Saturday, December 18, 2010

Handbags at ten paces

Sledging has been a part of the game of cricket since the early days of the sport. The earliest superstar, Dr. W.G. Grace was apparently a proponent of what latterly Steve Waugh's termed "mental disintegration". The term "sledging" was coined in the late 1960s in honor of Aussie fast bowler Graham Corling, who during a team barbecue made several lewd remarks and was deemed by teammates "as subtle as a sledgehammer", when then evolved into "Percy Sledge". Later "sledging" has been applied to any term of abuse in reference to a sports match and the more creative sledgers have won plaudits for their creativity and humour. Sometimes, however, talking crap backfires: just ask Glenn McGrath.

In his book "Loose Balls", former NBA star Jayson Williams says that trash-talk in basketball circles never involves family, partners or girlfriends because it's just too dangerous. There's a line in the sand that players respect and generally any discussion is limited to "Y'all can't stop me", "Who's guarding me?" and the like. Their reasons are simple - it's just not worth it because trouble always follows personal remarks.

In cricket it's different. Sledging as we now know it started off as casual comments about a player's technique or the state of the scoreboard but over the past twenty years as players think the stakes have risen, it's morphed into "say what you can to make the batsman lose concentration". All nations take part in it, probably equally. Supposed men of faith like Matthew Hayden have been serial offenders which doesn't sit well with those of us who ostensibly hold the same faith and belief systems.

But let's be honest - mostly it's just boys being boys. Or at least it should be. With England wicketkeeper Matt Prior reportedly suggesting to Peter Siddle "let's go - let's take it outside", the boundary between "gamesmanship" to "handbags at ten paces" was crossed. What Siddle did to entice the invitation was pepper the hapless 'keeper with short lifters and then dismiss him. If the Victorian tearaway stayed true to form would have also have given the Englishman a send off coloured by expletives, which if he did so was probably pretty dumb given Prior was dismissed by Siddle's good luck rather than good management.

Prior's response - essentially encouraging a fight, in which I have no doubt the bigger and stronger Siddle would triumph - has all the elegance and cleverness of a schoolyard "So's your Mum". Never the most startling riposte, but again perhaps Glenn McGrath or AFL player Adam Selwood would disagree. The Australians have attempted to regain their swagger this Test by aiming a series of barbs at the Old Enemy, who as expected have responded in kind. Perhaps, given Australia's performance in this match it has worked, but even so they have appeared not as the gum-chewing, self-confident larrikins of the Chappell, Taylor & Waugh eras but as petulant, self-aggrandising children; children on both sides of the match who Daddy Match Referee will be dealing with sternly because they look ridiculous and by extension, the game is reflected upon poorly.

It takes on even more of ludicrous stance when chief among the talkers has been Michael Clarke, whose form thus far has wobbled between horrible and below par. By involving himself but failing to back it up with runs, Clarke negates his own authority and further erodes his position as heir apparent to the Australian captaincy. As has been pointed out repeatedly, very few positions are as visible in Australia as that of the cricket captain, so for him to make himself look foolish in this manner doesn't bode well for his future leadership prospects. While Border and Waugh led the side they engaged in verbal stoushes with their opponents but almost always from a position of strength, or knowing they were going to be able to add strength to their words with runs. The simple reason Michael Jordan was the biggest trash-talker of all was that he was the best player that basketball had seen and so always backed his words with points or wins.

Clarke, again, seems to try to bully opposition simply because the big kids do it and so resembles a teen, who rather than being full of confidence is full of braggadocio and bluster. It would make his press conferences infinitely more palatable should he carry on this attitude post-match as well!

There's no excuse for getting personal in sledging Neither is there any excuse for name-calling as a) it rarely works and b) it makes the name caller look dumb. If you don't agree - and that's fine - then ask yourself this: hearing swearing is a very different thing to being sworn at, isn't it? With language and emotion like that directed at each other, there's no surprise each responds in the way they've been addressed. Of course it's coarse and disappointing and both sides obviously don't realise that they look very small doing so. It's a pity that the line never crossed in the NBA simply doesn't exist in cricket any more.

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