Pringle: Warner is right... there needs to be some ‘chat’ to light up the Ashes

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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.

PIC­TURES: Getty Images

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