By TONY WHITE
A BITTER war of words has erupted between opposing captains Darryl Simmons (LCCA) and Andrew Firth (CRCA) and ignited the long-standing, simmering rivalry between Clarence River and Lower Clarence cricket associations.
Following Sunday's fiery sledgefest between the two representative teams at McKittrick Oval in the rain-shortened Cotton Shield final won by LCCA on run rate, Simmons yesterday took umbrage and singled out Firth for his comments during the game claiming they were 'absolutely disgraceful'.
"His (Firth) comments, continually abusing our players, calling them third grade cricketers, was pretty ordinary," Simmons said.
"From the 20th over mark there was constant abuse of officials and players by Andrew, even of his own team.
"Bar Andrew, every other player played the game in a sportsmanlike manner.
"It was degrading. He made absolutely disgraceful comments to our players."
Simmons and Firth are cousins. Both are fiercely loyal, passionate cricketers who play the game hard and tough.
Sledging is nothing new on the cricket battlefield, but Simmons claims Firth's conduct broke what is expected of a captain under cricket's code of conduct.
"Opposing captains need to afford other sides respect," Simmons said. "This is not the first time this has happened with Andrew.
"As a captain of a sporting team, part of the expectations of a captain is to afford other sides respect.
"This went beyond the spirit of cricket."
Cricket's official preamble states in part: "The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains."
Simmons said he was loath to make an official complaint.
"I think complaints should be made by the umpires, not me," Simmons said. "But I did let Andrew know after the game how I felt."
Experienced umpires Paul McErlean and Jim Simmons officiated at the game.
"There will be no official complaint to the Association," McErlean stated.
However, it was confirmed Firth was rebuked by the umpires during the game following a series of complaints by him over early drinks being taken.
Firth said the taking of early drinks by LCCA without asking the opposing captain was the catalyst for the bad blood. He said that 'out of courtesy' he should have been consulted.
Further, Firth said he was phoned on Saturday morning by a Lower Clarence player posing as a reporter from The Daily Examiner asking questions about his team and the pending game.
"They (LCCA) were laughing about it as a smart arse joke before the game," Firth said.
Spectator banter during the match also fuelled Firth's feelings.
When told of Simmons' comments, he bristled, was bemused and fired his own broadside.
"He (Simmons) wants to be careful with his comments," Firth said.
"To say those things to you (The Daily Examiner). He's the captain of a representative side who was sitting on the sideline yelling abuse at an opposing captain. It's an absolute joke.
"He doesn't mind dishing it out, but obviously can't take it.
"Normally there's no major problems. Darryl's my cousin. I'll take as good as I get. If they start I'll retaliate. It goes on from there. I refute I degraded his players at any time.
"It all started when we'd been on the field for eight overs and drinks weren't supposed to be taken until the 17th over. He (Simmons) didn't even have the courtesy to ask me. The umpires thought I'd been consulted but I hadn't. That's what I was upset about.
"There was five or six drinks breaks. The additional drinks breaks wasted 20 minutes to half and hour and if they hadn't been taken we might have finished our innings and won the game before the rain came.
"And they (LCCA) decided they wanted to field an hour before the tea break instead of taking it after the innings. It was ridiculous. We then had to sit around for another 40 minutes and wasted the cost of lighting."
Firth added sledging from rival players and from the sidelines did not faze him 'unlike others'.
"That (sledging) only spurs me on. The more they say, the harder I play. You shouldn't worry about that crap.
"It was tit for tat?....?it's rubbish."
Firth was further riled due to his efforts over the weekend to help ensure the Westlawn-East (Saturday) and representative matches went ahead.
And his fervent belief the two associations should join forces to ensure cricket's viability in the Clarence also came to the fore.
"I spent the whole of Friday with another player pumping water to ensure we could play cricket," he said.
"We (CRCA) are referred to as the 'superstars'. Individuals down there (LCCA) should look at playing in the top top grade (Premier League).
"Some of them just want to be big fish in a little pond. They've got to look at cricket in the whole, not just in their own little backyard.
"If it's not sorted out, believe me, both associations will fold."