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The Confectionery Stall

The origins of sledging unearthed

A masterly quiz that tells you just why military medium is called what it is, and offers alternative names for IPL franchises

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman
Mike Brearley speaks at the MCC World Cricket Committee media conference, Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa, January 10, 2012

"I repeat: I need you to play that funky music, white boy"  •  Peter Heeger  /  Getty Images

1. What should England offer Sri Lanka in exchange for coach Paul Farbrace, as a gesture of goodwill / apology / compensation / manners (delete according to preference)?
(a) Kevin Pietersen
(b) Andy Flower
(c) Kevin Pietersen and Andy Flower
(d) A complimentary pair of tickets to the Lord's Test, on the day of their choosing (excluding the Saturday)
(e) The newly released Paul Farbrace iPhone app, which recreates the former Kent gloveman's highly regarded coaching in an easy-to-use interactive smartphone format
(f) Fifty bonus runs to be used at some point in the two-Test series this summer
(g) All of the above
2. In the unlikely event that you had to make up some alternative names for IPL franchises, which of the following would you consider?
(a) The Maharashtra Madams
(b) The Capital City Snutterbucks
(c) Jaipur Chicken-Slayers
(d) The Bouncing Bengal Bertrands
(e) The Karnataka Cat Attackers
(f) The Elvis Presley's XI Punjab
(g) The New York Yankees
(h) All of the above
3. Why is medium-paced bowling described as "military"?
(a) If you were to force all members of an army to bowl, take speed-gun measurements of their deliveries, and calculate their average pace, it would probably work out as "medium".
(b) "Military medium" bowling was originally nothing to do with the pace of the ball. It was, in fact, named after the late-19th-century bowler Lt Col TBS Dobberson, who bowled gentle seamers for Gloucestershire, the MCC, the Gentlemen, and the Army, in a career spanning several decades. Lt Col Dobberson had a masterful control of line and length, but absolutely no interest in making the ball do anything in the air or off the pitch. His monotonous deliveries became known as "dobbers", and his unvarying technique as "dobbing". His primary role in the Army, however, was as a spiritual communicator with long-dead British military heroes, from whom he would coax valuable combat advice, which Dobberson's superiors would then put into practice on the battlefield. Hence he became known as "the military medium", a tag that subsequently became attached to his bowling style. "Dob" had particularly close working relationships with the spirits of Napoleon-vanquishing celeb the Duke of Wellington, Battle-of-Blenheim pin-up boy the Duke of Marlborough, and fiery Roman-smashing vixen Queen Boudicca. To maintain his focus when communing with these long-dead legends of the arts of war in the spiritual realm, Dobberson would mime his bowling action in slow motion.
(c) In British inter-forces cricket throughout the early 20th century, all bowlers had to bowl rigidly at medium pace. The military hierarchy was insistent on fairness on the field, and considered both fast and slow bowling as being "cocky", "deceitful" and "downright impertinent when directed at a senior officer". Therefore, everything other than "military medium" was banned.
(d) It is a misspelling of the original term "Miller Tree medium", which dates back to the post-war Victory Tests of 1945. Australian heartthrob allrounder Keith Miller wowed the ecstatic crowds with his dashingly charismatic exploits with bat and ball, flaying opposing bowlers to all parts with a rare flamboyance and scattering stumps with his high-speed pacery. The exception was in a one-off match against St Enid's Convent XI, in which, having lost a bet with his good friend Denis Compton about whether squirrels fall to the ground faster when drunk than sober, Miller had to play the entire match dressed as a horse chestnut tree. The limb-restricting costume considerably restricted his famous pace, and Miller took a disappointing 0 for 64 in 17 heavily foliaged overs (although it later transpired that the St Enid's openers, Sister Beatrice and Sister Winifred, were in fact Compton and Bill Edrich in nun outfits). The term "Miller Tree medium" was concocted by commentator John Arlott, mistranscribed by legendary cricket writer EW Swanton, and soon became widely used to describe the bowling of anyone who looked like they might as well be wearing a pantomime tree costume.
(e) All of the above.
4. What is the origin of the term "sledging", which refers to abusive pseudobanter by the fielding team, designed to make a batsman searchingly psychoanalyse himself, his relationship with his parents, and the point of existence, in the 0.4 seconds he has to react to a 90-mile-an-hour bouncer aimed at his gullet?
(a) The first known instance of sledging was in the post-Packer non-Ashes Australia v England series of 1979-80. The Australian slip cordon attempted to distract England captain Mike Brearley by singing the chart-topping hits of the pop sensations Sister Sledge, assuming that the famously cerebral England skipper would be disco-discomforted and disco-discombobulated into playing rash strokes. If anything, the tactic backfired - Brearley had arguably his finest series, scoring two battling half-centuries against the fearsome Australiattack, later attributing his success to "finding a state of rare mental equilibrium, and a deliciously funky groove" to the Sisters' smash hit singles "Lost In Music" and "We Are Family". Nevertheless, the rest of England's batting subsided, unable to focus amidst the irrepressible melodies and jive-inducing beat of "He's The Greatest Dancer", and "sledging" had become a part of international cricket.
(b) Sledging crossed over to cricket in 1968, following the notorious men's slalom skiing event at the Grenoble Winter Olympics that year. The race was won by French plummeting-down-a-mountain-on-two-long-thin-planks specialist Jean-Claude Killy, but not without controversy. In thick fog, his coach, Alphonse Oeureurheuroeur, disrupted Killy's great Austrian rival Karl Schranz by tobogganing alongside the course, shouting personal abuse, and questioning Schranz's mental and physical aptitude for top-level skiing in a fruitily languaged diatribe. The Austrian, distracted by his seemingly invisible assailant's merciless verbal barrage, missed a gate, was disqualified, and handed Killy his third gold medal of the games. Oeureurheuroeur swiftly melted into the crowd, but his sled was later discovered with a copy of the Petit Larousse French-To-German Dictionary Of Abusive Terms and an empty bottle of cognac still inside it. "Sledging" had thus been born as a sporting tactic.
(c) Sledging began as a ploy in medieval warfare. Nimble spies would clamber up the walls of castles at the dead of night, then perch precariously on the window ledge outside the enemy leader's bedchamber, before whispering taunts, innuendo and invective towards the room's occupants. Given the superstitions of the time, the insulted king or duke would awake thinking that he had experienced a visitation from an evil spirit, and consequently be completely off form in the next day's battle. Due to the quietness required to climb onto the ledge and deliver the low-volume abuse without alerting the attention of guards, or waking the king's wife and/or mistresses, the process became known as "ssshhh-ledging", later conflated to "schledging", then "sledging".
(d) None of the above
(e) All of the above
5. In light of questions 1 to 4, have I watched any cricket in the last three weeks, since the World T20 final?
(a) Yes
(b) No
Write your answers on a papyrus scroll, then bury them in a hole in the ground. Winners will be notified in approximately 2000 years' time.
I will be performing my Cricket Versus the World stand-up show at The Udderbelly, on London's South Bank, this Thursday, 1 May, at 9pm. Details here

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer