Test cricket is a funny old game and one that, in future, may struggle to survive. In few other sports will you spend five days in the company of the opposition. If there is supposed to be ninety overs in a day that makes 540 individual battles between bat and ball, between batter and bowler. The whole point of test cricket is that it is supposed to be a “test” of both physical and mental compartments. The use of verbals to add to that test is what is currently under scrutiny during the current Ashes series.
There are various apocryphal stories that are often told of clever and witty retorts to incidents on a cricket field, a large proportion would be unrepeatable on these pages but most relate to a players eating habits or sexual activities. A quick internet search can easily highlight these for those interested. However, behind these nuggets of comedy is the more darker side to these verbal exchanges and cricket authorities needs to decide what is and what is not acceptable.
The problem today’s top players have are the numerous cameras that follow them, the microphones that can pick up a large proportion of what is said on the field and a greater social profile (including our old friend, social media). The old cricketing notion “what goes on the field, stays on the field”, I am afraid does not work anymore. The stump microphone has often been given the blame for these on field spats getting broadcast but it is not the stump microphone that is making offensive comments, it is the players. The stump microphone has also been there for around twenty years now and should not be a surprise to the players. In the early 1990’s football referee David Elleray was given a microphone but the clubs forgot to tell the players, the footage made interesting viewing! Where the players do have some excuse is that it is down to the broadcaster to decide what gets into the public domain which means sometimes, the whole story may not be told.
Within the UK, the Equality Act lists nine protected characteristics which include race, religion and sexual orientation. One has to acknowledge that the Equality Act is not globally binding but gives a sensible picture as to what should be considered unacceptable. It is also worthy of note that the racially pejorative term “Pom” seems to have escaped the attention of the morality police and still seems to be common vernacular. What the Equality Act does not appreciate is that sometimes the more cutting criticism can be personal, concerning elements of a private life that they are likely to want to keep away from prying eyes.
Nobody wants to see the intensity of the game lost. If we are going to have sledging then it should be about cricketing matters rather than someone’s personal life or characteristics. In a time of greater understanding of mental health, a fine line will inevitably exist between banter and potentially ending someone’s career and, potentially, affecting their health. The importance of the top players setting an example to younger players should also not be forgotten, particularly when they are under so much scrutiny.
One of the central pillars of cricket, and particularly between England and Australia, is that the game should be played hard on the field but at the end of play, the protagonists should get together for a friendly drink. It would be a great pity if that was lost.
A final note should be to remind ourselves of the great West Indies sides of the past. Their fast bowlers did not engage in this “mental disintegration”, they just let the ball and the bat do the talking. If you ask some of the opposition of the time, they will tell you that the Windies did far more harm with their cricketing skills then they did by talking.