The Brisbane schoolyard squabble

Cricketers often say they want to play hard but many forget that the key verb is "play", not "talk"

Andrew Hughes

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Playing in two Ashes series in one year must feel like taking an extended holiday with your school friends. Inevitably, excessive prolonged proximity breeds contempt and in Brisbane the pot of simmering resentment boiled up in a froth of silly.

It was all a little bit Year Five, to be honest. As any parent will tell you, you shouldn't take sides. Your child may spin you a tale of woe, and you may be ready to storm the school and give the headmaster a lecture on the evils of bullying, but just before you pick up the phone, a half-forgotten instinct prompts you to ask the question:

"And who started it?"

"Well Jimmy said he was going to punch George, but George started it because he was mean to Jimmy, so Jimmy complained to the teacher, then Michael told Jimmy that Michael's friend was going to break Jimmy's arm and… "

At which point, you climb down from your high horse, shake your head and return to reading your copy of Bob Willis' latest, Fear and Moaning in Leamington Spa.

In the case of the Brisbane Brouhaha, it turns out that no one can remember who started it, and the spectacle of James Anderson complaining to the umpire about witless sledging was a particularly piquant cherry on top of the hypocrisy gateau.

But hang on a minute, what's the problem? Isn't relentless, witless abuse just part of cricket? Alastair Cook certainly thinks so:

"On the pitch it's pretty much a war, isn't it. There are always going to be a few words, and I think that's pretty much how people want to watch cricket being played."

Well, no, it isn't, but we'll come back to that. If what we want is cricketers swearing and shouting at each other, then why aren't we allowed to hear it? The Australian players union this week put forward the bizarre argument that it was not disgraceful for a player to threaten another player with a broken arm, but it was disgraceful for television to broadcast it. Why? If it's all part of the game and we all love it, then let's hear it.

Or rather, let's not.

It is often said that spectators like to see the game played hard. Personally I'd prefer to watch it played languidly, idly, and with a devil-may-care, amateurish attitude. Cricket without the grunting, grimacing and earnest running about may not be as brutally impressive, but it would be more in keeping with the innate beauty of the sport

Yet even if you want to see cricketers play hard, the key verb is "play", not "talk". I wasn't much of a cricketer, but I don't remember ever being instructed by my long-suffering coaches that the key to bowling was to work your jaw harder or to follow through with your abuse.

I'm not suggesting we demand Victorian tea-room standards of politeness from our cricketers. I don't mind a bit of swearing. In fact, I swear myself from time to time. As it happens, the sight of Anderson and Clarke trying to sledge one another caused me to yell, "Oh for God's sake just f******* grow up, you pair of ******* ********** ."

I'm not against the occasional bit of inventive sledging either. Where would third-rate Christmas cash-in cricket-celebrity-endorsed literature be without the same collection of dog-eared quotes, handed down from generation to generation like a particularly profane collection of holy scripture? Mind you, even the best of them are not exactly Oscar Wilde. I suspect if genuine wit were to make an appearance at the wicket, it would be wasted:

Oscar: The speed of a man's bowling is inverse to the speed of his thinking
Bowler: I'm going to break your f****** arm

So, swearing in frustration: fine. Occasional attempts at wit: if you must. But systematic, rehearsed, predictable abuse turns a majestic, absorbing game into a grubby schoolyard squabble, and having not being particularly interested in schoolyard squabbles when I was at school, I find it mind-numbingly tedious to see them being rehearsed by grown men.

If these chaps want to punch each other, then Australia is well furnished with boxing clubs, where they can put on big silly gloves and big silly helmets and pummel each other to their heart's content. On the other hand, if they just want to talk about punching each other in order to sound tough, then they deserve nothing but ridicule, after-school detention, and immediate curtailment of their Xbox privileges.

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

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Posted by Mary on (November 28, 2013, 13:10 GMT)

Brilliantly piece! Especially loved the Oscar Wilde and bowler exchange as well as your reply to Daison and Jared.

Posted by VINODK on (November 28, 2013, 5:19 GMT)

Hilarious as usual Andrew, and I absolutely agree with you that the key word is play. We all remember how the great West Indian quicks used to put the fear of God into batsmen without uttering a single word. This is exactly like a schoolyard squabble. Both teams should grow up and just get on with it

Posted by Simon on (November 28, 2013, 3:27 GMT)

jw76 - I get that there are things we don't like and I love that we are able to get that dislike, frustration, opposing point of view off our chests. However it aggravates me no end when opponents to anything jump to the 'we must get authorities to act' or invent an authority to enact new regulations. Andrew's schoolyard analogy puts this whole 'incident' in perspective. The last thing we need is another bureaucracy making a set of rules to fit every small infraction into their rule book, to make them the focus, rather than the cricket.

I guarantee, if you attend sporting contests, you have 'witnessed' many similar incidents, yet it isn't until you have the media recount it ad - naeseum that you consider it even is an incident. The media still brings up a 'rift' between opponents Ponting & Harbajan, but according to them they had no issue playing together for Mumbai. The players apparently can leave it on the field...I wish we all could. By the way, the real result was Oz by 381.

Posted by Simon on (November 28, 2013, 2:21 GMT)

I like your school yard analogy, Andrew. Agree that the 'parent' needs to get prospective on issue before apportioning blame. Similarly it would be great if the school yard tattle tale - who always embellishes an 'incident' with their opinion - was not only ignored, but also their second hand account didn't appear in the end of term newsletter. At least that way the offenders would get a clip around the ears and the routine of the schoolyard would just get back to normal.

Posted by Sarthak on (November 27, 2013, 14:55 GMT)

In fact Alastair Cook's view on how cricket should be played will dissapoint many cricket fans. Its not entirely Cook's fault obviously. It just shows the level of animosity in international cricket, in particular between England and Australia at the moment. I have not seen the great West Indian team of 70s and 80s but from what I have heard and read about them, from my father, from various articles and interviews, that despite being a literally terrific side they were respected and admired around the world because they did not show any personal hatred towards their opposition. They were cricketers and not brawlers. Its nothing surprising almost every cricket fan and even the past opposition players remember about that era of west indian cricket with a certain amount of respect and admiration... That's more like the brand of cricket, fans who want tough cricket wants to see. They dont want to see in a cricket field barroom brawls!

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 27, 2013, 12:23 GMT)

Love sledging - integral part of the game. But it has to be funny - Michael Clarke isnt funny

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 27, 2013, 8:38 GMT)

Thanks all for your comments

Daison and Jared, long-suffering readers of this blog will know what I think of sledging, in fact, I've been boring people about since 2009. I find systematic sledging tedious and witless.

The reference to 'James Anderson' and 'hypocrisy' early on in this week's piece should have tipped you off.

Finally, Jared, I have been on the receiving end of many insults in my life, and usually I manage to laugh them off, but if you are implying that I am an England supporter, then I may have to consult my lawyers.

Posted by Dummy4 on (November 27, 2013, 8:17 GMT)

@DaisonGarvasis : Agreed. There's suddenly a lot of concern from England supporters about sledging and its place in the game. Brisbane wasn't even a particularly heated test match in that regard, that I could see. As Johnson said it only got a bit angry on the last day.

Posted by Francis on (November 27, 2013, 6:56 GMT)

" . . . then why aren't we allowed to hear it? "

This is the single most brilliant comeback to all the players who say we want that rubbish. I'd love some journe to say that to a player in a press conference.

I hate it. I just want to watch skilfull cricket, not bullying, abuse & mental disintegration. I consider it cowardly.

Anyway, Well said, that man.

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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Andrew Hughes Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73
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