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December 12, 2010

Samir Chopra

Packaging sledging as entertainment

Samir Chopra
Eknath Solkar bowls against Somerset, Somerset v Indians, 3rd day, Taunton, May 3, 1974
Eknath Solkar had his own victory against Geoff Boycott  © Getty Images
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A few weeks ago, I read a little story by Eknath Solkar about the time he made Geoff Boycott his bunny on the 1971 tour. As I read the piece a line caught my eye:

In the second innings of the first Test at Old Trafford, I was fielding at forward short leg when he tried to flick Abid Ali away. I stopped the ball instinctively and challenged him to run, wagging my finger at him as I spoke. He was taken aback. In the very next over, I got him to edge one and Farokh Engineer took a wonderful diving catch, almost at first slip.

It was certainly the first time I'd read of any such interaction between Solkar and Boycott, though I knew about Boycott's difficulties against Solkar's amiable seamers.

Equally interesting was the reaction of the readers to the story. To a man, no one seemed to have picked up on what Solkar had told us: he sledged Boycott, he "mentally disintegrated" him, he dismissed him using, as part of his repertoire of tricks, the very same strategy a segment of the cricket world would find offensive today. Wagging fingers at a batsman, chatting with him, challenging him to run? Sounds like "mental disintegration" to me. An Indian doing this, in the Golden Age of Gentlemanly Cricket (for this is how most Indian fans regard their cricketers and that period) should seem shocking. But it isn't and it shouldn't be.

For to read stories of cricket matches of yesteryears is to be reminded again and again, that cricket matches have always featured chatter in the middle, that grown men, when thrown into close competitive proximity, will often find ways to express a variety of emotions, not all of which would meet the approval of Miss Manners.

When I read Ray Robinson's On Top Down Under (on which I wrote a glowing review in these pages, I was struck by how many chapters featured reports of banter, edgy verbal interactions, and the like, all taking place out in the middle on the hallowed 22 yards, right from the moment Test cricket began, back in 1877. Sure, those are Australians we are talking about. But Solkar's story reminds us that even our pure-as-driven-snow Indians weren't above a little badmaashi when it suited them.

But imagine for a second that the Test at Old Trafford had been covered by a modern television production team, perhaps Channel 9, or Sky, featuring eagle-eyed commentators. Then how would it have gone? The Solkar-Boycott interaction would not have gone unnoticed. Had it not been directly visible, we would have been directed to it, by a replay, perhaps in slow-motion as well, with ample opportunity to try and read lips:

Things are getting a little testy out there. During the last over, Solkar and Boycott had a little run-in. Here's Solkar, running up to Boycott, and oh boy, he's sure got a lot to say, doesn' he? And Boycott's not looking too happy. These Indians are never short of a word out in the middle. And, let's look at it again, here comes Solkar, running up, and he's making a gesture, and Boycott's giving him a bit of a look too. Pretty tense stuff, the battle is definitely heating up.

And so on. You get the picture.

Yes, indeed, things are a little testy out there. But I've yet to find an encounter between adults that is even slightly competitive (corporate meetings or faculty meetings, for instance), that don't get a bit testy. They just aren't telecast live with every single run-in replayed endlessly in slow-motion, all the while accompanied by inane commentary, all part of an entertainment package put together for us. How entertaining would our daily encounters be, I wonder, if packaged similarly?

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Sam on (December 28, 2010, 9:18 GMT)

How entertaining would our daily encounters be, I wonder, if packaged similarly? Answer is Reality Television. While I find reading about sledging incidents from cricket's history witty and humorous, I can't say the same about the limited experience with reality television. One thing though Cricket is as much about this encounters as about the game. This gives us some glimpse about the personalities of cricketers media in those days did not extensively cover.

Posted by Plaban on (December 15, 2010, 7:22 GMT)

Great and a very sensible article ever posted thanks

Posted by Saumil on (December 14, 2010, 20:33 GMT)

You need to get your facts right and distinguish between on-field banter and sledging/mental disintegration tactics, as the Australians have defined it. Solkar did not abuse Boycott nor did he go over the top.

Posted by Anil A. Desai on (December 14, 2010, 15:16 GMT)

Is there a book somewhere about this topic ??? I am sure there are scores of such incidents. Would make great reading !!!

Posted by William Hofmeyr on (December 14, 2010, 13:51 GMT)

I wholeheartedly agree. We are increasingly in thrall to the fascist-nanny state - in politics, in society at large, and in cricket. Without take-as-good-as-you-give sledging (or "chirping", as it is also known) cricket will lose much of its glint and edge.

Posted by pharmacist on (December 14, 2010, 12:09 GMT)

This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a prime resource for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!

Posted by Ravi Lee on (December 13, 2010, 23:36 GMT)

cricket should be played in the right spirit. friendships are often made on the field that last a life time. sport is a medium for communication and cross-cultural understanding.

Posted by Vikas Sharda on (December 13, 2010, 11:56 GMT)

Kind of transported back to old days of cricket. I believe sledging was always there, as so was the BODYLINE bowling. It was just that, the media was not that verbal and noticeable. And I would also like to mention the role of technology -- the close-ups, high definition footage and supe slow mos etc. The article is a honest review on sledging, but I beleive even the author will agree with me that he too will feel interested in knowing why two men are arguing on a roadside. So, Why not on a cricket field. It is pure entertainment and it SELLS, and that's the bottomline.

Posted by Anonymous on (December 13, 2010, 8:01 GMT)

Well, the broadcasters need some spice dont they? Just look at the ridiculously named Ind-NZ series Mission Domination on Neo Sports...OMG how long is Neo gonna air India matches?? Anybody am pretty scared of watching Jimmy and the other anchors apart from quite a few scary commentators except for the lady cricketer (Anju??) rest of the bunch keep speaking the obvious...

Posted by Looch on (December 13, 2010, 1:27 GMT)

The single most honest and intelligent article I have ever read on the subject, certainly on this website.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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