The cricket world is much like the finance world in many ways. There are periods of high intensity – each day a new story makes the headlines and then we go months without anything very exciting showing up on the radar. There are titans, mega-losers, rags-to-riches stories and comebacks, in both worlds – all making for a very interesting sport to follow off the field. Being the conspiracy theorist that I am, I believe we inoculate ourselves with stats, off-field trivia and stories only to distract ourselves for the 80% of the sport that is spent in polishing the ball. Imagine if we invented balls that wouldn’t need polishing and banned long run-ups, we could fit in three Test matches in five days. But I digress.
We are fortunate to be living in interesting times. It seems the deluge in the last two years has been never ending - they’ve been rich with on-field controversies, weird dismissals, scintillating series, increasing political involvement in the sport, selection inconsistencies, heck, even murder. Therefore I’m not going to spend time mulling over what every cricket writer has already strangled to death – pardon the pun.
I’m more interested a statement made by that distinguished statesman of Australian Cricket – Andy Bichel. Andy who? Yes, my point exactly. The same Andy Bichel who was ousted out of the team by none other than Michael Scott Kasprowicz, whose greatest claim to fame is that he was Brett Lee’s batting partner when they allowed
So Mr. Bichel goes on to claim in this Sydney Morning Herald article that sledging is actually good for the game. Well, having never played Test cricket myself I can only assume that 58 wickets over 6 years must lend you a magical portion of cricket wisdom that allows you to make sweeping generalizations about a practice invented and nurtured by your team, uhh sorry, ex-team. A cricketing license, if you will. Here’s the article if you want to have a chuckle. Keep in mind this is man who’s taken a five-for once in his Test career and was ousted, at the risk of repetition, by Michael Kasprowicz. Kasprowicz for goodness sake! Enjoy… http://www.smh.com.au/news/Sport/Sledging-is-good-for-cricket-Bichel/2007/08/01/1185647981363.html
If you care to hear my sentiments on the subject, I think sledging makes the game more interesting but only when we are clear on what counts as sledging. After reading Bichel’s article, my first instinct was to read up on some classic cricket sledges, which have become as legendary as the players who produced them. The one thing that struck me as odd was that most sites that listed sledges also listed downright rowdy incidents and bunched them all up in the same vein. While I don’t think sledging itself has any adverse effects, I believe if we morph rowdy incidents into sledges, we are doing the game an injustice. Lillie wasn’t sledging Gavaskar at
I like to think of sledging as the words exchanged between players of opposing teams on the cricket field singularly aimed at disrupting the concentration of the other player. Cricket, after all, is a game played in the head. There are always two sets of games being played at any point in time - which is why a new comer (or most members of the fairer sex) find it intolerable to sit through all five days. It is the second game, that of the mind, which if brought to the audience by an experienced set of commentators, can be a true delight, possibly more than a perfectly executed cover drive. Cricket is more thought than action. Since concentration is such an integral part of the game – and not that of the just the batsman mind you, the bowler, non-striker and fielders as well – it is possible that a little rebuke can mess with the minds of those involved. The reason that sledging is almost always one-sided is because of the simple law of the jungle – the bowling team outnumbers the batsmen on the field. There are some expert sledgers, however, that keep at it while at the non-strikers end. More on that later.
There are four reasons a fielder or bowler ever sledges:
I believe sledging is like advice – Wise men don’t need it; Fools don’t heed it. Master batsmen are master concentrators. It takes a lot to rock them. A little sledging isn’t going to affect their judgment. The ones who concentrate on your words will probably fail anyway because they’re not concentrating enough on the ball. I’d like to see a strict regression analysis, with control group and all, on how much sledging actually affects the outcome of a game. Regardless, enough number of cricketers seem to think it is important enough that they actually rehearse it and showcase it for all of us to see. Like I said, if done well it makes for a more fun game, so round and round we go.
For me, the best sledges are in the form of frivolous banter. Comebacks. That’s where the fun is. Who can forget Botham’s response to Marsh’s “How's your wife and my kids?" in an Ashes Test. It’s the wit, sarcasm and timing of the whiplash answer, "The wife's fine. The kids are retarded!", that makes it an all-timer. Do you remember anything else from that game? Q.E.D.
The best sledger in my book is Steve Waugh. He understands the true intent of the practice and he does his homework. One gut-wrenching statement that can send you thinking off on a tangent, timed perfectly, can do more damage than any number of out-swingers pitched just outside off. Just ask Parthiv Patel how much time it took him to shake off the nappy statement before he could hold on to a catch again. Then again, his catch dropping might have had less to do with nappy and more to do with sloppy.
Warne used to wrap a lot of f-bombs around regular words. That doesn’t do anything to beat the batsman. It only shows the bowler for who he is – a cheap thug. A thug who happens to have remarkable control of the last three fingers of his right hand, but a thug nevertheless. Sledging ought to be monitored by the match referee – a tasteless sledge sets you back a grand. I would award MoM awards at boring draws to those who came up with the wittiest sledges!
So how would the teams do in a sledging World Cup? South Asians in general I think are the worst sledgers. Indians have tried their hand at sledging especially after the slew of foreign coaches but they haven’t gotten very good at it. We’re just not nasty or witty. Pakistanis are in the Warne camp of sledging. Just a bunch of expletives stitched together in broken English doesn’t count as sledging. It’s even worse if the expletives are stitched with Urdu and the opposing team can’t understand it. It might actually amuse some. Imagine the blank stare they’d get back from a Dinesh Karthik for instance if they shower him with unintelligible profanities assuming that he can understand the language. Kapil Dev was shocked, when he first toured
Punter and Warnie brought a unique angle to the art of sledging - they sledge the umpire! Warne talks about his drift, turn and what he’s trying to do to get the batsman out, as though tutoring the umpire on why the next LBW appeal he makes is legitimate. Ponting continuously chats with the umpire while at the non-strikers end, trying to form a bond. The Aussies of course are infamous for their pre-game or pre-series sledging. Again, that’s more bullying than sledging and it doesn’t add much to the enjoyment of the game, so by our rule, I’m going to count that as gamesmanship, not sledging, and therefore not constructive for the game.
Interestingly enough, sledging doesn’t always have to be directed at the opposition. There are times when hapless bowlers have turned on indolent fielders and vented their wrath. Truman’s classic snub to Raman Subba Row comes to mind.
Sledging doesn’t work every time. There are some, like Pieterson, who revel in that kind of any environment. Any smart captain fielding to him will know to tell his players to zip it and restrict the verbiage to words of encouragement for their own team.
Ramnaresh Sarwan can testify that he was egged on by McGrath to help his team break a fourth innings chase world record in 2003. I feel for him though when his long-lasting verbal and cricket battle with McGrath ended with a brush of reality about Jane’s fight with breast and hip cancer. I’m sure his mention of Glenn’s wife was purely within the sledging rulebook. He probably didn’t even know of her predicament. Just chose the wrong man. He did win them the Test so honors are even for that day.
I am confident I don’t risk you falling off your seat if I told you that sledging originated in that prison of a country that three oceans want to disown. And no, it’s not that benign nation that received a perfectly bowled roller from a Chappell brother in ’81. In
Rowdyism is bad for the game. It’s just not cricket. Cricket has to remain the bastion of gentlemen who can show that manners and testosterone can co-exist. Sledging is a different story. As long as it doesn’t turn into an ugly incident or involve racial badgering, I think it makes for a more interesting sport. I’ll sign off with one of my favorite sledges ever. A South African batsman who shall go un-named, primarily because I don’t think anyone recalls his name, got back at the Aussies in a prep match. Healy urged Warne to "bowl a Mars bar half way down and get him stumped", to which the batsman replied, much to everyone’s (including the Aussies’) amusement, “Nah, Boonie fielding at short leg will be onto it before I can move.”