In the light of the recent David Warner altercation and a few other unsavoury incidents, the idea of sledging within cricket is now firmly back in the spotlight.
Warner was seen to be telling Rohit Sharma to ‘speak English’ during a recent tri-series ODI. The incident and the furore surrounding it, has meant that the issue of sledging, and how far it is acceptable to go, has been questioned once again.
It seems a habitual process, whereby a small flare-up on the field is extrapolated as an example of the ills of the game at large. Last winter it was Michael Clarke and his ‘broken arm’ line to Jimmy Anderson, this year it was Warner, and inevitably next year another incident will occur.
What is difficult to decide is whether these incidents are inevitable. Are they simply always going to happen, given that cricket is played by highly-strung athletes who are competing for their countries and their livelihoods? Or is cricket as a whole, incapable of curbing the apparent inexorable advancement towards a football style animosity between players?
It appears that sledging has changed and evolved over the years. For many decades talking to the opponent was all about having a laugh and maybe poking a bit of fun at each other. But if all the old tales are to be believed, off the pitch it was all done and dusted, and games often ended with both sides in the bar happily side by side.
With the modernisation and increased professionalism of cricket, a new breed of sledging was termed. ‘Mental disintegration’ was used to devastating effect by the all-conquering Australian team of the 1990’s and 2000’s, it was perhaps the first time an entire side had been openly verbally aggressive towards their opponents.
Throughout the past decade, sledging has become a facet of the game, and in most cases, appears harmless, good-natured, and easily forgotten. However, a small number of cases now appear to overstep the line. The big question that cricket needs to face in the coming years, is just exactly where does that line need to be drawn?
Personally, I think the game would be losing something if it completely outlawed all forms of ‘sledging’. If they move to curb the fun, camaraderie building style of talking to opponents, I feel the game could fall out of touch with the common players. From years of playing local league cricket, I am only too well aware of what can be said on the cricket pitch, and the notion of cricket as the ‘Gentlemen’s game’ is hugely antiquated; trust me.
The worrying trend however, is that things are beginning to switch, for years, the aggressive manner of players on the field had been borne out of year’s of tough matches in local leagues. By the time a player is ready for professional cricket, they usually have a pretty tough skin. The worry is that it’s now the professional game that is influencing the amateur game and young cricketers. David Warner’s brainless comments and the aggressive nature of Clarke’s barrage last winter were not skills they practiced as an aspiring player. But young players could easily develop these tendencies from watching international cricket over the last five years.
While I feel that to remove all sledging from the game would be to remove a large element of the competitiveness, from what is elite professional sport, I do think that we need to move to curb the aggressive outbursts of some players.
One point to consider however, is that rather than players becoming more vocal and aggressive in their admonishing of the opposition, it is perhaps that the media is now better equipped to report on it. The advent of stump mic’s and Spidercam have meant that what is being said and done at the wicket is broadcast in ever improving quality and clarity.
Perhaps if cricketing administrators let go of their arrogant self-important notion of protecting the ‘gentlemen’s game’, they would realise that cricket does not have an ingrained problem with aggressiveness and sledging. It simply needs to take appropriate action where required.
If a player has been unnecessarily insulting and rude, and the opposition player involved is genuinely upset, then perhaps it needs to be pursued. But cricket is professional sport, and to lose sledging altogether would be to lose its competitive nature and combative spirit.