January 11, 2008

Sledging: a convert writes

I used to enjoy sledging because it mirrored life. Not anymore. There is only so much trouble everybody can stomach

McGrath v Sarwan in 2003: 'sledges involving wives and Brian Lara get a bit out of hand' © Getty Images

The other day Tim de Lisle called in these pages for the end of sledging, as he has done before, as have many other respected commentators and cricketers for a while now. It was not a sentiment I ever agreed with. I was foolish.

I felt it unwarranted because sportsmen, as we are reminded often, are products of the world around them. It is to our benefit that they mirror it, as art - which sport is - should. Not to advocate nastiness, but I felt it was not absurd, or even out of place, for cricket to contain the less edifying aspects of our behaviour, to occasionally disturb. Besides, much of cricket's bad behaviour is kind of Tom-and-Jerry amusing. I did not find Andre Nel offensive; I found him silly, endearing and entertaining. To take him seriously was to miss something.

I felt, too, the onus on sportsmen to set an example while throwing themselves into the most competitive, over-hyped, ego-fuelled of endeavours was not entirely fair.

This was wishful and misguided reasoning. As we have now seen too often, there is no containing the flames. One moment it is a cricketer mouthing off, the next there are hundreds of thousands going at each other on message boards. One moment a confrontation has added to the viewing drama, the next entire communities have drawn battle lines against one another. It is patently not worth the price.

What a useless spiral it all is. The Australian team's demeanour has generally been obnoxious, the response of Indian crowds to Andrew Symonds was deplorable, the Australian provocation of Harbhajan Singh was petty, Harbhajan's alleged response woeful. Most pointless of all have been the debates emerging out of the affair. One man's pig is another man's monkey. How far down this road do we want to go?

More jingoism, more rabble-rousing, more unpleasantness. As it is, watching cricket, at least in India, is an increasingly disagreeable affair. The more the supposed confidence of the nation grows, the more graceless it becomes in acknowledging the efforts of opponents, the more hungry it becomes to beat its own chest. Every new controversy brings fresh rage, fresh ego, fresh delusions. This is bigger than "a few idiots".

Players could help by taking the lead. Often they miss the wood. As Peter English illustrated beautifully, Ricky Ponting's inability to connect with anything outside the mood in the Australian dressing room was startling. So is his hypocrisy. The contrast with Anil Kumble has been embarrassing.

No lover of the game wants a sport stimulated by, in Peter Roebuck's words, "a dangerous pill called vengeance". If Ponting is genuinely concerned about cricket played "hard but fair", he should leave the decision-making to the umpires and instead approach rival captains to agree to, in modern lingo, "control the controllables". That is, hold back abusive behaviour.

Most pointless of all have been the debates emerging out of the affair. One man's pig is another man's monkey. How far down this road do we want to go?

There will never be clean demarcations on sledging. Most seem to like the funny ones, even when they involve wives, children and retards. Or wives and biscuits for that matter. (Though ones with wives and Brian Lara get a bit out of hand.) Maybe there needs to be a far greater upholding of the right to take rather than give offence.

We also know that match referees tend to worsen things. Nothing is funny with lawyers around. Umpires, preferably of reliable vision and hearing, are best placed to feel the pulse of a game and they must be not merely empowered but instructed to be more proactive. If nothing, there might be some worthy sledging from the white coats, at which point there can be a new war. At least it will be different.

The elders have been wise all along. There is only so much trouble everybody can stomach. And it certainly cannot be justified by some artistic ideal of being able to observe the panorama of human character unfold before you. I suppose there is life itself for that.

And now that all of that is out, to tell a happy story. The moment of the controversy, courtesy television. Breaking news: Steve Bucknor not to stand in Perth. The anchor (loudly, breathlessly): "And we have with us now on the phone line the doyen of Indian cricketers, the legendary Mr Tiger Pataudi, and welcome to the show Mr Pataudi, and what do you think of this decision: was this a great day for Indian cricket or a bad day for world cricket?' Silence. The response (slow, hesitant): "This is not Pataudi. This is Sharma. Pataudi's secretary." What Indians will call a mooh-tod jawaab, and not an abuse in sight.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nampally on January 13, 2008, 0:26 GMT

    1. Sledging is a word that emerged prominently during the 2 decades. There was nothing like sledging in the current form during 1950 to 1980 era. Hence sledging of all forms must be banned for the good of cricket. 2. The two Umpires should warn the sledger first time. After the first warning note the culprits. Each sledging should impose a fine of 10% of the match fee on the offending team. When it hurts your pocket, the players will learn very fast. 3. Umpiring should be TV-Aided for all stumpings, runouts and caught behind. 4. Players should have 3 challenges in each innings for LBW decisions, similar to Tennis. Items 3 and 4 will eliminate the Human error and make an umpire's job easier. Third Umpire should be provided with all available aids to make a clear decision. It will be interesting to see how the Aussies fare under such conditions. Indians who were "Bucknered" & "Hansoned" would have easily won the Sydney test if these aids were in place, as seen by action replays.

  • ChuckingMuraliMakesMeSick on January 13, 2008, 0:21 GMT

    Dear Rajaipur, Sledging is not about morality, it's about morale. The aim is not to hurt someone's feelings, it's to introduce doubt into their mind. It also upsets their concentration. As for Murali, he is a chucker, a disgrace. He is a blight on the game whose actions will have repercussions for years. Kids will grow up using suspect or even downright illegal actions, justifying it by saying "but Murali does it". In junior cricket (even in Australia) we are now seeing greater numbers of bowlers with suspect actions - this is Murali's true legacy. You jump up and down about sledging which is within the laws of the game, yet you condone Murali, whose action was illegal (the ICC changed the rules, just for him). Do you notice that the Australians don't sledge Tendulkar? It's not because they revere him, it's because it's not effective against him. He is mentally strong, so they look for weaker links in the chain.

  • Magarmuch on January 12, 2008, 17:23 GMT

    "Most seem to like the funny ones, even when they involve wives, children and retards." Must only be you as everyone else respects their own families. Sledging will never be banned as that takes away Australia's mental games strategy without which it can never be the unbeatable team it is right now.

  • vijaytriambak on January 12, 2008, 12:43 GMT

    I am fine with Sledging or Abusing or making obnoxious remarks so long Captains don't run towards officials like school kids ! If you can't handle it in the middle whatever may be the abuse or sledge or whatever you call it, it is better you don't even suggest to anyone forget alone following it! In this regards, I feel Australians are like the one who could not tolerate anything that comes at them but very comfortable keep sending nasty ones to others. The most comedy of all things is Mike Proctor claiming that he knows what is meant by Racism. According to me since he was part of the apartheid legacy, he is the least one who has high-moral ground on racism! Ponting made calculated attempt to destabilize Indian team thru racism allegation to hideaway Umpiring horrors that costed India. This was tactically supported by "like minded" ICC officials - in the form of bad Umpiring which was helping Australia while Referee was taking care of racism to get the focus out of "bad" Umpiring

  • back_foot_punch on January 12, 2008, 11:10 GMT

    I also agree that players have the right to release any frustration after putting their heart out in the highest level of the sport. As long as it's not personal or offensive or on any religious, cultural, racial, stereotypical...

    You see? There's just too many no-go areas and this is why bowlers should just walk back to their marks and batsman tap the pitch or walk away. There has come a point where it is expected to be aggressive and this is somehow supposed to make a paceman bowl better, or a fielder a better obstacle to the ball.

    I don't understand this philosophy and if this is also intended to weaken the resolve of batsmen; well that's just cheap and unsportsmanlike. Fielders and bowlers can leave the field at any time, any batsman needs to concentrate, and I don't believe any bowler or team who resorts to this tactic to take a wicket have genuinely earned such a scalp.

    It's not fun or pleasant when people are shouting or saying annoying things to one another, like in life.

  • jimfr on January 12, 2008, 8:36 GMT

    And what about the crowd. Should they be evicted for shouting out a sledge such as these?-- --At the SCG Len Pascoe had bowled loosely including several wides, and been smashed around the ground by the West Indies. After another fielding lapse when he let a ball through to the boundary, a voice yelled " Geez, can't bowl, can't field. I bloody well hope you can bat, Pascoe!". --"Tufnell! Can I borrow your brain? I'm building an idiot" An Aussie heckler for spinner Phil Tufnell during the 1994-95 tour.

  • jimfr on January 12, 2008, 8:33 GMT

    --In a Sheffield Shield game between NSW and SA, a Waugh twin was taking an enternity to take guard, asking the umpire for centre, middle and leg, two legs - the whole lot. Then he steps away towards leg side and has another look around the field, before re checking centre. Jamie Siddons, a prolific run scorer who unluckily never played a test is at slip, and decided enough is enough. "For christ sake, it's not a 'f*cken test match." Waugh replies: "Of course it isn't ... You're here." --In one of the tour matches in South Africa, Australia played Hansie Cronje's province. Cronje was at the non strikers end, there was a short chubby batsman on strike. Ian Healy yelled to Warne, "Bowl a Mars Bar half way down...We'll get him stumped" The Aussies and Cronje were all in hysterics, all this was before a classic reply from the batsman. "Nah, Boonie (David Boon) fielding at short leg will be onto it before I can move."

  • jimfr on January 12, 2008, 8:29 GMT

    Lets all lighten up. Some sledging is just fun banter at the edge of gamesmanship. It isn't all unacceptable, merely part of life. So long as it doesn't get nasty or personal or incessant, it's not a problem. Telling a hopeless tailender who has played and missed numerous times that the thing in his hand is for hitting the ball is a sledge, but a funny one. It may psychologically help destroy his confidence further and contribute to his downfall, so....worthy of a fine or sending off? Telling a bowler that the ball in his had is cannon fodder, that he can't bowl for peanuts, and then belting him over the park, is sledging Large fine? Suspension for a match? Or do we just laugh it off?

  • Bone on January 12, 2008, 2:30 GMT

    I don't believe banning sledging will work, I also believe sledging is a important part of the game (of just about every professional sport). For those who believe professional sport is all about purely phyical skill, i'm sorry but it never has been. All sport at any resonable level of competition tests the compeditors mental strength, inculding the ability to deal with sledging, gamesmanship, trash talking etc. What I do think is that the ICC has got it wrong with there processes to eliminate racial abuse. In Australia (and no i'm not claiming Aussies are innoccent nor perfect) our Australin Football League's first step when any claim of racial abuse is layed is to put the two parties in a room, where the victim gets to explain to the perpetrator why what they said is harmful. Counselling is also part of the process. Very quickly did racist remarks become taboo for all players. Penalties are very harsh if a player doesn't get the message.

  • rajaipur on January 12, 2008, 0:05 GMT

    I believe that most of the world is mad at Aussies is because of its hypocrisy. It starts at the top. It does not help that before the Sri Lanka tour, the then PM John Howard calls Murali a chucker. The idea is to take out the most potent weapon from the opposing team. It is almost a military tactic, not a cricketing tactic. Also, the Sarwan/McGrath incident, Rod Marsh/Botham, Miandad/lillie, Gavaskar/Lillie and many others. Who started each of this incidents. I would be slighted much more if someone sledged me about my wife then a racist taunt. And dont try to differentiate between racist word, sledging, bastard, etc. They all are the same, derogatory, meant to be hurtful, demeaning. So stop trying to split hair and ban Ricky, Andrew and Harbhajan, take away the world championships/records from McGrath, Miandad, Lillie, Sarwan, marsh, gavaskar, Botham, then let us start talking about fairness or move on to the Perth test or better come home. Wont happen, because money rules!

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