We all love a good tale about Cricket’s verbal tussles in the heat of action. Such tales are celebrated in books and quoted during after dinner tales. They can form legends and folklore.
Some of them are hilarious. Have you heard the one about the bowler calling a batsman fat and the subsequent response about chocolate biscuits and the bowler’s wife? I love that one (although sometimes the names of those allegedly involved change depending on the person reciting said tale). What about the batter, impolitely referred to as a fat bus conductor, who subsequently shouts “ding ding, tickets please!” back to the bowler after hitting the next ball for six?
And the TV pundits on Sky love it when two players lock horns as it makes for great TV. They talk about such spats as being important and good for the game. Cricket is, after all, a game of personal battles. “Nothing wrong with a bit of aggression” they say.
Nothing at all if channelled the right way and I find these tales as funny as the next fan.
But that is the point, only if such behaviour is channelled properly. For a very long time verbal spats between players on a cricket field has been deemed part of the game. The former Australian captain Steve Waugh, a great advocate of offering advice to his opponents, called it mental disintegration. Banter is another word often used. It is also called sledging, a phrase that has been used since the 1960s when it is alleged an Australian club batsman walked out to bat to be greeted by the fielders singing the Percy Sledge song “When A Man Loves A Woman”, an attempt to unsettle and mock a player whose wife was commonly known to be having an affair with one of his team-mates.
But, of course, there is a line that should never be crossed, not at any time. By allowing some antics to take place and giving them fancy names like sledging creates grey areas of what is decent. There is a very big difference between a few choice words and total abuse.
The incident I note that swayed things for me was when Gareth Batty charged at Peter Trego having dismissed him in the T20 quarter-final in 2013. Batty’s aggression and foul mouth rants that day, which were visible for a large TV audience to decipher, were not acceptable and proof that there is a line. His subsequent punishment was as lame as his lack of apology.
The spirit of Cricket is not a myth, it is quoted in the laws of the game and is related to “the Spirit of the Game” and is what, I believe, sets Cricket aside from other sports with the marvellous set of values and promotion of respect. This rule was introduced to discourage the increasing practices of ungentlemanly conduct. The Spirit of the Game involves respect for:
- Your opponents
- Your own captain
- The roles of the umpires
- The game’s traditional values
It says: “Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this Spirit causes injury to the game itself”.
I believe strongly in the spirit of Cricket – without it the game loses much of its charm and beauty – but it is time for these words to be practiced and policed instead of quoted almost as some trendy mission statement. For too long the game has promoted supposed banter between batsmen, fielders and bowlers. And it has turned a blind eye when things get out of control.
This is not a current trend. In 1964 a bespectacled Geoff Boycott walked out to bat for England against the Aussies to be greeted by a slip fielder who made reference to the batsman’s “four eyes” whilst referring to him in what is known as the “C” word. That is not banter it is abuse. Total disrespect to a fellow player. Totally against the spirit of Cricket. And it happens today, more so in fact.
Why should it be deemed acceptable to use words that, if relayed in the local Working Men’s Club, would be deemed offensive enough to prompt a bar room brawl? Or said in the street could prompt legal action? Likewise to insult a player’s wife or mother or make personal comments about his physique? The Cricket field is not a sanctuary for the foul-mouthed as it was once – and still can be – a platform to promote respect and fair play.
Such qualities cannot have a flip side – all abuse has to be kicked out of the game as there is no need or room for players to exchange verbal’s at all during play and the time to stamp it all out is long overdue. If the Spirit of Cricket is to survive and prosper then a no nonsense approach and zero tolerance is needed now. And the players who cross the line fined, banned and even moved out of the game.
I am expecting to get shouted down about this and called soft; expect current and former players to say they relished the mental stuff. You can call me idealistic or someone who hankers for a return to the grand old days when the umpire’s decision was final, when the batsman was clapped to the crease and batsmen walked when they knew they were out. And you would be right, I do. What is wrong with remembering all that is great about the spirit of cricket? The image of Freddie Flintoff offering words of comfort to a defeated Brett Lee seconds after England had secured victory in a hard fought Test Match?
What troubles me is the message it sends to future generations. I stumbled upon a village Colts game back in the summer and watched in admiration while an impressive young fast bowler antagonised the batsmen with a series of testing short pitched deliveries. What was also on show was the aforementioned youngster deciding to hand the hapless batsmen some clearly audible, and not very friendly, advice on what to do with his bat. The umpires merely stood and watched
As a young player I was told to do my talking with the bat or the ball. I was taught to play fair, unlike Football when I was encouraged to cheat the referee.
Cricket has lost much of what it has tried to achieve and promote and it is time for it to practice what it universally preaches or the game will be placing itself in disrepute. And will continue to injure itself.
Did you hear what Viv Richards said to Merv Hughes? Maybe another time then!
So am I right or being idealistic? Send me your views and I will publish the best below.