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Three types of sledging
by Suresh Menon
Mar 24, 2008
There are three types of sledging. The humorous sledging, a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment reaction, usually from a fast bowler to an obdurate batsman as exemplified by the late Freddie Trueman. The language is colourful, the intent is to let off steam, and usually a good laugh is had by all.

Then there is the well-planned, psychological sledging aimed at unsettling the player, and given the respectable name of ‘mental disintegration’ by the former Australian captain Steve Waugh. It is a skill that comes naturally to Australian teams, has been acquired over the years by the others, and is justified by the number of wickets it reportedly claims of rattled batsmen.

The third is gratuitous sledging, indulged in by individuals for whom the use of foul language and suggestive comments against an opponent is merely continuation of the battle by other means. Like that most terrible of modern crimes, the motiveless murder, it lacks reason or purpose. It is nasty, stinks, and is a sustained attack on everything the game stands for.

If sledging is banned cricket will be the poorer for the sanitisation that will eliminate the humorous sledging which usually lacks malice and adds to the rich tapestry of the game. Those who mourn its passing, and there will be many including those who find the concept of sledging abhorrent, will mourn most of all the passing from the game of this type of sledging.

Abusive psychological and gratuitous sledging have no place in the game, and if the price for getting rid of them is eliminating the humorous too, then so be it. Ian Chappell has suggested that if sledging is not checked, then verbal abuse will turn physical. There is a school of thought which says that the problem is not as severe as it is made out by the media. Yet when live television focuses on sledging, it quickly becomes a national issue, with the Internet opinions dividing players and even teams.

Political correctness ignores the fact that sport is a high-octane activity indulged in by volatile young men of often limited education who are expected to be raw and physical on the one hand and emotional and charged-up on the other, all in the high-pressure cauldron that is the modern stadium. And all this without the safety valve of a well-chosen and well-directed expletive. This begins to sound like a good argument, but it falls flat when you consider the great players of the recent past - Gary Sobers, Gundappa Vishwanath, Sachin Tendulkar, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Holding - who did not need to be abusive to be successful.

The International Cricket Council’s new guidelines acknowledge that it will be difficult to define what words and gestures would be construed as offensive. Umpires are asked to apply “a degree of individual interpretation and judgement” to determine whether a player's behaviour falls below acceptable standards.

The poor men in white coats! What if they fail to see the humour in a Harbhajan Singh remark made in Punjabi? We will be back to the dark days of Sydney when the future of a player, the future of a tour and the future of a sport itself was uncertain.

Strict silence might be a harsh price to pay - but till the players themselves learn to regulate behaviour, as is done in golf, the ICC can do little. Those who sledge will justify it till the cows come home; others will come with a caveat to allow certain kinds of sledging. But in practical terms, just as you cannot be a little pregnant, there cannot be a little sledging. Not even in the name of humour and freedom of expression.

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