Monday, 16 January 2017

Potty Mouths Or On Field Wit?

An article in the New York Times which is critical of sledging by the Australian cricket teams, has aroused comment in Australia. From its opening paragraph ...

When young men loiter on street corners or in shopping malls throwing out insults or physically intimidating passers-by, we condemn their behavior as antisocial. When Australia’s top athletes do the same, we celebrate their “wit” and “spirit.”

... it's clear that the article is not going to be complimentary to the character of Australia's teams. Mention is made of Australia's success and "poor on-field behaviour" in the past twelve months. Of those, the success seems an exaggeration. The much reported incident between the then Australian captain Michael Clarke and England's James Anderson at one end of the Brisbane pitch in 2013 is sited, including the detail of Clarke's instruction to Anderson to face up to the next ball and be ready to "get your fucking arm broken", broadcast to the world when the host broadcaster accidentally let the mike go "hot". Not reported is Anderson's threat to close fielder George Bailey that he was going to punch him in the face. Nor is Bailey's comment that no doubt started the snowball on its journey downhill.

References to evidence in the Phillip Hughes inquest in the article have been taken out of context and do diminish its credibility. Hughes didn't die because he was sledged and he didn't die as a result of a deliberate intention to kill him. He died because of an era of judgment and sheer, damned, bad luck: an error he made.

It's easy enough to become nationalistic and ridicule the technical inaccuracies in this article but the fact remains, it opens up a debate that needs to be had, that sledging has become ugly in our great sport. The current crop are simply the latest incarnation of a legacy amplified by the Ponting era of leadership (using the word loosely here). It included the crudest and most uncomplicated of sledgers, a former highly regarded player who would just issue a constant stream of unrelenting swear words at incoming batsmen. 

Another of the chief exponents, a man whose cricket skills were unparalleled, was a determined school yard bully whose excuse was destroying opposition batsmen as a justification for victory. One of his lowest acts was to make train noises when a batsman returned to the game after his wife had been killed in a level crossing accident. If this was wit, it was of a variety unknown to humour.

This isn't sledging as I knew it. 

The golden rule with a sledge, which first came to prominence in the Ian Chappell era of captaincy, but existed right back to the not-so-graceful Dr WG, was that it was meant to be funny and you should be able to face the bloke you sledged after the game. Most of what passes for sledging today fails that rule and would also fail the racial vilification, bullying and abuse conditions of most other employment situations. 

The other truth about sledging is that is generally carried out by lesser opponents or at least those concerned they might not prevail, in order to force an advantage their playing skills don't give them. Show me an angry man and I'll show you a man who is scarred. Otherwise, its banter which often causes a laugh and a move on. Sledging good players is fraught with danger. As Chappelli used to say, "don't stir up the good ones". thecricketragic was known for his sledging and many times I have spent the afternoon chasing leather or been in a side dismissed cheaply when a misplaced target has carved us up.

No one wants cricket to be a soft game and as a former player and devoted lover of the game, I'd hate to see sledging gone. It would denude the cut and thrust if banter was banned but there is a line to be drawn and most of the current Australians are far on the other side of it.

Read the full article here