Sledging is the worst of them all

IT'S been interesting and sometimes downright amusing to see the debate that has followed the MCC spirit of cricket lecture.

SUNIL GAVASKAR

Ramnaresh Sarwan and Glenn McGrath confront each other during the course of the fourth Test between West Indies and Australia played at St. John's, Antigua, in May 2003. — Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

IT'S been interesting and sometimes downright amusing to see the debate that has followed the MCC spirit of cricket lecture. There were many who wanted to know, why I chose the subject of `sledging'. Yes, there are other issues that are cause for controversy in cricket, like slow over-rates, illegal bowling actions, use of TV technology, to name a few. But I sincerely believe that none of these will harm the game as much as `sledging' will, unless it is checked and that's why I laid emphasis on that, though I did air some other thoughts on the game too.

Firstly, let me make one thing clear and that is that I have absolutely nothing against the banter or the `chirp' as it is called nowadays, so long as it is in good humour. I also have nothing against the use of the odd foul word as long as it is used in relation to the ability or skills of the player it's being directed at. For example: "You can't ... . bat" or "You are ... . lucky". Modern society does cringe at the words but does not really object, so I do not have a problem with that though it would be terrific if that could be avoided. It is the direct personal abuse that I am against, where a player calls another; "You ... . little ... " or "You .... " I strongly believe that one day, it will lead to players coming to blows on the field and we have seen in the West Indies versus Australia series how players squared up against each other and mouthed obscenities which was seen all over the world.

To say that the players today play with more passion is to suggest that previous generations did not and that excuse is not valid at all. The commercialisation of the game and aggressive marketing has added to the pressure on the players to perform and thus reap the rewards. So when they find things are not going their way, they tend to take it out on the opponent who is thwarting them. But then there are other sports too with higher rewards, but there's no swearing, abuses and obscenities seen in those sports.

My favourite example is a Sampras versus Agassi final of a Grand Slam. Supposing Sampras' serve kicks more than Agassi anticipated and bounces over his attempt at a freehand return, does Agassi swear at Sampras? No, he doesn't. And the reverse scenario where Sampras serves and Agassi's return is top-edged and just lands on the baseline at Sampras' and even as Sampras has rushed to the net after serving, does Sampras abuse Agassi for his lucky return of serve? No, they absolutely do not, for it's not the fine nor the penalty that they would get for an audible obscenity that stops them, but the understanding that in sport, luck is always going to be a factor and one has to take the rough with the smooth.

Courtney Walsh, the highest wicket taker in Tests, expressed his unhappiness only through a glance and never mouthed obscenities against the batsmen. — Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

The ATP also has very tough laws against obscenities and players know that they could be suspended and thus lose a substantial part of their income if they indulge in such things. Even in golf, does one see any gamesmanship between players? None whatsoever, and in fact if anybody from the crowd following the players' progress does say anything loudly, then that spectator finds himself/ herself being escorted from the golf course. And remember, these players are playing for far more money and recognition than the cricketers.

Then there is the other excuse that sledging has been going on since Dr. W. G. Grace's time. No sir, it hasn't, here let's get the origin of the word `Sledging' into perspective. Sledging is short for sledgehammer. It is an Australian word, which says that the message is conveyed as subtly as a sledgehammer which straightway tells you what it is. There is absolutely no humour in it, which is what the banter was during Dr. Grace's time and even later. I played more than a few Tests for my country and while one did get the odd question of "What have you eaten for breakfast?" or questions about "How good you are?" there were never obscenities there. The West Indian quicks that one played never said a word and today's highest wicket-taker in Tests, Courtney Walsh's way of showing anger was just hands on hip and his eyebrows reaching for the sky. Not a word to the batsman, though the stance and glance conveyed his unhappiness with the batter. Now, if he could control himself and yet get hundreds of wickets, as did lots of others with 300-plus wickets in Tests, why should one excuse those who use foul words or abuse the opponent? It only shows them as petulant, spoilt bullies who when things are not going their way, will resort to means which Ian Bishop, the former West Indian bowler, calls `reprehensible.'

Let's get one other thing absolutely clear. There was never any personal abuse in Dr. W. G. Grace's time and till the late 70s too. It was hereabouts that some prima donnas who thought they were bigger than the game, started the trend of abusing opponents, particularly batsmen. What the odd person was doing, has now led to a whole generation of his followers believing that's the way to behave when things aren't going well and because he got away with it, they feel that it is acceptable behaviour. Today too, most of them are getting away and we now see school kids aping their heroes, which is so sad.

The game of cricket has always been played hard with a hard ball, but it has invariably been played fair. To allow a few `hooligans' to spoil it will be only making the game we love go to ruins and undo everything that the likes of Colin Cowdrey and Ted Dexter have striven for.

To end, just one question to all those Australians who have defended personal abuse. Did Sir Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud practise it? They were winners too and are revered and loved all over the cricketing globe even now, more than half a century after they retired.

That's food for thought, isn't it, but of course, only if you have the ability to think.