Pringle: Warner is right... there needs to be some ‘chat’ to light up the Ashes
The best sledges are humorous but never abusive, though the language is often a bit fruity for polite company
Derek Pringle says let the sledging begin Down Under, as long as it’s kept within the bounds of humour and quick wit
So David Warner wants to ramp up the sledging in the forthcoming Ashes series. Good luck. Given the International Cricket Council’s purge on all things risque, I hope he brings his credit card as it could get very expensive.
To be fair, Warner, Australia’s vice-captain, has recognised that the ICC has launched a purge on such matters. To remedy that, he is asking for leniency to be applied during the Ashes series so it can be “More like State of Origin”, Australia’s rugby league competition that pits New South Wales against Queensland.
Now I have never watched a rugby league match in Australia, but I’d be amazed if the players have much breath for slagging each other off, so I find the comparison confusing.Yet I share Warner’s concern, to a point, that Test cricket is being made anti-septic and squeaky clean just when it needs all the street cred it can get.
Sledging, mental disintegration, intimidation, banter, whatever label you want to attach, it has been part of cricket’s history since Victorian times. The ICC’s determination to rid the game of this verbal element is driven not by the players, who mostly accept a certain level of abuse on the field, but by a politically correct prissiness borne of those who want to see full-on drama but not the unseemly bits.
It is a bit like the dichotomy surrounding Ben Stokes. Those same people want the combative, highly charged all-rounder they see on the cricket field without the brawler, not realising that what drives one is likely to be largely present in the other. It is the Faustian pact that sometimes has to be made to get genuine, or as the Aussies say ‘fair dinkum,’ competition.
Of course, these unsavoury elements used to be privy only to those on the pitch unless, as Graham Dilley once did in New Zealand, players bellow their discontent at full volume. But stump microphones, and the tardiness of those meant to turn them down after the ball has been bowled, have had broadcasters scurrying to apologise for bad language.
Let’s face it, the Ashes would not be the same without a bit of animus, though perhaps Cricket Australia might want to send Warner off on a ‘Wit and Wisdom’ course following his call for “War” on the Poms and for his team to channel historical hatred of the English.
Having sort of sided with Warner, I am against sledging that contains racism or comprises an endless stream of mindless abuse.
It can be a fine line, I know, which is why we have umpires, though these days they seem to be on a hair trigger to report the slightest verbal slight that is not ‘Howzat’.
Sledging is underhand as its aim is to get the batsman, usually, to focus on something other than the ball. Shane Warne was a master at distracting players that way, not that he probably needed to with his renowned accuracy and potent leg-spin.
Once, he single-handedly won a one-day game for Australia that England looked to have in the bag by getting into Nasser Hussain’s head. England needed 35 runs to win off eight overs with six wickets remaining when Warne had Hussain stumped for 58. Their lynchpin gone, England panicked and with Adam Hollioake falling to Warne’s next ball they went on to lose by 10 runs.
It was a reckless shot, but Hussain had been goaded into playing it by a masterful verbal campaign from Warne. Purists may tut-tut that it was just not cricket, but not many could have brought it off.
Later, I asked Nasser why he had been sucked in like that. He couldn’t really explain it except to say that Warne just knew which buttons to press to get him going. This was precision patter not mindless blather, and I had to marvel.
The best sledges are humorous but never abusive, though the language is often a bit fruity for polite company. Everyone will have a favourite though the quick-witted are the best ones, such as Jimmy Ormond’s response to Mark Waugh on the former’s Test debut in 2001.
“Mate, what are you doing out here? There’s no way you’re good enough to play for England,” chirped Waugh. “Maybe not,” retorted Ormond, “but at least I’m the best player in my family.”
Another cracker, which included a dollop of schadenfreude, was when Cambridge University were playing Nottinghamshire in 1982.
It was a chilly day with a biting Fenland wind and our opening bowlers were getting pasted round Fenners. Anyway, sensing we might be in for a long day I waved for our 12th man to bring me another sweater. But before he could respond, Derek Randall appeared on the balcony shouting, “What do you want, a f***ing white flag?”
It was a good – if cruel – line but one that led to a reckoning soon after when
we suddenly took a wicket. At which point in comes Randall, keen to continue the carnage.
Instead, he is rapped on the pads first ball and given out lbw, a decision he fails to take gracefully. “That were bloody never out,” he chuntered. “Umpire only gave me cos I shouted from Pavilion.”
Such banter is not just limited to being between opponents and both team mates and crowd can also get involved in dastardly dialogue.
Once, in a Test match between Australia and the West Indies at Sabina Park in 1973, a novice fast bowler called Uton Dowe got a bit of a mauling at the hands of Australia’s openers Keith Stackpole and Ian Redpath.
He was duly put out to pasture for the next few hours though when Rohan Kanhai, West Indies captain, brought him back later in the day, his return was greeted by a booming voice from the George Headley stand, shouting: “Hey Kanhai, you forgotten the 11th Commandment? Dowe shalt not bowl.”
Warner’s orations against England this winter will not be in that league but, providing they don’t descend into mindless abuse, they should be allowed.
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