March 21, 2016

Does sledging drive people away from the recreational game?

It would be illogical to say it is the sole reason, but it definitely contributes - and that's a pity
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It is up to players to change their behaviour to make sure increasing numbers of people aren't alienated from the game © Getty Images

"The easiest and most effective line to draw in the sand is to tackle any remark that is made about the other side."

This recent suggestion by Mark Williams, the MCC Laws of Cricket Advisor and Middlesex Premier League umpire, in a recent issue of the Association of Cricket Officials' newsletter, will no doubt prompt a variety of reactions. From umpires: scepticism about the practicality of enforcing such a standard. From players, especially long-time ones: something approaching derision, for is not banter, verbal sparring, even choice invective, a traditional part of the fabric of cricket?

Such appeal to the status quo is expected, and also unconvincing. Sledging, in its myriad forms, may have been a part of the game in its recent and indeed not-so-recent history. It does not follow that is either an inherent or desirable facet. It should be evident that what may have been acceptable in years gone by does not automatically equate to being so today.

This is not about idealism. It is not a misty-eyed appeal to sentiment. It is an argument born of sheer pragmatism. The ECB players' survey, cited by Williams, "identified poor behaviour and an aggressive, insulting atmosphere" as a factor in causing players to leave the recreational game - in particular, inexperienced players. Intoning "if you can't stand the heat..." is all very well. The problem is that there may be no one left in the restaurant, let alone the kitchen.

Nor is this an anti-competitive rant. The skill to deal with pressure, physical, psychological, verbal and otherwise, is a valuable one to acquire. Yet, moving the focus from talking well and onto performing well enriches rather than weakens the game, by spotlighting skills rather than sounds. Would allowing pressure to build up from the actions inherent to the game - hostile fast bowling, mesmerising legspin, batsmen charging, overs ticking away - rather than being artificially introduced through verbals, be such a negative arrangement?

This will not satisfy some. The idea of outlawing all batsman-directed comment, as promoted by Williams, will reek of over-protective nannying. Condemning outright abuse is one thing, but to condemn all chirping seems over the top. Surely this is a step too far, they might understandably maintain, for banter adds a light-hearted element that can actually defuse tension rather than cause it. To which one might answer: it certainly can, but is that the exception or the rule? Is the intention honestly to provide amusement for batsman, bowler, fielders and umpires, or is it to gain a psychological edge over the batsman, to make him (or her) "think about something other than the ball he is about to face", to use Williams' words?

It is possible to be overzealous in this regard. An irradiated, sterile game with no opening for individuality to shine through is unlikely to provide much enjoyment for its participants. One of Williams' other recommendations, that "loud collective 'whooping' when a batsman is dismissed" be clamped down on, may strike some as excessive. Send-offs, wanton abuse of the parting batsman, are entirely unacceptable, and do betray a lack of respect. More general expressions of delight, however, are not inherently "disrespectful", as he suggests, but rather flow from satisfaction from successfully executing one of the aims of the game. Since appreciation of the batsman's ability also adds to the satisfaction of the dismissal, one could argue that such celebrations actually reflect a degree of respect for the batsman. It would be injudicious to attempt to police such displays of satisfaction.

If players can only gain satisfaction from their cricket by resorting to bullying newcomers, then perhaps a spot of soul-searching is in order

However, on the subject of sledging, Williams observes that "league teams will often target vulnerable players when they first come in: the young, known debutants at that level, or players known to be out of form." If players can only gain satisfaction from their cricket by resorting to bullying newcomers, then perhaps a spot of soul-searching is in order - not to mention more time in the nets, for therein lies a tacit admission that purely cricketing skills have, up to that point, proved inadequate.

It would be totally illogical to lay the whole blame for player drop-off at the door of sledging. Work patterns, lack of cricket in state schools, rival leisure options and numerous other factors have all been highlighted as contributing to the fall. It may not even be a primary factor. Yet even a secondary or tertiary factor deserves attention, and what marks on-field behaviour apart is the fact that there is no need to wait for centralised reform: it is an area where each player can make an impact. To use a press-conference cliché, it's a controllable that can be controlled.

Cricket, at its best, provides wonderful opportunities for self-learning, social bonding and character development. It would be regrettable - indeed it is regrettable - to see players give up the game because of the behaviour of others, and thus miss out on the many benefits that cricket offers.

Recreational cricket, after all, is supposed to be a form of recreation. A time when off-field concerns about family, work and life can be placed on hold; a time to be boosted, energised, recreated. Players cannot be blamed for looking elsewhere for their leisure if the on-field atmosphere wears them down. The question is: will the current generation of players be willing to adapt?

Liam Cromar is a freelance cricket writer based in Herefordshire, UK @LiamCromar

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on March 25, 2016, 5:59 GMT

    I'm an Australian grade cricket umpire, and I recently saw an incident like Cricketegg described. I simply told the fielding side to shut up or I'd report the lot of them, as I regarded them picking on the batsman for not walking as dissent against my decision.

  •   Jean Baptiste on March 24, 2016, 16:35 GMT

    Yes it does, but it makes up for it by attracting cretins.

  • James on March 24, 2016, 15:27 GMT

    In my second season in adult cricket - playing to a fairly high standard - I was given not out by a neutral umpire on a caught behind appeal. Whilst always a contentious issue in cricket, I genuinely believed I hadn't nicked off and stood my ground. What followed was a chorus of swearing (and by swearing I mean swearing) and name calling for the rest of my, somewhat scratchy, innings of 22. When I Nicked off for my eventual dismissal the entire team surrounded me as I walked off, glaring and jeering with a hatred I don't think I will ever experience again, cricket aside.

    Although an extreme case, It is not hard to see how such experiences could deter someone from playing again. I was 17 at the time, and 5 years later I think about it every time I walk to the crease, thankfully however it hasn't stopped me from playing.

    All these comments suggesting "toughening up" and that it's "part of the game" should have a hard look at themselves. How sad to want to inflict this on another player

  • James on March 24, 2016, 12:31 GMT

    Attacks that are personal and not about cricket should be illegal. Ugly behaviour need not be illegal but is self-defeating. Good behaviour can be inspiring. There is nothing that makes a fool of the spectator so much as the discovery, sometimes after they have paid good money. that a player is not much good as a person.

  •   Gary Bisset on March 24, 2016, 10:35 GMT

    I n the recent series between nz and Sri Lanka, india and Pakistan there was a friendly yet competitive look to the games, it was only when playing Australia that there was any animosity and it appears to come from a few culprits, when I lived in Australia I had a umpires cert and umpired my sons games, if any of the kids started the smart arse stuff, I gave them a warning that they would be asked to leave the field if it continued, it stopped immediately. this is how it should be stamped out, by the umpires.

  • Bernard Arthur on March 23, 2016, 19:50 GMT

    I am against all forms of bullytng and consider sledging to be a form of bullying, so I favour any measure which protecys players from such behaviour.

  • rob on March 22, 2016, 23:51 GMT

    I think another thing that dissuades the recreational player is that regular players sometimes forget just how difficult the game can be. To a newbie it must be bewildering. Not only that, I think we also tend to under-estimate the degree of physical intimidation involved in the game. Put simply, a cricket ball can really hurt. In fact, it can kill. We've seen that so we can't deny it. .. To a new player not technically equipped to handle a bowler of even moderate pace the courage it takes to get out there and face up is pretty major. I think we forget that.

  • rob on March 22, 2016, 23:41 GMT

    I played from age 15-40 in a bush league in country NSW. That's right, smack bang in the heart of the the land of the sledge. I captained my side for the last 15 years of my 'career' and this is what I observed. .. Sledging between cultural peers was fine. Nobody took it to heart and it was generally water off a ducks back. The problems started as soon as the sledging became cross-cultural. Our little comp was surprisingly diverse for a bush league. We had several Lebanese, Greek and Aboriginal players as well as 1 Sikh Indian and a Kiwi. Over the years it slowly (too slowly looking back) dawned on me that some things that were Ok for us to say to each other were completely not fine to say to some of the other cultures. Eg, Aboriginal people generally do NOT like direct eye to eye contact. In their culture it is seen as an aggressive and challenging posture. So, I told my guys not to do it or I would hit them across the back of the head with a stump. Guess what, it worked.

  • Graham on March 22, 2016, 17:16 GMT

    My observations over the years of playing at every level from village cricket to county 2s are that, for the most part, the conduct of teams is appropriate to the level that is being played and the reasons for playing. I don't buy the idea that "newcomers to the game" are being sledged out of the game. I have seen and heard very little sledging in genuine friendly cricket. I admittedly haven't played low level league cricket but play in a club with 5 Saturday teams and do not hear reports of such behaviour. The sledging seems to start at a reasonably high standard - 2nd team and upwards - where players will generally have been playing the game for a good length of time, even the youngsters. And only the most unlikeable of teams sledge genuine youngsters who are promising enough to be playing at that level. Such teams are in the minority. I think this issue is very easily overstated and umpires are generally excellent at calling when a line has been crossed and stepping in.

  •   Stewart Swift on March 22, 2016, 12:43 GMT

    Lets think..... is the decline in crickets participation going to be affected more by 'sledging' or the simple fact that there is no terrestrial cricket on TV? 2005 - cricket was on a high and was on TV, since then there is no Live cricket on terrestrial TV. It's a lovely idea for an article though saying that 'sledging' is driving people away. As someone who has been around cricket (at a club level) for the best part of 25 years, sledging is absolutely nothing compared to the (and I hate this phrase) 'banter' that goes on amongst team mates and club mates

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