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The history of sledging

Yelling rude words and phrases at the opposition has a long and glorious history in cricket

Alan Tyers
WG Grace with the Prince of Wales, 1911

Opposition bowlers didn't have much success dismissing Grace by putting a Victoria Sponge on a good length because he was partial to custard tarts  •  PA Photos

Thanks to David Warner, it's the craze that's sweeping the cricketing world - but what exactly is sledging, where did it come from, and what part has it played in the development of cricket?
1) The earliest mention of sledging was in a match at Hambledon in 1765, when Richard Nyren, playing for Men of Hampshire XXII, became involved in an altercation with batsman John Small, playing for XXX Red Hot Hampshire Men. Nyren is said to have shouted at his bowler: "Bowle hymme a harpsichord, see if he can playeth that." The ensuing riot led to the introduction of a third stump, which could be used as a handy weapon.
2) By the middle of the next century, a divide was growing between "amateur" sledgers, who studied sledging at public schools, and "professional" sledgers, who would sledge for money between breaks from working on the tin-looms and getting iron lung. The first recorded usage of the sledge "Does your husband play cricket as well?" was reported in Nottingham in 1852 and led to one of the worst outbreaks of feminism seen in the Midlands for 75 years.
3) The most famous sledge from the 19th century came when bowler Sam Redgate told Alfred Mynn "get ready for a broken flaming leg". The injury led to the introduction of pads, and the invention of the word "f**ken" because "flaming" was considered too rude given its connotation with the occult and the illegal practice of barbequing meat.
4) The man who made sledging a household name was, of course, WG Grace. His legendary "Mind the windows, Ranji" taunt was all the more remarkable in that it came before the invention of the window. We may never know how many sledges he might have come up with had WG not drifted out of the game in his early fifties.
5) Ranjitsinhji himself was noted for a temper on the field that makes David Warner look like some pussycats. He was once fined 50% his match fee (half of a ruby the size of a kumquat) for getting involved in an altercation at Old Trafford. "It's red, it's round, and now that you know what it looks like, get it the hell back from the match referee before he cuts it in half," the legendary Indian prince is said to have said to his butler, Sayed.
6) The achievements of CB Fry - being the first man to score a century before lunch while playing the trombone, taking nine wickets in an over underwater, and discovering Paraguay was actually a really great place to get a little bent out of shape once in a while - are well known. But he was also the inventor of the witty riposte to a sledge. When an opposing bowler quipped, "Hey Fry, why are you so fat?" the Sussex and England polymath replied, "Because every time she beseeches me to take up the throne of Albania - and yes, that is a absolutely a euphemism - your wife gives me a piece of this delicious Turkish delight." And with that, both the comeback and the concept of marketing via sport were born.
But it would be 124 years before one "beach bum" Australian spinner would combine them to such devastating effect… Find out more next week.

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