Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Summer’s here, so it must be sledging time

The first Ashes test is but two days away, which means it’s nearly time for the sweet summer sounds of chirping Aussies in the slips and Glenn ‘Chunterer’ McGrath in the outfield.

This entertaining look at ‘sledging’ from The Times is reproduced in full:

Sledging: It's all downhill
By Rick Broadbent
How the Aussie policy of ‘mental disintegration’ has fallen apart

ONE OF THE GREAT traditions of the Ashes summer is watching young Australian men indulge in fits of machismo while flicking their highlights and licking their white lipstick. If this seems odd, the notion that our distant cousins are masters of the witty put-down and acerbic one-liner is positively certifiable. Indeed, not since Rolf Harris pitched up at Glastonbury with a wobble board and a didgeridoo has anything Antipodean received such questionable billing.

We have got to this state of affairs because of the spin and myth that surrounds the issue of sledging. Some believe that this Aussie-invented code of unethics is full of humour and verve and somehow humanises cricket. The truth is very different. The Aussies may be well-versed in the dark arts of mendacious appeals, garrulous intimidation and snide snipes in the slips, but if by sledging you are referring to the clever aside or cutting remark, Shane Warne and his ilk are distinctly second rate.

Trawl the annals and you will find the Australian cricketer has generally been on the receiving end. Take Jimmy Ormond’s Ashes confrontation with Mark Waugh. The Aussie legend belittled Ormond by asking what a man of his limited ability was doing at the crease. “I may not be the best cricketer in the world,” Ormond responded, “but at least I’m the best in my family.”

Nobody knows whether this had any bearing on Waugh dismissing the relevance of sledging in his biography. “Over-rated,” he bleated.

Merv Hughes was another to come off second best. This was perhaps not surprising since he always appeared to be wearing a tumble-dried ferret on his top lip. “You can’t f***ing bat, mate,” he mumbled at Robin Smith. One boundary later and Smith retorted: “Hey Merv, we make a fine pair. I can’t f***ing bat and you can’t f***ing bowl.”

This state of the nations is a well-worn tradition, given that Britain’s cultural past has spawned Oscar Wilde and William Shakespeare, whereas Australia’s has produced Ned Kelly and Foster’s. An inveterate absence of subtlety led to the birth of sledging in the first place, when New South Wales cricketer Grahame Corling made a faux pas at a party. It was suggested he was as “subtle as a sledgehammer” and, while Corling went on to bask in the nickname “Percy”, after the soul singer, Australia proceeded to abuse merrily scores of batsmen under the misnomer of “competitive spirit”.

Sledging is obviously designed to intimidate a batsman, which seems fair enough if it does not fall below a certain level. Racist and religious slurs, for example, are now considered taboo — albeit this brings to mind the advert for the Ashes which portrays Shane Warne as a convict heading for Australia, with the pay-off line: “I’ll be back.”

This was a radical step in that the more politically correct would accuse Warne of national stereotyping and, thus, racially abusing himself.

The introduction of microphones by the stumps mean we have grown accustomed to the unique humour of the Aussie “mental disintegration” programme. This, generally, constitutes several people saying, “bowled, Warnie” at any given time. The batsman, who may have been playing Warne with aplomb, will then develop the backbone of a jellyfish, give up his wicket, the Ashes will be surrendered and people will write articles about sledging. The only flaw in this argument is it is tosh. The Aussies win because they are better at cricket than England. Indeed, I would be bold enough to suggest that Brett Lee is more intimidating when bowling at 90mph than scowling at you like the lost member of Busted.

In recent times the Aussies have accepted they have gone too far. In 2003 a debate between Glenn McGrath and the West Indies vice-captain was picked up and broadcast live. It encompassed oral sex, infidelity and homosexuality, was peppered with expletives and caused many red faces. It resulted in Cricket Australia introducing a code of conduct.

It may be that England do not win the Ashes, but at the very least they should be able to win the battle of wits. Nothing succeeds like excess, said Wilde, but if the Australians are truly committed to toning down their sledging it is probably because, after years of being stumped by English ripostes, they have come to the belated realisation that they are not very good at it.


The Aussies may have invented sledging as a tactic to intimidate or undermine batsmen, but they seem to always be on the receiving end of the Wildean put-down in the most famous exchanges. Here are a few more classics:

Shane Warne versus Daryll Cullinan
As South African Cullinan was on his way to the wicket, the famously ‘big-boned’ Warne told him he had been waiting two years for another chance to humiliate him. "Looks like you spent it eating," Cullinan retorted

Glenn McGrath versus Eddo Brandes
McGrath was bowling to the Zimbabwe number 11 - who was unable to get his bat anywhere near the ball. McGrath, frustrated that Brandes was still at the crease, wandered up during one particular over and inquired: "Why are you so fat?" Quick as a flash, Brandes replied: "Because every time I make love to your wife, she gives me a biscuit." Even the Aussie slip fielders were in hysterics.

Greg Thomas vs Viv Richards
Greg Thomas was bowling to West Indian legend Viv Richards in a county game. Viv missed a superb out swinger, and Thomas said "It's red, round and weighs about 5 1/2 ounces." Next ball Viv hits Greg Thomas out of the ground for a 6 and replies, "Greg, you know what it looks like. Go ahead and find it!"

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