January 8, 2008

Let's ban sledging

Cricket shouldn't just be trying to ban racism, it should ban sledging

Ponting is a sledger too, and he and Harbhajan have been needling each other on and off for nearly seven years © Getty Images

It's a drama unfolding on the other side of the world, and I wasn't watching the match. But something about the Harbhajan Singh affair doesn't feel right.

In fact, three things don't. First, it takes two to tangle. Andrew Symonds is a well-known sledger, as is Harbhajan. Mike Procter is asking us to believe that one party was severely at fault while the other was not at fault at all, and that doesn't ring true.

The second problem is that Procter listened to eight hours of evidence and then swallowed Ricky Ponting's view of things whole. Ponting is a sledger too, and he and Harbhajan have been needling each other on and off for nearly seven years. Ponting has often got out cheaply to Harbhajan: if anyone were to call him Bhajji's bunny, it would be harsh, and cheap, but fair.

The third problem is the amount that is being asked of Procter. The guy's an ex-cricketer, not a high-court judge. His job as a match referee requires him to decide whether Harbhajan called Symonds a monkey, and if so, what he meant by it. Procter had to look at the remark through the lens of racism, but he might equally well have peered through the lens of speciesism. Bringing monkeys into a sportsmen's spat is demeaning to monkeys.

It does seem likely that the remark was intended as a racial insult, if it was ever made: the India fans who chanted it at Symonds a few months ago clearly meant it that way. But that was recorded on video, whereas this time, there is doubt over whether the offending remark was made. The eight hours of evidence are a vivid demonstration of that doubt - this is a vastly magnified version of those moments when an umpire takes so long to decide about a thin edge or an lbw that you just know he should keep his finger down. And if there was doubt, then Harbhajan should have been given the benefit of it.

Cricketers say a lot of stupid things to each other. It has been known for one to address another as a Pommie bastard, or Pommie wanker. Is that racism? There isn't (usually) a skin-colour dimension to it, but it's still racial. And pathetic. If the pot calls the kettle black, is it being racist too?

You can argue endlessly over whether one remark or another has a racist element. What is needed is a big, simple, magnanimous response. Beneath it all lies a deeper malaise: sledging itself. Cricket shouldn't just be trying to ban racism. It should ban sledging.

This is a front on which every team is guilty. Australia have often led the way, but Sri Lanka have had their moments, as did India especially under Sourav Ganguly, and so have South Africa and even those nice, educated boys from New Zealand. England are certainly not innocent bystanders: one reason it was a relief to see Matt Prior dropped this week is that he was particularly potty-mouthed - and when he was criticised for it, the England coach, Peter Moores, was dumb enough to argue that the answer was to switch off the stump mike. Not that Duncan Fletcher was any better: he makes it clear in his recent book that Chris Read was ditched as keeper because he didn't join in Paul Collingwood's doomed attempt to out-sledge Shane Warne in his final Test.

Sledging has been rife for years, and it stinks. It's a sad, feeble way to try and take a wicket. Bowlers should use the ball, and their talent: that's what they're for. Batsmen who answer in kind, like Kevin Pietersen, who allegedly yelled "Fetch it!" at Symonds last year to give the impression that he was a specialist fielder, are little better.

It's sometimes said that fans wouldn't enjoy watching a game conducted largely in silence. But the outpouring of emotion on all sides this week - including an impressive number of two-eyed Australia fans - shows that the cricket-loving public are deeply disgruntled as it is. And silence is no problem at all. Curtly Ambrose didn't sledge, and people loved watching him.

Sledging has been rife for years, and it stinks. It's a sad, feeble way to try and take a wicket. Bowlers should use the ball, and their talent: that's what they're for. Batsmen who answer in kind, like Kevin Pietersen, who allegedly yelled "Fetch it!" at Symonds last year to give the impression that he was a specialist fielder, are little better.

Talking is the commentators' job. And the fans'. And the captains' - as long as they are addressing their own side, or the umpires, or the media, and not saying anything as crass as Ponting's claim that this row was "one little incident". If it was so little, why did he report it to the umpires, and set the ball rolling towards turning the incident into a diplomatic one?

Twelve years ago, a great Australian cricketer was asked for his views on sledging. "If a fellow attempted it under me," the old fellow replied, "I would have given him one warning and, if he repeated it, I would have made sure he was not selected again." That was Sir Don Bradman, speaking at the age of 87. Bradman wasn't always right, but he certainly was on that occasion. Sledging demeans everyone who practises it. It sours the game.

After five years as England captain, and more Test victories than any of his predecessors, Michael Vaughan has the authority to take that sort of stand. After five years as Australia's captain, and 16 victories in a row, Ponting has it even more so. So if the ICC won't ban sledging, Ponting and Vaughan should agree a pledge and ask the other national captains, Test and one-day, to sign up to it. It should be short and simple enough to be expressed in the modern sportsman's preferred form of off-field verbal communication: a text message.

Their fellow players might give them a few funny looks, or even a verbal onslaught. But cricketers know, deep down, that sledging is wrong. You can tell by the fact that they use euphemisms to denote it, like factory workers making sure they put on rubber gloves to handle the toxins they include in everyday products. Steve Waugh called it "mental disintegration"; others prefer "a bit of banter" or "a bit of chirp". Rare is the player who will call a sledge a sledge while he is still playing. But they know it's not cricket. If somebody seizes this moment and takes a stand, the whole cricket world, sooner or later, will thank them.

Tim de Lisle is the author of Young Wisden, reviewed here, and a former editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. His website is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JohnnyP on January 9, 2008, 8:11 GMT

    I'm one of the 2-eyed Aussies that Tom de Lisle refers to. I agree 100% with all of Tom's reflections and I fully support a total ban on sldeging. It's ugly, graceless and unsporting.

  • Krishna_Sydney on January 9, 2008, 8:06 GMT

    I totally agree Tim. This is one Aussie invention ( I am an Indian-Austrlaian) we can do without. I still remember Gavaskar's plea at Lords before the MCC a few years ago, asking the cricketers who indulge in it to desist. A classic speech.

    The Aussies wrote into the record books - they won the match but they lost the test (of sportsmanship and character)! Maybe in future we shd have the anthem singing at the end of the match rather than the beginning..I for one, cant imagine the Aussies looking straight and singing " Advance Australia Fair", at the end of the Sydney 'test'.

    I am glad to see sensible lead writers like yourself leading the way with change - change is overdue. Thanks!


  • ALFREE on January 9, 2008, 7:34 GMT

    I couldn't agree more for sledging to be banned as it is now taken out of context, particularly when there are different national teams with varying cultures involved. However, it should remain with the other sports as sledging can be also a motivational factor alternatively for the recieving teams. I guess cricket will never be the same without a bit of sledging; whatever that is.

  • stallin on January 9, 2008, 7:09 GMT

    I don't agree with that, sledging is a part of the game and shouldn't be banned. Of course,racial comments shouldn't be tolerated.Very often sledging comes with a great humour and make things more intense in the field between the teams.It also helps to get rid of the boredom while playing test matches and brings a smile on their faces.It also helps us to understand the cultures of different nations. Let us keep the tradition alive, sledging is far better than freehits@20overpowerplays in a different perspective, the latter have done a great damage to the game. What's freehit in cricket,ridiculous commercialisation.

  • kiwihiker on January 9, 2008, 7:08 GMT

    Tim, agree with you 100%. Cricketers should speak through their actions - the Australians are phenomonally capable, and shouldn't need recourse to verbal abuse to prove/ensure their greatness.

    Some have commented that this is an aspect of male Antipodean culture, and that many great cricketers would be lost from teams if they could not sledge. Well, lets turf 'em.

    I would hate to see this devolve to the level of those bleedin' soccer players that trip over and have a cry when they get tackled, and then bounce up as soon as the whistle is blown. Not something Australian or NZ national teams do. But I'll continue to support and watch 'em if they play hard and lose, as long as they play honest. Same with the cricket.

  • KillerCrows on January 9, 2008, 7:06 GMT

    "what happens on the field stays on the field". This is gererally true, however racism should NEVER be tolerated! Not one bit.

    POMS is about a race, so are convicts (Australia), but the question is "Is it demeaning/hurtful to those that it is intended to". If so, then it is a racist comment, regardless of how insignificant others may feel. This is where you are spot on and all sledging should be stopped.

    As for the fact that no camera or umpire picked it up, that is just a let out clause. "If a tree falls down in the woods and no one (camera) is around to hear it - does it make a sound?"

  • Ananthanag on January 9, 2008, 7:05 GMT

    This is superb article. Yes, this is high time to ban sledging along with racism. I just can't understand how ICC is allowing this sledging. For instance, how can a bowler abuse the batsmen if the later gets boundaries or sixes in his bowling. Don't say that is Australian way or some thing. When you are playing in the international level you need to have some common sense and moral values. If the players don't have it, the respective boards should train them. If sledging continues, it will cause some unnecessary tensions and issues and at the end, the sport will be spoiled.

  • srikanths on January 9, 2008, 6:25 GMT

    Yes, completely agree that we shoudl ban sledging

    There is no banter ,chirp in all the other non contact sports like Tennis, Table tennis,squash,Volleyball etc. No one buys this argument that sledging adds to the attraction of the game . This was an aussie creation .If we let the slightest opportunity , scope, there is bound to be retaliation. Reaction is never equal and opposite, it is always worse. We will all end up debating punishments on reaction without really addressing and preventing action

  • arindam2812 on January 9, 2008, 6:18 GMT

    Funny how the proponents of sledging mostly happen to be Aussies. Folks, why is it so difficult for you to realize that, just because you are used to it, all others should too? Give me one reason why the world should play cricket as you do. If you are indeed world champs, shut up and play, and show the world you can win with your talents and not your potty mouths.

  • Sir-Collingwood on January 9, 2008, 6:05 GMT

    Little Boy Ricky Ponting, agree to ban sledging? It'll happen...if pigs started sprouting wings and started flying.

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