We’re often reminded about how cricket has changed. Video umpiring, boundary ropes, drop in pitches and more recently, the changes to shining the ball caused by the coronavirus are examples.
Sledging also seems to evolve. In Test matches it was once little more than a glare from a bowler. You’d be more often likely to see an opposition player congratulate someone on the other side. At times a bowler would even send down a soft delivery to a batsman on 99 so they could complete a century.
You’d have been far more likely to hear “Jolly well done old chap,” as opposed to “Stay in your crease or I’ll break your f**** head!” (Mike Whitney).
Sledging most likely had its origins when WG Grace played. He admitted he “teased” opposing players to gain advantage.
It’s said he told a bowler (after getting out) “they came here to watch me bat, not you bowl.” It’s hard to imagine the Bodyline series not containing sledging.
English captain Douglas Jardine complained he’d been called a “bastard” by a fielder, which prompted the Australian captain to say to his team “Now which of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?”
But the terminology “sledging” has its real origins during the 1974/75 Ashes series. Ian Chappell and Rodney Marsh used profanities against the English tourists and their side gained a reputation as the “ugly Australians.”
Had the arrival of sledging into cricket reflected a decline in broader society? Some say it coincided with a loss of respect for others, our values declining, winning now all that mattered.
We don’t necessarily applaud it but as long as we’re victorious, it’s fine. Some parents lamented the example our senior cricketers set as their sons and daughters headed out to netball courts, cricket pitches and football fields and behaved in a similar way.
But when done well, sledging can be funny. Freddie Truman was once bowling where a delivery was edged and passed between the legs of the slips fielder. The fielder remarked to Trueman he should have closed his legs. “So should your mother,” replied the pace bowler.
What about Dennis Lillee telling batsmen “wrong end mate,” when they examined the toe of the bat.
Then there’s Merv Hughes telling English bat Robin Smith to turn his bat over so he could read the instructions.
There’s the story of a county match where Greg Thomas bowled to Viv Richards. He was regularly beating the bat. In exasperation Thomas said the ball was red and round, and that Richards should hit it.
Richards proceeded to score a boundary. With that he replied “You know what it looks like, now go and get it!”
My favourite is English batsman James Ormond arriving to bat against the Australians. Mark Waugh queried why he was even in the team. Ormond replied “…at least I’m the best player in my family.”
Tim Paine’s banter with the Indian team was funny but harmless, avoiding insults and threats.
Then there are the sledges that could be described as nasty, even malicious. It can be argued these were said during the heat of the moment when a player was frustrated.
Although you should try saying these in your workplace and see how long it takes for a visit from HR.
Shane Warne’s dominance over South African batsman Daryl Cullinan delighted the Australian team. Along the way the Australians learnt Cullinan had sought the support of a sports psychologist to improve his confidence and self- belief in the game.
The Australians quickly turned the sledging into remarks about Cullinan’s unfit mental health. The taunts were seen by many as well off what was fair and far from the spirit of the game.
Cullinan at least had one small win. When Warne said to him he’d been waiting for two years to humiliate him again, Cullinan remarked it looked like Warne had spent that time eating.
There was the incident where Michael Clarke warned fast bowler James Anderson to get ready for a broken arm. That was supposedly in retaliation for Anderson threatening to punch George Bailey.
Ian Healy responded to Arjuna Ranatunga’s request for a runner by saying “You don’t get a runner for being an overweight, fat c***.”
Glenn McGrath became angry after calling out Eddo Brandes for being overweight. Brandes told him “…every time I sleep with your wife she gives me a biscuit.” McGrath didn’t appreciate his wife being referred to.
Steve Waugh’s successful Australian team utilised sledging successfully, using it as a planned tactic to weaken their opposition. Part of Waugh’s captaincy was a strategy of relentless pressure and sledging was a significant part of that.
I wonder if the Australians will sledge Afghanistan this summer. Afghanistan are after all the minnows of Test match cricket and it could be said their country has been through enough. Would Justin Langer take the Australians aside and tell them to go easy?
To be competitive purely on what is done with ball and bat, rather than what is said? Perhaps our empathy for a war torn and still divided country will outweigh our need to sledge.
After Afghanistan return home our next series begins. Any silence against Afghanistan will almost certainly be replaced by sledging against India. Whatever is said, I hope it is funny and tasteful, rather than mean spirited and degrading.
This year the stump microphones will tell an interesting story.