August 8, 2014

Why sledging is essential

It's safe, it's exciting, and, let's face it, it's practical

They don't make 'em like these gentlemen anymore © PA Photos

Let's face it: for a certain breed of cricketer, being obnoxious is the lifeblood of their game. Like in the legends of Samson and his hair, Hector and his helmet, and Sanjay Manjrekar and the sound of his own voice, the powers of this particular kind of cricketer are compromised when bereft of their own unique vital force, namely swearing like a fishwife, glowering in a manner to out-stare Jimmy Wales on a Wikipedia page during a fundraising drive, and just being a talented all-round prick in general.

But do we really want to regulate these characters and their nuances of self?

What's that? Did I hear a small voice from the back of the room utter the g-word? Well, let's take a moment to examine this word, shall we? What exactly do we mean by "gentleman" when we talk about the gentleman's game, anyway? Dig this: back in the day, the term was used to refer to noblemen of martial bearing, who bore a coat of arms and carried a sword around. In other words, a gentleman worthy of the title aspired to be none other than Ravindra Jadeja. With that in mind, surely cricket's bad boys at large are, by acting out against one another, no more in danger of breaching the game's much-touted gentlemanly spirit as they are of celebrating and honouring it?

With that little technicality out of the way, we can now look to understand how and why a little harmless personal abuse, far from harming the sport, can actually benefit it.

Sledging is exciting and memorable
Call it what you will: argy-bargy, banter, attempted murder. But there's no denying that without it, the game will have been robbed of some of its most dramatic and intense moments. Think back to Miandad v Lillee. Brandes v McGrath. Inzamam v solanum tuberosum. Ask yourself what you would rather watch a replay of: Miandad imitating Kiran More in front of the stumps, or Kiran More being himself behind it. And which fan who has seen it can honestly wish that the Sohail v Prasad incident had never happened? It was arguably the defining moment of that World Cup tie, and, curiously, one that is looked upon, in hindsight, with a certain degree of fondness by fans from both countries.

Sledging is safe
In fact, sledging is a lot safer than is commonly thought. As the popular adage goes, you are more likely to be injured while being driven to the airport than while being sledged on an airplane. All said and done, these little skirmishes invariably carry more bluster than spill any blood. You may have seen cricketers almost come to blows, but have you actually ever seen a blow? On the flip side, what have these incidents succeeded in doing if not whetting the appetite of the teams and their fans for winning the contest at hand? And isn't that, when it comes down to it, the measure of a competition's worthiness? The desire to win at all costs?

Let them come to blows
On the other hand, here's a radical idea: why not let them come to blows? Imagine the grim satisfaction of seeing the inevitability of the dog that barks the most becoming the one that is bitten the hardest. Maybe cricket should take a leaf out of ice hockey, where fighting during the game is not just a tradition but a major draw. Imagine, if you will, Test-match attendance figures boosted by fans salivating at the prospect of seeing whether James Anderson can put his money where the grimace of his maw is, and to what extent Ravindra Jadeja's celebratory bat-twirling can translate to on-field combat.

Sledging is healthy
It's the age-old question: did the chicken of Virat Kohli's swearing come first, or the egg of his batting form? Is his cussing incidental to his batting, or is it the other way around? Can we be sure beyond reasonable doubt that he would be half as successful as he has been were it not for his potty mouth? There are no easy answers here. In fact, if there is one weakness in Kohli's game these past few weeks that has rendered him so uncharacteristically out of form, it is that he has fallen prey to a tendency to chase balls outside of the off stump and then not cuss himself out in frustration as much as we have become accustomed to seeing. Where's the fire, Virat?

Sanctioning on-field abuse is practical
Allowing things to just happen as they may will also serve to remind match referees - and the rest of us, by extension - of the bad in human nature. If not, how will they see the good for what it is? Would Bjorn Borg have been held up as a paragon of unassuming Swedish rectitude had John McEnroe's ballistic Ugly American meltdowns not provided contrast? And exactly how much of a gentle giant would Evander Holyfield have been considered to be had Mike Tyson not decided to satisfy his daily caloric requirement of ear-cartilage protein in the manner that he did?

R Rajkumar tweets here.
All quotes and "facts" in this piece are made up, but you knew that already, didn't you?