Much has been made of Jimmy Anderson’s verbal confrontations with the Aussies during the first three tests. Stuart Clark, who I admit is not my favourite person, even suggested that Anderson had become Australia’s ‘twelfth man’; his logic was that Jimmy’s sledging irked the Australians and motivated them to play so well at Perth.
Clark was of course talking balderdash – the Aussies were clearly fired up before the series even started – but his sentiments raised an important issue. Does sledging actually give you an advantage?
When I was a little boy, I used to find Merv Hughes intimidating just watching him on TV. His broad frame, caveman snarl, and fearsome novelty moustache made him look like a grouchy Neanderthal with a sore head.
I expected Big Merv to produce a club and whack the batsman over the head every time he conceded a fluky edge down to third man. When he gave someone like Mark Lathwell a verbal roasting, you worried that the England youngster might break down, start crying and retire hurt – emotionally hurt.
These days however, as I’m a grown man measuring six feet tall and weighing fourteen stone, I find the spectacle of smaller (and younger) men throwing abuse at each other rather ridiculous. I can’t help thinking of the three scousers on Harry Enfield and chums – ‘alright alright, calm down, calm down’.
I’ll give you an example. We all love Jimmy Anderson to bits, but does he really think a bloke with his slight frame and boy band looks is going to intimidate anybody? He looks like Louie Spence or Boy George having a tantrum. What you gonna do Jimmy, kidnap the batsman and tie him up if you don’t get your way?
It’s interesting that the only Aussies who seem to react to Anderson’s abuse are Michael Clarke – whose nickname ‘pup’ seems apt because he’s always doing a Scrappy Doo impression – and Mitchell Johnson, who must be the least scary man ever to sport a huge tattoo.
Everyone knows Johnson is mentally frail and insecure. The fact he tries to act tough on the cricket field doesn’t change that.
There is an argument, of course, that sledging violates the so called spirit of cricket – but that’s not what I’m trying to say. Although ‘mental disintegration’ can appear a little unsavoury and makes cricketers look like footballers, it can actually be quite entertaining.
Sledging occasionally even raises the intensity of certain passages of play. The clashes between Alan Donald and Mike Atherton wouldn’t have been the same without a fired up Donald calling the former England captain ‘a cheating upper class ****’ every over.
I guess what I’m saying is that sledging has its place, but it should be brief, to the point, and actually have a point. What do Peter Siddle and Matt Prior gain by squaring up to each other and hurling abuse backwards and forwards?
And does Anderson really have to put his finger to his lips tell Mitchell Johnson to ‘shhhhh’ after he’s dismissed a tailender who can’t bat anyway? Who does he think he is, Thierry Henry?
The excessive verbal sparring we’re beginning to see in this Ashes series should be stamped out before it becomes more prevalent. It doesn’t secure an advantage for either team and it just looks wrong.
When it happens in the NFL, it’s called ‘taunting’ and the offending player’s team is penalised fifteen yards. Would it be such a bad idea to penalise Australia five runs every time Siddle starts chirping like Chucky?
Before the Melbourne test, both teams should be reminded of two things. Firstly, test cricketers are ambassadors of the game and role models – so they shouldn’t behave like drunks arguing over a woman. They should play hard, but behave like mature adults rather than petulant schoolboys.
Secondly, and perhaps most pertinently, they should be reminded that making a lot of noise doesn’t automatically make somebody a good cricketer. A loud cricketer isn’t necessarily a mentally tough one – otherwise Andre Nel would have been the leading wicket taker in test history, rather than the first bloke South Africa dropped after a heavy defeat.
Maybe it’s just my personal preference, but I prefer my heroes to be silent assassins. A successful player doesn’t need to shout the odds – he can let his batting or bowling do the talking. Ranting and losing one’s cool in the middle is usually a sign of weakness.
When Ricky Ponting was famously run out at Trent Bridge in 2005, he left the field screaming blue murder. Remind me again who looked like the Pratt, was it England’s substitute fielder or the Australian captain?