A bit of harmless banter isn't ruining cricket, it's the easily offended moaners who are sucking the fun out of the game.
After Michael Clarke was fined for threatening Jimmy Anderson, some commentators have been asking whether such banter – or ‘sledging’ – in cricket has got out of hand. Out of hand? Don’t be daft. Bring on the needle and the bad blood; bring on the threats and the personal jibes. Viva sledging, it’s the lifeblood of the cricket.
Earlier this year, believes that Aussie skipper Michael Clarke overstepped the mark when he warned Jimmy Anderson to ‘get ready for a broken fucking arm’. ‘For me, a guy threatening another guy with physical violence – I think it’s just not cricket, not the cricket I grew up loving’, said FitzSimons. Really? What kind of cricket did FitzSimons grow up watching? Cricket has never been a politeness contest. In fact, I really do have to pinch myself when I hear an Aussie complain about sledging. To me, sledging is as quintessentially Australian as kangaroos, weak beer and Kylie. The Aussies perfected the dark art of sledging. It was a core weapon in the armoury of every great Australian cricket team. Their former skipper Steve Waugh memorably described the practice as ‘mental disintegration’. The objective is to psyche out your opponent; to intimidate, needle and unsettle them. In professional cricket, sledging was always considered fair game. Cricket is a test of psychological strength and professionals ought to be resilient enough to withstand playground taunts.
But we now live in easily offended times. The old adage that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ no longer holds. Name-calling, we are told, does hurt. A lot. It supposedly inflicts emotional damage on a par with physical harm. And, invariably, there has been growing clamour for cricketers to cut out the ‘verbals’. In 2009, Cricket Australia issued guidelines to its players to tone down the trash-talking. Now the ICC is getting tough. Michael Clarke was fined 20 per cent of his match fee by the ICC after his exchange with Jimmy Anderson was caught on a stump microphone.
Personally, I love a bit of on-field banter. Sledging isn’t against the spirit of cricket; it is part and parcel of the sport. In fact a bit of good, honest personal abuse adds considerable spice to the contest. After England’s comfortable 3-0 series victory in the summer, the Ashes was certainly in need of spicing up. Aussie legend Shane Warne was right to point out that the ICC’s decision to fine Clarke made a few angry words into a much bigger issue than it ought to have been. ‘To me it should just stay out in the middle. They all shook hands had a giggle and moved on. By fining Clarke it’s made a big deal out of it.’
The complaint that sledging is unsporting completely misunderstands how sportsmanship is understood in cricket. Sledging on the pitch in the heat of battle has never been a problem. What’s said on the pitch stays on the pitch – that’s always been the unwritten code of honour. Sportsmanship means you shake hands, forget what was said and share a beer afterwards. It’s not the sledging but the on-the-record griping after the match that is really unsporting. Stuart Broad, who has endured more than his fair share of abuse in Brisbane, has no complaints about the sledging. ‘I think the on-field stuff has been fine’, said the England all-rounder. ‘It’s been tough, (but) we’re grown up; we train ourselves to expect that.’ However, Broad added that ‘Off the field, there have been some mistakes made’. Broad was clearly angered by David Warner’s public comments about Jonathan Trott – describing him as ‘poor and weak’ and having ‘scared eyes’ – which were made in a press conference.
Broad’s distinction between sledging, which is on the pitch but off the record, and on-the-record personal criticism is an important one. Michael Clarke has said that, despite the on-field banter, the Australians do have respect for the England players. However, this mutual respect between rivals is undermined by players going public with their grudges. In short, it isn’t sledging that is corroding the spirit of cricket; public complaint and recrimination is far more corrosive.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.