The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

SLEDGING AN EPIDEMIC

Club verbals is reaching epidemic levels – adults to adults, adults to juniors, juniors to juniors, reports Huw Turbervill

When does banter become sledging become verbal abuse become a criminal offence?

That is not hyperbole. If you told somebody in the street you were going to kill them, you would be in trouble. In cricket, especially club cricket, things like that seem to be said all the time.

Letters and emails to The Cricketer this summer suggest sledging is reaching epidemic proportions. And anecdotal evidence indicates that it is worse the lower you go down the divisions. People work hard in the week and deserve better on their day of leisure.

Case study one. In a Kent lower-league match, a batsman had a growth on his face. He was due to have a biopsy. In polite society people would not comment on this. A fielding side this year decided he was fair game, however, for a spot of ‘mental disintegration’. For the duration of his innings, lasting about an hour, he was known as ‘Tumour Head’. The abusers must make their parents so proud.

That is one form of abuse. The other is incessant chat, especially from the wicketkeeper. Case study two. A captain in the Surrey League told me that he had to ask the stumper to be quiet just so he could hear the umpire offer him a guard. The din throughout his innings was as continuous as it was tiresome. Umpires feel powerless. They can ask the culprits to refrain, but after several attempts, what more can they do?

Players also have to officiate themselves at the lower levels – and opinion is divided as to whether this makes sledging more or less likely.

Umpires will have the authority to send players off for serious breaches of behaviour under updated Laws of the game from October 1, MCC has confirmed. “We felt the time had come to introduce sanctions for poor player behaviour and research told us that a growing number of umpires at grass-roots level were leaving the game because of it,” John Stephenson, the MCC’s head of cricket, said.

Ricky Ponting agrees with the move: “The reason we are talking about making significant changes to lower-level cricket is because it has got completely out of hand down there. We have got to the stage that something had to be done to prevent these things happening.”

Of course, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Some comments can be amusing. “Watch you don’t break a nail, sweetheart,” was what one of my colleagues had said to him this year.

There seems to be a backlash developing at last, however, against certain types of ‘banter’ in society. For so long, the most offensive of comments can be put down as just that: ‘bantz’.

Youngsters claim that they are copying their heroes. They think they are emulating the professionals by sledging. I played in a lads and dads match two years ago, and a county under-13 player took it upon himself to sledge two 10-year-olds who were batting. “Call a taxi, he cannot drive!” “More misses than Henry the Eighth.” Understandably one of the fathers gave him a stern rebuke. The irony is that stump microphones have actually forced the professionals to be far less verbose (Kagiso Rabada excepted).

Funny or abusive – or both? Merv Hughes lets rip after removing Graeme Hick, Old Trafford , 1993

Our Secret Cricketer suggested that incidents like Leicestershire’s Charlie Shreck verbally abusing a student at the start of the season are comparatively rare. 

So is it lame for club players to say they are copying the professionals?

People justify such behaviour with the adage, “what happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch”, which seems to encourage a blameless mob mentality where you can get away with saying things you would never say anywhere else.

Several players also told us how sickened they are by the sledging of junior cricketers by adults – because they are playing in an adult league game are they fair game for the same if not more abuse from a team of grown men? With the club game struggling to persuade 15-year-olds to stay with cricket, this unsavoury practice could force them away.

But some say the higher up the leagues you go, there seems to be less sledging. Players have the ability to let their skills do the talking.

“Cricket is a contact sport and while sledging is unsavoury and often uncalled for, flashpoints do occur such as a perceived edge behind given not out or a catch claimed that is questionable,” a Premier League cricketer told The Cricketer. “Verbals often follow – a release of frustration which may actually prevent something more sinister happening. Our sport is not like say rugby or football, where you can vent angst over a decision through a crunching tackle or by bossing the midfield. In cricket, these verbals can be then contrived to gain an upper hand and create a new opportunity down the line by throwing a player off his game – in the player’s mind to right a wrong.

“I do believe that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed, a code or spirit of sledging if you like. Whatever is said in the heat of battle should be instantly forgotten in a handshake off the field – whether at tea or at the end of the game – and where appropriate, apologies given. And any words exchanged should be the result of a flashpoint on the day and not be pre-meditated by any baggage that exists outside of the contest being played.”

An ECB spokesperson said: “Cricket is a sport for all and it is vital that people can play the game in a competitive but fun environment. We will always look to make sure that players and participants, from grassroots to the elite, play fairly and within the Laws and spirit of the game.”

It is time for the sledgers to wind their necks in.

This article is from our August issue...