Friday, 29 November 2013

Turn The Mike Off, Or I'll Break Your F@#$%&* Arm

"and then the actress said to the bishop ..."
Sledging ... mental disintegration ... banter ...

... it doesn't matter what you f*&@#^? call it but it does matter that you understand what it is.

The sledge has a long history in the game of cricket, regardless of what the old timers say. Way back to one of the game's colossusean forms - physically and philosophically - William Gilbert Grace. He was once bowled early in his innings by an ecstatic youngster who was aghast as he saw WG stoop and replace the bails.

"Mr Grace," the youngster said, " you can't do that."

"My boy," said the legend of English cricket, "they have come to see me bat, not watch you bowl."

In the combative days of the 1930's and 1940's, Australia dominated through Bradman's bat and the acid wit Fingleton and later Miller and Hassett. These were men imbued with a natural flair for using words and they did so often, using their words to undermine and rattle the English. O'Reilly lacked their subtlety, but his blunt and colourful intrusions into a situation were only what could be expected from a fiery Irishman.

The English have always called these comments banter. As self-appointed owners of the language, they devoted library's full of books to it. There is a whole Dewey section set aside for Winston Churchill alone ... although little of his banter happened on the cricket field.

Steve Waugh invented the term mental disintegration and in doing so, directed us more to the purpose than to it's legitimacy or prevalence. Ian Chappell, captain of the team known as the "Ugly Australians", denies sledging existed in his time.

Hmmmm.

The truth of the matter about sledging is that it doesn't exist for anyone outside the playing arena because it is an activity engaged in by the players and the only reason it has appeared to become more prevalent is because of the existence of technology. Firstly, those dish like microphones which appeared in the late 1970's called effects microphones and now the stump mike. Both suddenly bought the spoken words of cricket into lounge rooms.

This is where the real burden of blame for the Michael Clarke comment lies. The match referee even commented that Clarke would not have been fined if the comment had not gone to air. Whilst the host broadcaster has apologised for the directorial slip, it is grossly unfair that Clarke bears the blame on his record for something quite common on the cricket field. Even unfairer, that the comment passed immediately before his by James Anderson, which was just as explosive and threatening, has escaped censure.

Warner is not a good media performer
Even unfairer in the aftermath, has been the linking of David Warner's press conference comments to Jonathan Trott's departure from the team. How could Warner have known of Trott's serious condition two nights before it was announced? Even the English team management, although questioning Warner's professionalism, have made it clear that his comments had no bearing on Trott's condition or decision to leave the team.

The close ups of the faces of English batsmen at the Gabba and their body language, were accurately described by Warner. Its just that no one wants to be thought of as being afraid.

This hasn't stopped talk back callers and media commentators with scant knowledge of the game passing condemnation on the young man. It appears that some are just destined to be attacked. If form can't be questioned, go after some other aspect. Warner isn't a good media performer, prone to slips and nervousness. Just watch the way he answers questions by repeating the question in his answer. As such, he is easy prey to a media that prefers to feast on slow targets. If this hasn't been sledging in the past twelve months then what is? Warner has undergone his own journey with self-doubt and stress-related matters and has emerged the better for it. Those who judge rarely have mirrors.

One caller this week described sledging as bullying and a bad example to our children. Please. Haven't they ever watched parliament? There are so many bad examples to our children which have so much heavier impact. In any regard, their children are not supposed to be hearing what is said. Imagine if a stump mike picked up every conversation between parents or in the staff room between teachers. What havoc might that wrought?

Australia, at their best, play a robust game of cricket. Some play it better than others and some use sledging more appropriately than others. Warne, for instance, often went way too far in his use of personal circumstances to destroy an opponent but mostly he was very clever. McGrath was hopeless. He would sledge in anger and would almost always get one back that was worse and he'd end up being the one destroyed. Hayden would just swear at opponents. Not clever and of little effect but he'd sign himself afterwards gaining the necessary absolution.

England give as good as they get. James Anderson is a serial sledger who is never short of a comment, although he tends to fall into the McGrath mold. It could be a fast bowler's thing.

The upshot of all of this petticoat comment and media column filling is little more than when it was leveled at Chappelli's Australians.

A few important things have come from it.

Leave it on the field
The captains of both sides have agreed that what happens in the middle should stay there. Both have conducted themselves with honour over these events, particularly Alastair Cook. He could have complained but he immediately dismissed questions on Sunday evening, saying it was part of the game.

Australia have shown they will muscle up against England. Any backward steps will have to be forced from them.

Michael Clarke, in one instant, has galvanised his team in support of his captaincy. In the heat of the moment or not, he stepped up and drew a line in the sand. The host broadcaster has, by accident, galvanised the rest of the country behind the captain. Past doubts planted by books from Ponting and Hussey and press releases from others, are forgotten. Last Sunday, the country saw its leader make the right moves, use the right gestures and say the right words.

If these turbulent Test series between the oldest of enemies can have one, tumescent turning point, Clarke's rebuttal of Anderson may have won the Ashes.

Almost as postscript, let me add that the best sledge in Brisbane, the most effective mental disintegration, went entirely unnoticed. On the last day, with Australia pressing and England failing, Mitchell Johnson whistled one past Joe Root's chin ... a place where another Australian has been. Root had something to say and Johnson, who previously would have spat back a combination unheard of at Sunday morning church ... just smiled ... and then slyly winked.

Sometimes you don't have to say a word.