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July 8, 2012

Sledging is not necessary

Michael Jeh
Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne walk off together for the final time, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, January 5, 2007
The Australian team of the 1990s and 2000s owed its success to the skills of its players, not their ability to sledge  © Getty Images
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So Paul Nixon, gifted ex-international cricketer and intellectual giant, thinks that sledging is a sign of wanting to win? Reading Jon Culley's excellent review of Nixon's autobiography saddened me because it just reinforces the false notion that sledging and winning go hand-in-hand. Too many great cricketers, Nixon not being in that category but a damn fine player all the same, confuse boorish behaviour and bad manners with winning habits. The two behaviours are separate things - good cricket and poor behaviour are often coincidental occupants of the one person, but let's get one thing straight…they operate independent of each other.

Let's just take Australia for example, although this analogy could apply to any of the major teams. The Australian teams of the last 40 years, since the Ian Chappell era allegedly, have generally been thought to have been consistently the worst sledgers in the game. Even if we assume that is true, it's clear from looking at the results that winning cricket and sledging are not symbiotic. Australia were quite powerful in the early 1970s, they were weakened during World Series Cricket, revived again when the WSC players returned to the ranks and then fell in a hole for much of the 1980s until the World Cup victory in India in 1987. Some of the players came through both experiences - losing and winning. Allan Border for example. His personal success straddled both the losing and winning cultures, but I don't think he started winning more games because he became a better sledger. He may have become a better batsman and he may have played in stronger teams but it's an insult to a man of his talent to suggest that winning was largely down to an ability to sledge better.

Back to that Australian team; through the 1990s and till perhaps 2005, they were a pretty powerful unit, made up of wonderful cricketers with immense skill. Their reputation for being the best sledgers, justified or not, just happened to be coincidental. Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, the list goes on and on. Great cricketers full stop. Sledging may or may not have been a part of their game but it's irrelevant to their skill level. Australia won many games during this period because they were more skilled with the bat and the ball than with their mouths. Otherwise, how come many of those players also lost an Ashes series in 2005 and a few of those players have also started tasting defeat more regularly now that the Australian team is not as strong as it used to be? Using Nixon's theory, surely all these players still "wanted to win" as much as ever before. They were just defeated by more skilled players on the day, coinciding perhaps with a downturn in their own form. Nothing to do with sledging and the desire to win.

I've played enough cricket at all levels, from Sunday friendlies to a half-decent standard to have seen sledging in all its manifestations. Funny stuff, vile comments, clever subtleties and plain boorish behaviour. They came from good players, awful players and everything in between. Some wonderful cricketers I played against didn't sledge at all and still wiped the floor with me. There were others who stooped to behaviours that were frankly utterly puerile and they too wiped the floor with me. I was regularly beaten by better cricketers. I was regularly disgusted by 'better' sledgers. The two were mutually exclusive.

In my eyes, people like Paul Nixon just don't deserve the game of cricket, in much the same way that cricket doesn't deserve them. It's naïve and disingenuous to cite the opposition player's comments after the game or the lack of an umpire's report as evidence that his behaviour was decent. In fact, it is quite rare for players to admit to being put off by sledging. And the best sledgers rarely do it within earshot of the umpires. It's down to you and your conscience. You know what you said, you know why you said it and you know whether it was said with malice or humour. If the Nixons of the world pride themselves on a career that was defined by their ability to be remembered as winners because they "played tough cricket" (aka rude, obnoxious, tasteless), they sell themselves short. Nixon was an athletic wicketkeeper and an innovative batsman who never threw in the towel. That's how I remember him. His predilection for abusing other cricketers (call it banter if you like but we all know what he means in the same way that friendly fire or enemy fire still leaves the victim with that same "dead" sensation!), is just a sign of a lack of maturity in my books. It does not speak to his considerable talent in much the same way that my distaste for sledging has very little to do with my lack of cricketing talent. I would not have been a better cricketer who won more games of cricket if I had become more skilful at abusing opposition players.

I think of players like Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. No one can argue with their greatness, yet I can't recall hearing their names being bandied around the circuit as being awful sledgers. I look at young Clint McKay who is the best of the current bowlers in the ODI series for Australia. He is competitive, he is trying his guts out for Australia and no one can fault his wholehearted commitment. Yet, watching him for many seasons, and knowing him from when he was at the Cricket Academy a few years ago, it is clear that he is a hell of a decent chap who can play international cricket without having to behave like an idiot. His ever-improving bowling has everything to do with hard work and nothing whatsoever to do with improving his "banter skills". Cricketers like him deserve every success and the game is richer for their involvement. Good on him.

If cricket had more administrators like Alan Fordham, the game would be a more civil place where the standards expected are more about your own conscience rather than an official report by the umpires. If the world operated on the sort of principles that Nixon eulogises, where winning any contest in life is about attempting to destabilise another person, it would indeed be a sad world. Perhaps he should just adopt his own book title and Keep Quiet. He wouldn't have won any more games in his life but he might have won a bit more respect.

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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Keywords: Spirit of cricket

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Posted by Bobb on (December 19, 2012, 7:56 GMT)

It always amuses me that when the subject of sledging comes up there are a plethora of comments from the sub continent; they also sledge heavily; the fact that cheeses them off is that they are not very good at it, hence the whining and whinging.

South Africa are similar in attitude; several years ago Their captain Smith was "carrying on" about some comments made in Perth; I think the truth is they were ex pat SA people.

If these so claimed "oh so clean" sides stopped their hippocracy we would all be better served.

If the sledging is so boring, why listen to it.

Posted by milpand on (July 15, 2012, 18:49 GMT)

Are Tennis players better human beings than Footballers? Or does the presence of spectators so close to action play any role? What if the banter on field is broadcast live without any beeps?

Posted by Meety on (July 15, 2012, 4:24 GMT)

@Geemacaitch - the same reason why S Waugh instructed his players NOT to sledge Lara.

Posted by Geemacaitch on (July 13, 2012, 5:16 GMT)

Meety, I agree there has to be boundaries. I ackowledged in my first response that it can't go too far and captains and umpires need to step in if it does. I was reminided by a bloke who I used to play against and who is now on the brink of umpiring internationally that the first time we played one another (in a lower grade game nearly 20 years ago when I was 17) he sledged the hell out of me. I vaguely recall that there was plenty of chirp but nothing in particular. I ended up getting some runs and he said that his experienced captain stepped in and told him to lay off on the sledging because it was having no effect. On many occasions I thought that being sledged really helped me concentrate.

Posted by Meety on (July 13, 2012, 0:35 GMT)

@Geemacaitch - "...The strong player can ignore it." Exactly right, however - "...The real issue is that the sledging doesn't matter..." - that I don't agree with, there has to be boundaries.

Posted by Geemacaitch on (July 12, 2012, 8:55 GMT)

I played Sydney Grade Cricket for nearly 20 years. I played about 100 games of first grade and came up against many first class and test players. Almost everyone I played with or against sledged to some degree. The real issue is that the sledging doesn't matter. The strong player can ignore it. It is only borne out of frustration or to make the target think about something (anything) other than what he should be thinking about. I've sledged bolwers to goad them into bowling short at me because the last thing that I wanted to do was to play forward on a green wicket or when it was swinging. Sledging a batsman can include reminding a him about the crucial state of the game. If it goes too far the captains and the umpires neeed to step. Otherwise there is absolutely no problem with it.

Posted by Anonymous on (July 12, 2012, 7:22 GMT)

Sledging is a part and parcel of any sports. In cricket, there are stump mics and the bowler and batsmen are always in the camera focus. In other sports, like football, many people miss the sledging part as one player is not in constant focus. But in any sports, the player must be mentally strong enough, to disregard any comments made in the field and concentrate on the job in hand. But the spirit of the game must be held high. I still remember the Zidane RED card in World Cup final.

Posted by Dr. Ahad Khan on (July 12, 2012, 5:53 GMT)

Craig, I did not say that the Bowlers & Fielders should ' SILENT '. They surely need to be talking with each other / jeering each one up / applauding a good ball bowled / cracking jokes / appealing for a catch or LBW / having a friendly word with the Umpire / having a friendly word with the Batsman / applauding an excellent stroke / having a little dig with each other / showing exuberance & excitement / encouraging the Bowler, etc etc. There is a lot they can do, without making unpleasant gestures / remarks at the Batsmen. A bowler can be a 'Smiling Assassin ', because he has the ultimate weapon in his hand - he does not have to play dirty. Yes, I have had friendly chats with the Fielders & even with most Bowlers who have Sportsmanship inherent in them - Minus the Sportsmanship, 'It ain't Cricket 'Craig. Dr. Ahad Khan

Posted by Ram on (July 12, 2012, 3:04 GMT)

HI Michael..very well written indeed. Having played cricket at multiple levels, I can vouch this is NOT limited to one country (Australia) or only international cricket. It happens in college and club cricket as well. You are correct, sledging does not make anyone a better cricketer, skills do. Since Australia started winning and dominating the past deacde and half, their 'talking' came into focus..Also, for less talented folks, it would be far easier to ape someone's talking ability.. rather, bowl like McGrath, Warne.. bat like Viv, Ponting etc.,

Posted by Craig on (July 12, 2012, 2:27 GMT)

Dr. Ahad Khan. Do you expect bowlers and fielders alike to be silent throughout an entire days play? Provided things are not personal, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a chat to the batsmen. Some batsmen chat back, others don't. Normally it's the ones who don't chat back (guessing you are one of these), that might cop a little more "run rate getting out of reach for this chap here lads, wicket coming!" And "sledging" such as that is absolutely fine. We are not children. If you cannot handle comments such as those, I'm afraid it is you, who has the problem.

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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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