Banter to sledging — a long ride

IN another era, well in the past, when amateurs played cricket, it was about banter. As the game evolved, it took the form of anger and for a while had a racist tinge about it. And sledging has attained its present form owing to the influx of big money and the growth of the one-day game.

IN another era, well in the past, when amateurs played cricket, it was about banter. As the game evolved, it took the form of anger and for a while had a racist tinge about it. And sledging has attained its present form owing to the influx of big money and the growth of the one-day game.

The Australians believe it is a psychological gambit to use and gain advantage over the opposition. While modern-day sledging took its early form during the Ian Chappell days, it was teams that succeeded the Chappell-led one that turned it into a fine art.

In his book, `Yakking Around the World: A Cricketer's Quest for Love & Utopia', Simon Hughes, a County cricketer who played one full season in Australia, writes, "The current Australian captain (Steve Waugh) has refined the art (of sledging) to such a degree that he could certainly make a living as a ventriloquist if he retired from playing."

It is believed sledging is the result of all the intensive preparation, where players are instilled with large amounts of pent-up energy and they need to vent it on the field — the rivals are the targets of the verbal outbursts.

Hansie Cronje saw through the fact that the Aussies gained an advantage and so made his boys talk in Afrikaan. This left Mark Taylor and his team nonplussed.

It is said that the Aussies are good at it because you can't always tell who's talking. In general conversation their jaws hardly move.

Some of the well-known sledgers of the earlier years like Merv Hughes and David Boon had large walrus moustaches, which made movement of their lips imperceptible. Boon usually had a helmet on as further camouflage at short-leg.

The Aussies talk their own language. "Skip, let us put a chocolate eclair down and see if he comes out for that" means a spin bowler is trying to lure a batsman out of the crease.

Hughes has a couple of classics to his name. During the 1991 Adelaide Test against Pakistan, Hughes was unimpressed with Javed Miandad speaking Urdu rather than English and even less with the Pakistani contemptuously calling him a `fat bus conductor.' A few balls later, Hughes dismissed Miandad and called out aloud "Tickets please, tickets," as he ran past the departing batsman.

Here's an exchange between Darryl Cullinan and Shane Warne. "I've been waiting two years to have a bowl at you," said the blonde leg-spinner.

"Looks like you've spent most of it eating," replied the South African. But then, these are just the mild ones. What Steve Waugh calls "mental disintegration" can be acerbic.

The English believe in gestures. But Fred Trueman's one-liners are legendary.

During an Ashes series, Trueman, fielding close to the gate from the pavilion, told the new Aussie batsman who, walking in, turned around to shut the gate, "Don't bother shutting it son, you won't be out there long enough."

For a long time, especially during the height of their supremacy in the 70s & 80s, it was an issue of colour when West Indies played Australia and England.

So when Tony Greig made that fickle statement of him going to "make the West Indians grovel," it raised the hackles of Viv Richards and Michael Holding. The rest, as they say, is history.

But even racism had a humorous side. Clive Lloyd told the umpire in a County game: "The problem with you is you see everything in black and white."

But the humour aspect is long gone from sledging. For that matter, the aspect of romance in the game has disappeared.

As Sunil Gavaskar put it during the Colin Cowdrey Memorial lecture, recently, "In the modern world of commercialisation of the game and the advent of satellite television and the motto of winning at all costs, sportsmanship has gone for a six."

"What does it tell us to have put the Spirit of Cricket into black and white?" asked Gavaskar in a reference to the new section included in the sport's rulebook.

"It tells us that the old adage that `It's not cricket,' which applied to just about everything in life, is no longer valid — and that's a real pity."

It's certainly food for thought. But the times have changed. And so has cricket. Today sledging is not uncommon even in local league games in Indian cities.

And it is unlikely that things would go back to the amateur era when it was merely good-natured banter.