By Richard Edwards
“When you’re in the field for two days you sometimes need to have a bit of fun, introduce something to ease some tension – it was just a shame that this was at the expense of the opposition and, to be honest, we probably chose the wrong man,” laughs Chris Tremlett at the memory of an incident that has lived well beyond the lifespan of the average sweet.
The Trent Bridge Test of 2007 was Tremlett’s second as an England player and will forever be associated with the humble jelly bean.
The photo of Zaheer Khan pointing an accusatory bat at the offending article, or articles according to which version of events you believe, remains the abiding image of a summer that saw the tourists thoroughly outplay the hosts.
In between the claim and counter-claim that followed – Kevin Pietersen was the first suspect to incur the wrath of the hot-headed Zaheer – various reasons were put forward by England as to why a jelly bean had been placed dangerously close to the Indian tailender.
Some claimed the offending article was merely the marker for a fielding position, others, meanwhile, suggested it was a pointed reference to the Indian bowler’s weight.
Tremlett, though, insists it was just a piece of mischief making by Ian Bell.
“He wouldn’t say much but he would always be getting up to something,” says Tremlett. “I think there was a lot of blame flying around at the time. I was bowling that over and nothing was mentioned, there certainly wasn’t a plan to put the batsman off, I think it was something off the cuff.
“A lot of players would have pockets full of sweets to keep them going during the day. I think Belly decided to put his to a slightly different use.”
Whatever the reason, Zaheer was incandescent on a day when the sledges had been flying between both teams.
“When I got to the crease there were some jelly beans there,” he said. “I just swept one off the wicket, and when I played the next ball there were some more, so obviously someone was chucking them from behind. I was upset about it. I went to speak to them and asked what was going on.
Zaheer then admitted that his original choice of Pietersen as the culprit might have been misguided.
“I didn’t know exactly where they were coming from, and maybe I picked the wrong one, but they definitely came from a fielder and I just felt it was insulting. When I go out on to the cricket field I am serious. This is a Test match we are playing. It definitely inspired me to do well.”
By the time Zaheer had arrived at the crease, the game was effectively India’s anyway, regardless of the confectionery challenges he faced in the evening session.
England had been skittled for 198 in just 65 overs in their first innings, with Zaheer their tormentor in chief. The left-armer took four wickets – including the wicket of Bell – as India made mincemeat of England’s batting line-up.
Then five of India’s top six responded with half centuries as the tourists extended their lead beyond 300. Zaheer’s contribution was 10 not out from 12 eventful deliveries.
Despite England’s best efforts to respond – with Michael Vaughan hitting 124 in a total of 355 – there was little hope of the Trent Bridge crowd witnessing a comeback to rival Headingley ’81, as Rahul Dravid’s side were set just 73 for victory.
A suitably fired-up Zaheer took five wickets just to rub salt – or should that be sugar – into England wounds.
The result was never in doubt, despite Tremlett taking 3-12 – including the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar – in seven of the most hostile overs witnessed that summer.
“The pitch was pretty spicy by that time,” he says. “If we had got another 60 or 70 in our second innings then I guess you never know. As it was we were never going to defend a total that small.”
The mystery of the jelly bean distributor, though, remained a well-kept secret in the days that followed.
Pietersen and even future captain Alastair Cook were viewed as prime suspects for a time, while the incident was viewed by some as evidence of indiscipline in the England side.
Coach Peter Moores said that things had “got out of hand”, while then skipper Vaughan issued a sullen apology after India had completed their seven-wicket win.
“….two jelly beans were left on the floor by the stumps during the drinks interval when the wicket fell,” said Vaughan in one of his more extraordinary press conferences as captain.
“I guess one of the guys might have left them as a prank for the new batsmen. If that offended Zaheer, I apologise. But we weren’t throwing jelly beans from the slip cordon.”
By then it didn’t matter. England had lost the game and could no longer win the series. India, meanwhile, had rarely enjoyed a sweeter victory.