August 9, 2014

The ECB's pamphlet for professional sledgers

The bottom line is: stuff happens

"Finally, a sport where we can all man up" © PA Photos

It wasn't quite the Rumble in the Jungle or the Thrilla in Manila, but the Kerfuffle in the Corridor was close enough to cricket-themed pugilism to cause a panic at the ECB. It is determined to ensure such an incident will never happen again, and that if it does happen again (which it probably will) that the board definitely won't get the blame for it.

So this week, it has published a handy pamphlet for centrally contracted professional sledgers, to help them avoid Level 3 charges, acres of tedious newspaper analysis of their mental state, and journalists interviewing their nursery teachers to find out how they used to behave in the sand pit:

In a post-Trent Bridge world, we at the ECB realise that you will be under greater scrutiny than ever before. Let's be honest, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we scuffle with opponents in a corridor. Sometimes we appoint the wrong coach. Sometimes we hire out the England team to an international fraudster. Stuff happens.

We don't want you to stop being abusive to your opponents. But we do want you to stop getting caught. So this short guide is designed to help you to help yourselves to help us to avoid having to do anything about sledging.

As a professional sledger, you will sometimes be criticised for the repetitive nature of your verbal volleys. But there is no need for you to change a winning formula. We know, because you keep telling us, that saying rude words out loud is as essential to bowling the legcutter or the outswinger as grip, delivery stride or seam position.

Nevertheless, there are some tedious people out there who will start to whinge if they hear you use the same words over and over again. So it is worth making the effort to work a few new phrases into your repartee. This way you can retain the basic structure of the classic pronoun-adjective-noun sledge while spicing things up with new ingredients.

For example, instead of hailing Virat Kohli's arrival at the crease with a cheery shout of, "You f^$%£$" b^$%£*£" why not try describing him as a "fruitcaking buttercup" or a "cantankerous blunderbuss" or even a "fearsome Pietersen". Remember, just because you're behaving like a moronic yob doesn't mean you can't look at a dictionary now and then.

We agree with David Lloyd. Cricket is a manly sport for manly men (except when it's played by our excellent ladies team. You go, girls!) That's why there's no place for irony in our game. Irony isn't at all manly. It's delicate and fragile and a little bit girly (no offence, ladies!)

Sarcasm, on the other hand, is definitely manly. It derives from the Greek word "sarkazein" which means "to tear flesh" and that sounds just like the kind of stuff men do.

So the next time Ravindra Jadeja pulls your long hop for four, instead of splattering his face-grill with sweary spittle, give him a withering look, say: "Well, that was difficult. I really don't know how you managed to score off that," and watch him squirm in shame!

The put-down
You might think that the put-down is too tame to start an on-field spat that might lead to a diplomatic incident, but you would be wrong. In fact, in the right hands, the put-down can be a deadly weapon. As this transcript reveals, the famous scuffle between Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad in 1981 was provoked by a particularly biting example:

Dennis: So that's what you're wearing?
Javed: What's wrong with it?
Dennis: Nothing, nothing at all. It's a perfectly lovely shirt.... for 1973.

And the rest is history.

So the next time Gautam Gambhir walks out to bat, tell him you used to have a bat like his, when they were fashionable. Or introduce yourself to Ajinkya Rahane by saying you don't remember seeing him at Eton. You'd be surprised how effective a put-down can be.

Crossing the line
We at the ECB don't want to get too moralistic. We don't want to be like your parents, telling you what you can and can't say. We think it's great that you want to express yourself verbally and we know how important it is to you kids to get all sweary and abusive from time to time.

Let's not dwell on "ethics" or "responsibilities" or "behaviour". That stuff is just a drag, am I right? You know where the line is, or you know roughly where it is, or at the very least, you know someone who knows someone who thinks he knows where it is, and that's good enough for us. So go out and have fun and remember what Ray Lindwall used to say: If you're not screaming abuse at your fellow sportsman, you're not doing it right.*

* Please note that the ECB does not condone any behaviour that is in breach of the Spirit of Cricket, or that may lead to negative media coverage, or that looks bad on television. The ECB also reserves the right to maintain a stern and disapproving silence in the event that any player we can afford to drop makes a bit of a fool of himself in public.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here