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January 9, 2014

Why send-offs are ludicrous

Samir Chopra
If he introspects on his reaction to Johnson's wicket, Stokes is bound to feel a tad ludicrous  © Getty Images
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Ben Stokes' send-off of Mitchell Johnson after he bowled him for 4 in Australia's second innings of the Sydney Test was one of the silliest sledges of all time. At one stroke, Stokes reminded us how incoherent some defences for sledging are, what a despicable act the send-off is, and lastly, just how much maturity still awaits him.

As a reminder, when Stokes dismissed Johnson, a bowler who, at that point in the series had taken 34 English wickets, traumatised the English top order, and done a great deal to (I will resist the temptation to say "single-handedly") bring the Ashes back to the antipodes, the match and series situation was as follows: England were 0-4 down in the Ashes, the Australian lead was 415, and Stokes' team had previously lost Tests by 381, 218, and 150 runs, and eight wickets, and needed to bat again on a pitch that had offered Australia's fast bowlers - including Johnson - some assistance.

The head-to-head comparison, if so desired, runs as follows: Stokes took 15 wickets in four Tests at 32.80; Johnson in five Tests took 37 wickets at 13.97; Johnson claimed Stokes' wicket three times; Stokes, Johnson's once. These numbers might assuage those who will claim that Johnson brought it on himself with his glaring and his confrontations with English batsmen during the series. I do not know if Johnson, other than his eyeballing Jimmy Anderson earlier in the series, gave any English batsmen a "proper" send-off, like Stokes did.

Small wonder, then, that a commentator - possibly Ian Healy - immediately described the send-off as akin to Darryl Cullinan sledging Shane Warne. I do not often find myself agreeing with Channel 9's commentary crew but this was one time when a nod of the head was called for. I hope Stokes later, perhaps after he had been dismissed in the second innings for an extravagant 32, which transported his side from 87 for 4 to 139 for 8, 27 runs before the curtain was rung down on a 281-run defeat and a 0-5 final margin, paused for a moment of reflection and judged his own actions as just a tad ludicrous.

There is a broader point here. Defences of sledging often take recourse in the claim that it is a form of - to use Steve Waugh's unlovely neologism - "mental disintegration" , merely another weapon in the bowling side's repertoire of batsman-dismissing techniques. But if that is the case, why the need for the hand-and-finger-painted directions for the pavilion? The batsman is done and dusted; the walk to the showers has commenced. What mental disintegration needs to be carried out at this stage? Or are we now to be told that a little stomp on the opponent is necessary, an advance sledge for the next innings, the next game?

Sometimes we need to be exposed to a particularly egregious instance of bad-mannered - and in Stokes' case, ill-timed and tactically deficient - behaviour to see that apologia for it are just that. Stokes' callowness will probably have earned him some reprieves for this particular display, but all those who are more experienced than him, and should, hopefully, know better, should not meet with any approval for theirs.

That sort of triumphalism is distasteful in the extreme; the contest has ended, the bowler has won. That's all there should be to it. Some banter, hopefully witty, a few glares, the odd stomped foot or two, perhaps even a snide wisecrack; these all might be tolerable additions to a fielding side's arsenal. But the post-wicket jeer? I cannot imagine a coherent defence in its favour.

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

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Posted by S_Sen on (January 9, 2014, 23:38 GMT)

Couldn't agree more. This is part of the continuing baseballification of cricket. Next thing you know, it will be acceptable for players will run out of the "dug-out" (ghastly term) and brawl with each other. As usual, the Australians will do it best, but Indians of Virat Kohli's generation will give them a run for their money. It makes one nostalgic for the "bad manners" of Ian Chappell and Tony Greig's generation, which was benign in comparison.

Posted by fguy on (January 9, 2014, 20:54 GMT)

dale steyn's send offs are becoming too unseemly too.

Posted by sharidas on (January 9, 2014, 20:18 GMT)

A send-off usually happens as a tit for tat…In the case of Venkatesh Prasad sending off Aamir Sohail, the batsmen had, after hitting the bowler for a four earlier, indicated that he was going to do it again. Perhaps there was something similar between Stokes and Johnson. Whichever way, send-offs, sledging and excessive show of muscle is the trend..Why, you can see these being aped even in school matches !!!

Posted by WC96QF on (January 9, 2014, 17:14 GMT)

Tho this is not strictly sledging, it does bring up a very bad taste in the mouth of what sledging can be. It really has nothing to do with the game of cricket; it's a vicious assault on the person for what he is. Deliberately trying to distract a player is like shining a mirror into an archers eye, as he's just abt to release the arrow; or like poking a boxer in his eye- where's the fair play in his ? Sport is abt both sides playing at their best, not abt one guy tripping up the other. The English brought out phrases like 'it's not cricket' when something was not fair. Strangely it's them and Aus., who are champions of sledging- it's just pure hypocrisy. As to a send off, the bowling team can show their joy in celebrating a wicket. Anything more is just childish!

Posted by dabbadubba on (January 9, 2014, 16:15 GMT)

this was a boring series from 2 middle level teams.. so incidents like this are needed to make it fun for the spectator

Posted by   on (January 9, 2014, 16:09 GMT)

I don't really understand the thrust of the argument. Yes, Stokes "sending-off" Johnson looked silly. But if Stokes was the dominant player and Johnson the failure, would that make it OK? "Sending-off" batsman is always wrong. I always like looking at Laker during his 19 wickets. After yet another wicket, he just turns around and gets ready to take the next.

Posted by ThinkingCricket on (January 9, 2014, 15:28 GMT)

Playing professional sports is highly stressful and emotionally taxing. It's very easy to sit on a sofa while watching and question the need for emotion, but a send-off is just that a release of pent-up emotion. It's part of the game and there's no need to further robotify cricket.

Posted by AntonKL on (January 9, 2014, 15:18 GMT)

No mention of Kohli giving de Kock a send after he had scored 135 in 42 overs in an ODI?

Posted by Kula_Bowls_Inswing on (January 9, 2014, 12:51 GMT)

Giving a batsman a send-off reduces cricket to a petty game of one-upmanship. It isn't sledging, it's just an opportunity to gloat. It's doubtful that any international players are bothered by it, but sport can and should be about so much more than rubbing it in your opponent's face after you've got one over on them.

Posted by Charith99 on (January 9, 2014, 12:48 GMT)

Hmmmm... Their was a guy who took 800 test wickets without giving a single send off. Try and beat him!!!!!!

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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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