Threats of punched faces and broken arms? It’s just not cricket…or is it?

It’s a lovely day out on a beautiful summer’s day is cricket.  The excited murmur of the crowd as the players enter the field.  Members quaffing down copious amounts of champagne whilst discussing which bow tie they wore to “a dear friend’s” dinner party the previous evening.  Representatives circling the ground outside attempting to sell commentary ear pieces to anyone who’ll have them for an extortionate price.  Not forgetting the first pint of the day being pulled before a lot of people have even woken up.

However, a player being ‘sledged’ with the threat of a broken arm in retaliation to an alleged threat of a punch in the face?  That’s just not cricket…or is it?  History will tell you it most certainly is.

Sledging is a term used to describe the use of verbal intimidation in order to gain the upper hand on an opponent.  The exact origin of sledging in cricket is debatable, however it’s generally accepted that it became a regular occurence during the mid 1960’s.  One of the earliest instances of sledging, and perhaps where the term originated from, was where the fielding team collectively sung Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” to an incoming batsman whose wife was allegedly having an affair with one of his team mates.

The debate over whether sledging is ‘just another part of the game’ or perhaps a step too far in unsportsmanlike behaviour has intensifed recently due to the Australian skipper, Michael Clarke, politely informing James Anderson to “get ready for a broken f*****g arm”:

Clarke was subsequently fined 20% of his match fee for the comment, however you will find many cricketers have stated that a lot worse has been said on a cricket field without penalty.  Does this therefore suggest that Clarke was only fined due to the fact that the stump microphone had picked up what he said?  Quite probably.  The International Cricket Council (ICC) would no doubt be pressured to act upon such clear evidence, but are shoulders shrugged when hard evidence is not present?  Perhaps incidents are swept under the carpet?

The Australians laid the blame for the incident at the feet, or perhaps fists, of Anderson by insisting he sparked the confrontation by threatening to punch test debutant George Bailey in the face.  No fine was forthcoming for Anderson, however, as no conclusive evidence was present to back up the allegation.

The incident, as a whole, is certainly something that should not be seen on a cricket field.  A brief look back over the years, however, will show you that sledging varies from witty banter to threats that, these days, would probably have you arrested.

Whether it’s Andrew Flintoff suggesting that Tino Best should “mind the windows”, or Mark Boucher talking through Tatenda Taibu’s average, sledging is more often than not just an inoffensive method of attempting to put your opponent off his game.

However, when things get a little bit heated, sledging can get extremely personal to the point where the boundary of ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ has clearly been crossed.

One of the most obvious examples is Glenn McGrath’s clash with Ramnaresh Sarwan at Antigua in 2003 during a time where McGrath’s wife was undergoing treatment for cancer.  Words had been exchanged for several overs between the pair, before things got heated:

GM: “What does Brian Lara’s d**k taste like?”

RS: “I don’t know, ask your wife.”

GM: “If you ever f*****g mention my wife again I’ll f*****g rip your f*****g throat out!”

International cricket is an extremely competitive business, however players do need to remember their responsibilities to themselves, their team mates and their country when taking the field.

On the eve of the second test of the current Ashes series, both sides have called for calmer on-field antics, especially in light of Jonathan Trott leaving the tour early due to a stress-related illness.  Will the heat of the battle force players to lose their cool once more?  We shall see.


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