Fun And Frolic On The Cricket Field
Sledging As An Art
By Ali Yawer Usmani

The Aussies have just returned from India and have left behind a trail of sledging ‘incidents’ that linger in the minds of everyone. It is a well known fact that sledging, as an art has been perfected by the Aussies more than any other team. This is one fatal armour that they employ against oppositions, when everything else has failed!

Nevertheless sledging has an interesting history behind it and even today it forms an integral part of the game. No one actually knows when sledging started, but since time immemorial disparaging remarks have been part of the sport in general – and cricket in particular. There si a hypothesis that sledging has evolved out of the off cuff remarks that transpired between the players and even umpires on the field. As the character of the game changed, these remarks became more aggressive and distasteful. We take a look at some of the incidents that definitely have the attribute of wit and humour rather than bare intimidation.

There is a legend called “Yabba” in the Australian cricket folklore, who sat in the outer as an onlooker, and kept on yelling encouragements and insults at the players in the field. One of the most interesting anecdotes regarding “Yabba” is that once a batsman was playing and he kept missing the ball all through in a session of a test match. Unable to withstand this drudgery anymore Yabba yelled,” Bowl the bastard a grand Piano and see if he can play that instead!”

Another instance of this character was when he made a remark to the unpopular Douglas Jardine during a Test match. Jardine was brushing away the flies during a bat session of a Test match when Yabba in his witty way remarked,” Oye Jardine, keep your bloody hands of our flies.”

The Grand Old Man of cricket, Sir W G Grace was an expert in things other than cricket as well and he demonstrated his ability in ample amount. Some experts consider him to be a habitual cheater and he used to fool the umpires and bowlers with his remarks. There are a lot of stories associated with him. A very popular one has it that he was out rather early in his innings, he walked to the bowler and said,” The people have came to see me bat and not to see you ball”, and continued to bat. But another time, and he met his match. When his bails were felled by a delivery; he calmly picked up the bails and replacing them, remarked to the umpire “windy today, isn’t it?” Where upon the umpire raising his index finger shot back, “Yes, but I’m not and you are out.”  

This banter was not only restricted to the field, but off it too. There was a player called David Shepherd (not our beloved umpire) who was also a parson with a large parish. After a test match, in which he dropped as many catches as he could, he was called on to officiate in a christening ceremony. There when he was holding the baby the father remarked,” I am a bit worried about your dropping my baby in the font given the sort of form you’ve been in this week.”

Coming back to the present, the sledging has turned more and more nasty and the taste surely has gone down. But these witty remarks can still be found sometimes occasionally. When Merv Hughes, the thick mustachioed Aussie was bowling a great spell to Robin Smith of England and kept beating him outside his off stump Merv walked down to Smith after every delivery and gave him a free opinion on his batting, which he felt was nothing but rubbish. After a while Robin played a beautiful cover-drive off him on a full-pitched ball. Then Smith walked up to him and retorted,” We are a right pair, aren’t we Merv? I can’t bat and you can’t bowl.”

Tit for tat as one may call it. Viv Richards was a party to an interesting incident. He was known for his aggressive hitting and used to go for the leather right from the word go. During his stint with Somerset, he was repeatedly beaten by fast bouncers from an enthusiastic bowler. The bowler walked up to Richards and said, “ Mate if you can’t spot the ball, I’ll tell you what its like. It is read, round and weighs five and a half ounce.“ As luck had it Richards blasted the next ball out of the park, past the adjoining garden right into a river. He retorted, “ Mate you know what the ball is like. Now go and find it. “

When it comes to “sledging” or a friendly banter, as you might call it, the Asian teams are known not to be very good at it. But here too there have been certain cricketers who have excelled at this variety of sport. The one that immediately comes to mind is Javed Miandad, who with his chatter used to unnerve the opposition. Once he kept on asking an Indian bowler about his room number while batting and was told so. He hit a six after sometime and told him to get the ball from the room.

But even this old pro was put in his place by none other but our own chattering Kiran More who unnerved him in the world cup 92’ match in Sydney at Australia, so much so that Javed started hopping like a monkey as if the situation had become too hot to handle then.

All said and done, one cannot deny that some friendly banter is always welcome on the fields provided it does not spill over-off the field but more importantly doesn’t go out of limit and create tension. But who decides what’s the limit. If you want to play it, you will have to be mentally tough. Do you agree? We would love to hear from you.  

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