Since the end of the first Ashes test match in Brisbane there has been all sorts of talk about sledging, talk which would suggest that this was the first cricket match in the history of the game where a fielder said something 'mean and nasty' to a batsman. Anyone that has read these articles and believed that the Aussies are committing some sort of atrocity then I can almost guarantee that sledging, or verbal intimidation as some may choose to call it, has existed since the start of the game. Even back in the days of W.G Grace and co., when a young bowler got W.G out bowled first ball, Grace turned to him and said "They have come to watch me bat, not you bowl", and continued to pick the bails up, put them back on top of the stumps and carry on batting!
Sledging goes on at every level of the game, from the U9s playing on the outfield who have just learnt the golden one liners such as 'this guy is fishing without a license', to the barrage of good natured abuse you receive when you reach the crease on your 1st XI debut. I believe there is a somewhat unwritten rule which binds all cricketers, regardless of the level they play at, stopping any of the sledging which occurs from becoming too personal. The fact that the Australians have started being questioned about whether they knew about Jonathan Trott's illness and were attacking him, along with the fact that the media have lambasted them to the point where the coach, Darren Lehmann, had to categorically deny that his players were going to target Jonathan Trott's illness for further sledging is something that I find almost ridiculous.
By saying that, I'm in no way saying that I think mental illness should be a topic of sledging conversation, I have a huge amount of sympathy for anyone suffering from a mental illness, and wish Trott the best in his recovery, I couldn't begin to imagine what it's like to be going through what he's been, and still is, going through. But I do firmly believe that the Australian's knew nothing of Trott's problem and if they'd have known, players such as David Warner and Mitchell Johnson wouldn't have said anything about it, in fact I believe they would have supported Trott, the cricketing world has continued to show that it has a great way of coming together in times of sadness such as this.
What I'm trying to say I guess is that sledging is far from a bad part of cricket, quite the opposite, it's a huge part of the game and I'm sure I speak for a huge number of cricketers when I say that it's one of the parts of the game that I enjoy most! There are all sorts of classic 'sledges' for all to see on the internet. Some are totally innocent pieces of banter, and some are what non-cricketers would say were personal but I disagree. An example of one of the lighter hearted sledges is Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff whilst playing against the West Indies, Tino Best was batting for the West Indies, a fast bowler without much of a batting reputation, he'd previously tried to hit an Ashley Giles ball to the moon so a few balls later Freddie leans in from his fielding position at slip and chirped 'mind the windows Tino', the very next ball Tino Best charges down the pitch, tries to hit Giles for a twelve, misses the ball, and the England wicket keeper, Geraint Jones, whipped the bails off. Most would agree that this is a pretty hilarious case of sledging and even the most delicate of people would struggle to be offended by this!
A slightly more 'after the watershed' sledge I've chosen comes from our Australian chums and involves Sri Lanka. Arjuna Ranatunga, who happened to be a rather portly chap, decided he wanted a runner, for no real apparent reason. This then led to the stump microphone picking up Australian wicket keeper Ian Healey saying to Ranatunga "You don't get a runner for being an overweight, fat c*nt". Some may find this sort of thing offensive but everyone who's played sport at a senior level knows that this sort of banter goes on and they will have had a beer together after the game.
Sledging is not poisonous or derogatory to the game; it is actually part of what makes cricket a great game and why people love it. Sport is essentially all about winning; therefore you need to take any little opportunity to get ahead of your opponent, whether that is physical or mental. If you can get a batsman's head filled with little uncertainties over their place in the team or their technique before they face their first ball then 9 times out of 10 they'll end up getting out for a lower score than they would have without those uncertainties. I would take a bet that the majority of the people who are complaining about sledging are people with very little sporting experience who don't have any understanding of what it's like to play competitive sport. Even at a Saturday league cricket level, it's 11 guys trying their absolute damnedest to beat another 11 guys, by any means, friendships and acquaintances go out of the window for 7 hours and harsh words will probably be said but there will be a lot of beer and good humour shared between those 22 guys in the bar after the game.
Finally, coming back to the Australians at Brisbane, I love that the Australian cricket team seem to have regained some of their old fight and passion and I see it as a massive positive for the game, even as an England fan! I mean, come on, watching England beat the Aussie boys without even seemingly having to try was getting a bit boring, right?!