Second innings runs are the most valuable. With the pitch decaying and the result becoming clearer, being able to score big runs in your team’s second dig is the difference between a good batsman, like Justin Langer, and a world class batman, like Michael Clarke.
The Australian captain scored 113 exquisite second innings runs against the best spin and swing bowlers in the world to set up Australia’s victory, including nine 4s and a booming 6 — 113 runs at a rate faster than the irrepressible David Warner. It was a brilliant knock, yet all anyone can remember about Clarke’s contribution to Australia’s first Test victory in 11 months is his threat that Mitchell Johnson was going to “fucking break” Jimmy Anderson’s arm.
Aside from the cowardice of making this threat to a man that bats at number 11 and averages 10.4 after 119 innings, it was also sounds ridiculous as an adverb/verb construction and is only amusing in the crude, witless style of The Hangover films.
Some sledging can be very funny and memorable but taking an altogether view of cricket, there is no place for it in the modern game.
The first reason sledging should be dispensed with is that its influence is overrated and does not add to the sledging team’s performance or detract from the opposition’s. What Steve Waugh once called ‘mental disintegration’ is nothing of the sort: for Steve Waugh to credit sledging with his history making teams’ victories is denying the reality that they simply outplayed their opposition by scoring more runs and taking more wickets.
At no point during Steve Waugh’s captaincy did he credit a team’s win with a great sledging performance in the field or blame a poor effort with the tongue for a rare loss. Players like Shane Warne and Ian Healy chirped away incessantly but this was merely something they did between delivering unplayable balls and taking remarkable catches — there is no cause and effect between the sledging and the cricket ability manifesting itself.
Even the famous sledge of all – the one that all park crickets appropriate to their own trophy whenever a catch goes down — the apocryphal “You just dropped the World Cup” was delivered after Herschelle Gibbs made a critical error. Sadly for Steve Waugh, everyone remembers that admittedly amusing one-liner but you rarely hear of a great innings being compared to his 120* to win the match.
Not only does sledging not work to change the course of a match, it also has a detrimental effect on the sport in general. Professional sport is a competitive place and each code must compete for players and, most importantly, TV viewers. Cricket has built its reputation and following on being a skill-based sport devoid of extreme physicality or contact. It is a sport Mums love their kids to play, despite the boring hours sitting on the fence every Saturday afternoon.
It is also a sport that generates great interest where it really matters: on TV. Nothing is more important to professional sport than an attractive TV spectacle. When viewers tune in to watch cricket they do it to see runs and wickets, not to watch 22 witless men swearing at each other.
Just look at how Channel Nine and Sky Sports promote cricket on TV: big sixes, stumps being flayed and classic catches. In almost 30 years following the sport, I have never seen a commercial that focused on one player questioning the parentage, sexuality or dietary habits of an opponent.
And this is crucial: sport can no longer be reliant on the patronage of heteronormative young men for success. It is essential that cricket attracts women, the LBGTI communities and immigrants from non-cricketing countries to the sport.
While straight white men under 30 — the chosen few — might find sledging absolutely hilarious, nothing turns off everybody else in society more than an open disdain for who they are. One can only imaging the damage done to the Australian cricket brand when Darren Lehmann, the current national coach, described his Sri Lankan opponents as “black cunts” after being dismissed in a one day international in 2003.
Swear words like the one Clarke used might have lost their sting over the last 30 years but there are still plenty of people — I lived with one for 10 years — who will immediately turn off and forever condemn a person for using them.
But let’s say I am wrong about sledging and it does work and is entertaining and is drawing people to the game — it should still be abandoned. If sledging does indeed cause mental disintegration, could it be that David Warner’s “pretty weak and pretty poor” comments were the tipping point for Jonathan Trott’s mental state?
If sledging did play a role in Trott leaving the tour for a “stress-related illness”, then cricket has failed and the spectators are the ultimate losers. Trott may be the enemy to Australians but he is a superstar of the game, a genuine run machine, and it is much more satisfying to win a match and a series because you overcame his skill with your own abilities, rather than by unnerving him with another witless comment from the witless Warner.
Cricket is a game for tough competitors. You need to be resilient, in peak physical condition and have excellent mental strength to field for 90 overs waiting for that one catch in your direction, to bat for hours knowing the fate of your country rests on your survival and to bowl over after and over in 40° Celsius heat. Removing sledging from the game will not blunt any of these tests of physical and mental strength.
Cricket needs balls to bowl and bats to hit them with, gloves and pads and guards to protect players in danger and arms, legs and hands to wear them. Cricket needs six stumps (or a garbage bin like at school) and four bails. Cricket needs a helmet to protect the head and a protector to protect something else. Eyes to see the ball and ears to hear the crack of willow on leather and a nose to smell victory coming in the next over.
What cricket doesn’t need is tongues.