August 7, 2009

Michael Jeh

Let cricket remain a gentleman's game

Michael Jeh


Mitchell Johnson doesn't need to get into the batsman's ear to prove he 'is around' © Getty Images
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Predicting the final outcome of the Ashes Series is a tough call. Glenn McGrath was probably being a bit mischievous when he predicted a 5-0 whitewash to Australia but even he would not have expected a 1-0 lead to England after three Tests. What might be easier to predict though (and this will no doubt warm the cockles of McGrath’s heart) is that the remaining two Tests will be feisty and spirited, perhaps even bordering on spiteful and venomous.

I make this prediction, hoping fervently that I will be wrong, yearning for another repeat of the 2005 Ashes when both teams played entertaining cricket without the ‘mongrel’. I’m clearly on the conservative side of the debate when it comes to sledging and on-field theatrics and I will no doubt cop a volley of abuse from those who firmly lean towards a less genteel culture. Fair enough – we’re all entitled to our preferences. Not that it is likely to make much difference to the combatants – they will dance to the tune of their own masters and mentors.

Let’s take Mitchell Johnson for example. Apparently his form slump can be fixed with a bit of sledging and on-field aggression. Paraphrasing the great Shane Warne, Johnson needs to let the Englishman know that he’s around (presumably, that is a euphemism for “give them a bit of a spray”). It matters not that Johnson’s wrist position may not be behind the ball or that he is dropping his front shoulder or that he is scrambling the seam. According to those who know best, it should all fix itself if only he could manufacture a bit of hatred and aggression towards those nasty, selfish batsmen who keep plundering him for boundaries. Let them know you’re there Mitchell!

Interesting theory…my guess is that they are acutely aware that he’s there all right! His name is on the team sheet, he’s bowled a few overs, thumped a few boundaries at Lord’s and he’s not the Invisible Man. Of course they know he’s there.

What about the “let them know you’re in a contest” line? Another statement that seems to state the bleeding obvious. It’s a Test Match for goodness sake. Of course it’s a contest. Since when did any Test cricketer (match-fixers apart) not want to give 100%? I can’t see how getting verbally aggressive and glaring at batsmen will suddenly change Johnson’s form. He’s a damn good bowler, going through a temporary form blip and whether he comes good or not will have more to do with the quality of his bowling rather than the range of invective.

Johnson’s slight improvement in the second innings at Edgbaston was attributed to this sudden shift in aggression apparently. Fed this psychobabble often enough, both teams will come to believe it and the rest of the series may descend into a bit of a sledgefest. Flintoff, totally likeable character that he is (as is Johnson by the way), seems to have got a headstart in this regard with his constant snipings after every semi-dangerous ball. With Flintoff though, you can almost see an apologetic smile lurking beneath, a boyish grin peeping out from underneath the steely glare. It’s almost like he’s putting on an act, all this huffing and puffing.

The signs are there already of a series that is threatening to boil over. Anderson and Watson have exchanged pleasantries, Siddle and Broad feel obliged to stoke up the heat and Ponting has never been shy of a word or three (except when it comes from a spectator). Personally, I prefer just watching good cricket without the Hollywood tantrums and the unseemly manners that sometimes get confused with great performances. McGrath was a great bowler, full stop. Not because he was a serial sledger. In fact, I would go so far as to say, DESPITE that distraction he was still a great bowler. Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, David Gower and even genial souls like Mike Hussey prove that real class owes nothing to verbal abuse. It’s just a sideshow that threatens to distract from the sublime pleasures of watching a beautiful game.

For those who argue that this sort of behaviour adds to the contest, I will not argue with them, lest it becomes another online sledgefest. Despite the eloquent and polished interview Matthew Hayden gave to BBC’s HardTalk program recently, I still can’t bring myself to see cricket as 'war'. It may only be a euphemism for “competitive cricket” but I’ve seen enough of wars to not want to taint my love of cricket with something as abhorrent as that. Cricket's cricket. Nothing more, nothing less.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by crickpundit on (August 24, 2009, 2:28 GMT)

Ponting has been the trruly bad apple. He was right so from his early days but it did not rub onto the team, as there were good captains like Steve or Mark to not let that happen. However, everyone got on to the act after he was made the captain. So, they all went in such ugly manner as Haydos and Symmos can. Not to be left behind was Gilchrist (the self styled Saint) and Michael the Pup, who learnt how to claim grounded balls as catches and also spitting on his palms as well. Good learing for him. He is showing the world that he can fill in the shoes of Big Dog (Punter the breeder from Tasmania). Now that Ashes 2009 has been earned by England and Poting readying himself for a 2013 date at the Oval, Pup, ythe vice captain reaaly is showing something. He can do not only do what his captain does, but can do even better. It was bad luck for Ponting to be run out on a wrong call, but see what Pup does, he runs himself out. In a big hyped up game (by themselves) the end seemed well planned.

Posted by MRP on (August 18, 2009, 15:38 GMT)

Sledging has no business being a part of cricket. Cricketers should speak more with there bats and balls and catches, rather succumbing to cheap verbal assaults. Sledging and sledgers should be checked in at the gates. There should be a ban outright on sledging. Of course, this would probably mean that the nasty and brutish Australians, who are probably the most uncivilized and disrepectful international side around. Manners and sportsmanship seems to have skipped the Australian cricketers of late, leading by example is of course Ricky Ponting. Every team has bad apples, the difference with the Australians is that they maybe have one good apple, namely Gilchrist, a true gentleman of the sport.And no one expects life to be nice and sterile, but its a matter of simple things as courtesy, manners, sportsmanship, and professionalism.Proffessionalism should be expected of the highest level from players.Let's try and leave the sledging to the fans and crowds.Proffesionalism to Professionals.

Posted by Spoffort on (August 11, 2009, 16:04 GMT)

Michael, Cricket was never a gentleman's game. During the Bodyline series it wasn't exactly gentlemanly now was it? I can't believe that people can go thru life thinking that things will be nice and sterile. Cricket even with sledging is head and shoulders cleaner than Football, Basketball and Rugby, I have never seen a punch up in Cricket but I have in the other three Sports more than once. You should go to a football game in Germany and compare it to the cricket crowds in Australia! I personally have no problems with verbals as long as it doesn't get physical. When you are playing any Sport and focused on doing well for your team things are magnified and you change as a person. I think some people respond to this intensity differently, some louder than others. I have a hard problem believing that in the past things have been different than now. Sport can never be competitive without rivalry and to some extent animosity, that is what pits one team or player against the other.

Posted by Chetan on (August 10, 2009, 14:43 GMT)

Cricket is becoming a sledgefest & base for cheats because ICC wants it that way. Among others - we saw Keppler Wessels hit Kapil Dev with a cricket bat on the field of play. We saw Lara abusing on-field umpires. NO ACTION by the "umpires & match referees".

We have seen ICC's paid umpires refusing to use all resources provided to them to elilminate errors & opt to make "human errors" to favor certain sides.

Under flimsy excuses, ICC is still looking for means to ensure that the "human error" element of umpiring remains remains - that is the only way ICC can influence the result of a match. Dave Richardson of ICC has asked me for details of apartheid practice by his paid staff, I provided him the details. He has refused to take any action against the offending staff, in spite of public reminders from me. Only action from ICC - influence Cricinfo to suppress my posts if I demand an answer to those emails. Fixing bookies - stop buying cricketers, Umpires are available.

Posted by Brian Lara still rocks!!! on (August 10, 2009, 3:02 GMT)

Thank you Michael, for another eloquent article. I particularly liked the last paragraph: "I’ve seen enough of wars to not want to taint my love of cricket with something as abhorrent as that. Cricket's cricket. Nothing more, nothing less." Right on! Despite being an Aussie myself, I've never really enjoyed that aspect of the Aussie game plan, despite such luminaries as Steve Waugh (who I respect BTW) claiming that such "mental disintegration" is a legal tactic to be used "in the heat of battle". What happened to cricket being a "gentleman's game"? I liked the examples of class cricketers that you mentioned: Brian Lara, David Gower, Malcolm Marshall, Sachin Tendulkar, etc - champions one and all - who never felt the need to sledge the opposition, but merely let their deeds on the cricket field speak for themselves. That, in my humble opinion, should be the true essence of this sublime game. After all, aren't Test matches supposed to be a "test" of one's patience and self-control?

Posted by Pat Acacia on (August 9, 2009, 0:17 GMT)

Thank you! I've always wondered how cricket could call itself a gentleman's game when it allows - nay, encourages! - its practitioners to verbally abuse each other with words that would cause lawsuits and punchups if repeated in polite company. But banning sledging is too easy a solution and would get folks like Warne all huffy and upset. Instead, let's place microphones on the pitch that tell us during the match what everyone is saying. If cricketers want to behave like boys instead of men, then they shouldn't be ashamed to let the world see their boyish 'banter' in all its glory. You know that youtube video of Boucher sledging Taibu? I showed that to some non-cricketing friends, and they were horrified. I wasn't too proud of it myself.

Posted by LM on (August 8, 2009, 2:36 GMT)

Sorry Michael, I just don't buy into your view. I agree with Venkat - sledging is part of any sport and most of the time it's harmless, usually blown out of proportion by journalists such as yourself. Cricinfo contributors are notorious for making mountains out of molehills. Ninety nine percent of the time the spectators can't hear it, so it's mostly only between the players - if they have an issue with it that's what the umpires are for.

Posted by Chris Denning on (August 8, 2009, 1:14 GMT)

The tools used in cricket are a bat and a ball. It is the skill of those wielding these tools that ultimately should determine which of the two teams wins. The mouths of the players therefore have no place infringing on the contest. The exponents of another great sport do fine without sledging. Or, should Federer "enhance" his skills by calling into question Nadal's lineage on court?

Posted by faisal on (August 7, 2009, 19:26 GMT)

After facing a very good ball,think about the reply that Hayden used to give against a frightning glare of the bowler,only a stride towards him,keeping his own head down as if he was seriously minding about the pitch.Who needs sledging when there is such an inconspicuous way of confrontation.Oh,ask any of the batsman who have faced dale styn,does he need to sledge,I don't think so,the ball itself do it for him.But I am a die-hard fan of aussies and they are master of this particular art,whoever try to deny the spice that sledging brings to cricket is realy not from this era I guess.After all it was mattarazzi's word that make zidane to do that silly thing with his shaved head.

Posted by srinin on (August 7, 2009, 18:31 GMT)

I agree 100 per cent. Cricket is just cricket - sport, not a war. Play hard, but not harsh. Sadly I see in cricket forums the trend towards jingoism and vitriolics. If fans can get worked up so much, what can we say about players who have careers and commercial interests at stake? Any straw that seem to promise to add to their success or return to form is likely to be avidly grasped. Time to regain perspective. But who is gonna bell the cat?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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