hotel next to the Hilton, and the young Englishman was boasting in a very loud voice that he could drink Australian beer all night and it had no effect on him.
This amused rather than bothered me, but I did become extremely annoyed when he accused me of verbally abusing him during an Australia v Somerset match. He said that “as a number 11″ he didn’t mind a bit of abuse, but when I had said to him “Does your mother f***?”, that was going too far.
I told him I didn’t believe anyone should stoop so low on a cricket field by making those type of remarks. I then pointed out to him that I’d only played against Somerset in 1968, and as English counties weren’t known for their youth policies I doubted he was in the side at age 12.
He was adamant I’d abused him, and when I asked for an apology, he refused. He then accused me of retiring from cricket to avoid the upcoming tour to England where “every fast bowler was looking to knock my block off”.
As I’d faced the English speedsters John Snow, Bob Willis and Alan Ward in their prime I felt entitled to brush that one aside, which I did with a few uncomplimentary remarks. Botham now began to have second thoughts about who had abused him in the Somerset match and said: “It might have been someone who looked like you.”
I’d had enough of his bullshit by this stage, and said: “I gave you the chance to apologise and you didn’t, so you can f*** off.”
With that, he put an empty beer glass against my face and threatened: “I’ll cut you from ear to ear.”
“That will only confirm you are a coward,” I said. “It will mean more if you cut me with a cricket ball tomorrow and I’ll give you every chance, because I’m going to bat all adjectival day.”
I was leaning back in my chair at the time and, when he pushed me in the chest, I fell backwards. As I got up, he suggested we settle it outside to which I replied: “I don’t fight. You either finish up in jail or hospital and I don’t intend visiting either over a c*** like you.”
I turned and headed outside where he yelled something about knocking my block off the next day. As I was walking across Wellington Street, I turned and replied: “What, with your sore arm and all, Deary?”
With that, he became enraged and the former Australian fast bowler Ian Callen had to restrain him by clutching him in a bear hug.
We did battle the next day on the cricket pitch and, while batting for around 40 minutes against Botham, there were no bouncers. I was then dismissed by Graham Stevenson – another Englishman here on a scholarship – incorrectly given out caught behind. I’ve never been so pissed off about getting a bad decision in my life.