Tim Paine, the Australian Test captain, has dismissed former captain Michael Clarke’s suggestion that the Australian cricketers did not sledge the Indian captain Virat Kohli (in the 2018-19 series) because they were afraid about their Indian Premier League (IPL) contracts. Paine, in fact, revealed that it was a team decision not to sledge Kohli because it would make him bat even better.
What Paine didn’t ask, but could have, is for Clarke to reveal if the team he captained in 2014-15 sledged Kohli and what was the result of that? To be fair, Clarke only captained in the first Test and was injured for the rest of the series. But, tellingly, in that first Test itself Kohli got superlative centuries in each innings and almost won the match for India.
Clearly, Clarke, if he was indulging in sledging, wasn’t very successful in stopping Kohli in that Test match. The Aussies weren’t much successful in the other three Test matches too as Kohli almost got 700 runs in the four-match series.
This was the series which was preceded by the sad, untimely death of Phillip Hughes and maybe Clarke felt the bereavement greatly. The other Aussie cricketers too may have been similarly affected and so they were not as vocal as they would usually be. Be that as it may, Australian cricket had a great opportunity to get another perspective on life other than the winning at all cost philosophy that pervades their sport.
The New Zealanders, who were at that stage the biggest chirpers in the game, even more than the Aussies or the South Africans, did just that. Brendon McCullum, who was the Kiwi skipper then, realised that life is more important than winning cricket games and it’s better to play the game without creating any animosity with the opposition. The Kiwis decided as a team to stop chirping or sledging and since then have won the hearts of cricket lovers all over the world with their impeccable behaviour on the field. They have won matches too and their intensity while playing has not gone down even one bit.
McCullum will be remembered for his many stirring and exciting deeds on the field, but his legacy of not resorting to the despicable practice of verbals is what cricket will fondly remember him for.
Luckily for New Zealand, its next captain Kane Williamson is cut from the same cloth as ‘Baz’ (McCullum’s nickname) and so it’s no wonder that the Kiwis keep winning the award for the best behaved team in the world. Their exemplary behaviour at the World Cup final, even after umpiring errors had cost them the trophy, won them even more fans than England, who won the Cup. Not that the English players behaved badly, but it was the way Williamson’s boys accepted the rub of the green that won the hearts of cricket lovers.
It’s actually very sad if the Aussies believe that they can win only if they are snarling and barking abuse at the opposition. Sure, cricket is as mental a game as any other and those that cope with pressure better will end up winning. However, does that mean that it’s okay to abuse the opposition to unnerve them?
Let’s take the example of tennis. We just saw one of the most exciting finals at the first major of the year, the Australian Open, between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem.
They were not only playing just for the trophy, but also a winners’ cheque of nearly three million dollars, much more than any game of cricket can offer. The match swayed one way and the other and while both players had a go at themselves they never said a word to each other. Even when there were netcord points or when they crossed each other to sit between games, they kept quiet.
In cricket, when a batsman edges the ball or gets beaten or rapped on the leg-guards, the nearby fielders are questioning his ability and not in the politest manner either.
An audible obscenity gets an immediate fine in tennis, but in cricket the umpires just warn the offender. Because cricket is played at a distance from the crowds some players think they can get away with the abuse.
By the way, tennis’ spoilt brats today are also Australians! Is it something about the way they are brought up?
Frankly, sledging is overrated. It has never worked on good players and as Paine rightly said, it only makes them play with more determination. One can actually get better results by saying something funny rather than something abusive because don’t forget when it’s the abuser’s turn to bat he will definitely cop more than he has given.
I once asked Sir Don if there was sledging in his time and his reply was most illuminating. He said it didn’t happen during his time. But, if it had happened under him, he would have warned the player never to do it again. And, if that player had persisted, he would never ever have played for Australia.
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