March 25, 2015

Come now, Mr Faulkner

The Australian allrounder would have us believe sledging is inevitable. Is it?

"Get your snowshoes on, Davey, this is going to get ugly" © AFP

Benjamin Franklin once said that there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. Well, he was wrong. For a start, if you can afford an army of accountants, you can more or less avoid the second item on the list entirely. Admittedly, death evasion is a trickier business. You can practise death avoidance, you can even freeze your dead assets cryogenically, but the immortal collector will get you in the end.

But this week we learned that Mr Franklin had overlooked another phenomenon in human existence that cannot be avoided. It seems that the only things certain in life are death, taxes and sledging when Australia play India.

Asked by bored members of the press whether he thought there would be sledging on Thursday, Mr James Faulkner gave us to understand that sledging would indeed take place on Thursday, and that, furthermore, it is inevitable. There will be sledging, of that we can be certain. The sledging is, I repeat, inevitable.

There are circumstances in which you can legitimately say that sledging will be inevitable: at the opening ceremony of the World Sledging Championships, for example, or if you find yourself escaping from an evil villain's Himalayan stronghold, equipped with nothing but a CIA-issue emergency rocket-powered sledge.

But that is not the kind of sledging that Mr Faulkner had in mind. By sledging, he means one adult human shouting obscenities at another adult human in order to distract him from the important business of hitting a leather ball with a stick.

"Sledging is part of the game and if there isn't some, you've got problems."

Far be it from me to contradict Mr Faulkner, but having watched cricket for many years, I haven't drawn the conclusion that not-sledging is the problem. You don't often read articles from cricket journalists bemoaning the blight of not-sledging afflicting our game, nor do you hear people saying this sort of thing at cricket matches:

"Well, that exciting game of cricket was very exciting, but I do feel it would have been improved if the bowler had at some point threatened to carry out an act of violence involving the batsman's f*****g arm."

"Yes, I agree, and wasn't it a pity that at no stage did the batsman call the bowler a f******g idiot and promise to break his nose."

Let's be clear. Mr Faulkner isn't just saying that verbal abuse can't be avoided. He's saying that it's an essential part of the cricket experience:

"It's the nature of the game. It's a semi-final. It's cut-throat."

No it isn't. Eighteenth-century piracy was cut-throat. I dare say there was plenty of sledging going on then too, in between the swordplay and the plank-walking. But cricket is not eighteenth-century piracy. It isn't war. It's a game. The normal rules of civilised behaviour are not suspended just because you put on a yellow polyester shirt.

If you were to see one adult screaming abuse at another adult as they waited for a bus, you would swiftly cross to the other side of the road, possibly shaking your head and tutting in their general direction, and, when describing the incident to a policeman, you would not expect to hear him tell you that waiting for the bus is a stressful business and that verbal abuse is an integral part of bus-catching.

Sledging is no more inevitable than double-parking, expenses-fiddling or stealing someone else's milk to make your tea. We can't avoid death, most of us can't avoid taxes, but we can certainly avoid verbally abusing each other.

So, sledge if you must, Mr Faulkner, but please don't bore us with the "everybody else is doing it" excuse. It didn't wash when you were a ten-year-old and it doesn't work now. We are entitled to draw conclusions about people who think it is okay to scream obscenities at their fellow human beings, whether it's at a bus stop, in an office, or at the Sydney Opera House, and you don't get an exemption just because you do it in a cricket stadium.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. @hughandrews73

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