England’s ill-fated Ashes campaign featured an entourage worthy of a gangster rapper. Also, the team’s ridiculously detailed dietary nonsense – piri-piri breaded tofu with tomato salsa, if you please – equalled any precious pop diva’s riders.
Yet nobody addressed the most elementary consideration of all… selecting players capable of growing a moustache. Captain Cook’s young shavers were all at sea against the lightning Mitchell Johnson (above), who brandished an impressive hairy horseshoe. Mitchell knocked England into a cocked hat and scooped up three ‘Man of the Match’ awards in the process.
Everything’s coming up roses now for Mitchell Johnson, but he came unstuck during his first facial foray in 2010, when going mo’ to mo’ with Kevin Pietersen. The Guardian had a leading London barber run the rule over the pair. He deemed KP’s effort – more Harold McMillan than Rhett Butler – marginally the less revolting. Mitchell was the spit of Manuel from Fawlty Towers. And with match figures of 0-170, he scarcely bowled better than a Spanish waiter. Johnson’s line and length was appalling in every sense and Wisden, who rarely comment on sartorial matters, condemned his growth as unsightly. Cultivating a moustache should never mean just letting the upper lip run riot. Brian Close’s short-lived protuberance was labelled a sporran, while Percy Fender’s tuft matched Groucho Marx’s.
“I feel facial hair brings the best out of the players… I firmly believe it should be brought back.” Merv Hughes
The tawdry moustache of Aussie pace merchant Bruce Reid lowered the whole tone of the 1986/87 contest. His ‘Paul Calf’ affair was frankly pathetic – more likely to worry sheep than trouble Test batsmen. His chum, the foul-mouthed Merv Hughes, brandished cricket’s most infamous moustache. The rascal resembled the butch biker from the Village People. Merv’s bushy horseshoe, reputedly insured for around £200,000, was practically an offensive weapon – even serial killers adopted the look.
Ivan Milat, a bad egg who had it in for backpackers, found himself in the dock after a witness flagged up that the murderer sported a ‘Merv Hughes’ moustache. Milat’s goose was cooked after the court circulated Exhibit A: a blown-up photograph of Merv’s monster.
In 2013, Merv Hughes bristled after India whitewashed Australia 4-0. He laid the blame fairly and squarely on the absence of moustaches. “I feel facial hair brings the best out of the players… I firmly believe it should be brought back.” Merv had David Boon’s walrus in mind, though Ian Chappell’s 1970s rabble set the template. Taches ranged from regulation Ringo Starrs to full-blown spaghetti western desperadoes. Their stalwart seamer Max Walker claimed, somewhat incredulously, that grooming guidelines operated. Apparently, to prevent accidental beards developing, an unwritten law required at least an inch gap between moustache and sideboards.
The eccentric 1930s Aussie spinner Chuck Fleetwood-Smith fancied himself as Clark Gable. While cruising to Blighty in 1938, his teammates played silly buggers and attacked his pride and joy with blunt scissors. It was a complete write-off. The barbaric incident had a Samson like effect on Chuck, who was out of sorts all summer long. CB Fry viewed almost the entire 1938 colonial contingent as riff-raff: “There are barely one or two who would be accepted as public school men”.
In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, handlebars ruled the roost. The chap who boasted the most commanding moustache was generally made England captain. Lord Hawke (left) established his credentials at a tender age. At Eton he was renowned for displaying the finest moustache and side-whiskers ever borne by any Lower Boy. FS Jackson’s jaunty style was bang up the elephant, while Andrew Stoddart’s magnificent smasher might have had a fellow’s eye out.
Bowlers, on the other hand, favoured something more diabolical than dashing. Australia’s Fred ‘The Terror’ Spofforth resembled the sort of pantomime villain that lashes damsels to railway tracks. A menacing upper lip was de riguer among speedsters. In 1893, England resorted to picking a gypsy to open the bowling. The swarthy Tom Richardson proved an inspired choice, as he snared ten wickets.
After Hitler stopped play, it was bad form for cricketers to flaunt moustaches, toothbrush or otherwise. One Kent member wrote to The Times in 1957, noting in anger that he hadn’t spotted a moustache at the Canterbury festival since hostilities ended. After Peter Smith took his sweater in 1947, England didn’t pick a moustachioed player until 1975. They finally came to their senses when Graham Gooch’s ‘Zapata’ just couldn’t be ignored. The twenty-eight-year drought smacked of blatant facial discrimination. Lancashire’s Peter Lee, a Wisden cricketer of the year, snared more championship scalps than any other Englishman in both 1973 and 1975. However his trendy ‘Jason King’ counted against him and he never got within a whisker of international honours. Likewise Essex’s Stuart Turner was crowned Wetherall 1974 top county all-rounder, but his facial furniture simply didn’t fit. Basil D’Oliveira only avoided being caught up in the barefaced apartheid by erasing his marvellous spiv’s pencil moustache – which had been on a par with St Trinian’s Flash Harry.
Some very rum styles surfaced in the 1980s. Ian Botham’s ‘porno star’ phase – his blue period, so to speak – was thoroughly unpleasant, while Chris Tavare’s lamentable lip weasel landed him the nickname “Blakey”, a reference to Inspector “I ‘ate you Butler” Blake from On The Buses. Phil ‘Daffy’ DeFreitas sprouted a glorified caterpillar. Despite getting dolled up as Diana Ross for an Ashes Christmas fancy dress party, he refused to part company with it. Of course, this only made him more alluring to red-blooded Latinos – Daffy was propositioned twice in the Hotel lobby.
Hopefully Mitchell Johnson’s recent tour de force will serve as a reminder that moustaches are for life, not just Movember. The sight of a snarling Johnson brought back memories of the rabid Dennis Lillee, whose face fungus traumatised adversaries as much as his bruising snorters. When comedian Eric Morecambe encountered Lillee, he quipped “Are you aware, sir, that the last time I saw anything like that on a top lip, the whole herd had to be destroyed?’”