Johnstone: Hurtful words have place in cricket

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2013
Michael Clarke
Getty Images
AUSSIE THREAT: Australia captain Michael Clarke taunted England with threats of broken bones as his team closed in on victory.

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That the first Ashes test erupted into a bit of a slanging match was no surprise.

OPINION: That it took so long to happen was unusual.

This is the peak of test cricket, the ultimate contest in a sport where insults and mind games have long been used to intimidate as much as a bouncer aimed at a batsman's head.

And long may it continue. These are grown men, after all, and as one respected skipper from another sport famously said, "this isn't tiddlywinks".

Cricket is made for sledging. Two batsmen at the mercy of 11 opponents, many of them right up close and personal.

There's so much downtime, it's impossible not to make a snarky comment or two.

Getting inside an enemy's head seems to be commonsense, no matter the approach.

It's always been part of serving a test apprenticeship . . . youngsters expected a "welcome" whenever they stood at the batting or bowling crease.

Of course, the clever sledgers are always the ones that deliver their cutting lines with humour. And the challenge is always to come up with a suitable retort.

A bit like playing and missing, and then following up next ball with a flowing cover drive to the boundary.

Authorities trying to take this flavour out of the game are fighting a losing battle. In a sport devoid of physical contact, the mental challenge is a crucial element

And to have old hands like Ian Chappell complaining about it now is just a nonsense. The Chappell era was a stellar season for sledging.

Of course, intrusive TV microphones weren't around then. As spectators we'd detect a bit of angst in the middle. But the old adage of leaving that stuff on the field meant the words were never reproduced until tell-all biographies were written or the humour was delivered on the after-dinner speaking circuit.

It's there for everyone to see now - lip-reading isn't a prerequisite for getting the total cricket experience.

I doubt there's a sport where sledging isn't involved. Take a closer look when you're watching anything from darts to dodgeball, league to lacrosse, rugby to wrestling, and you're sure to see sledging.

It might be a shout, it may be a whisper; it might be delivered face to face, it may just come via a subtle sideways glance. But it's aimed with the same intent - to unsettle the opposition at any cost.

And in sports that dominate our sporting psyche, that's just part of the examination they call a "test".

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The day cricket bans sledging is the day they might as well throw the Ashes urn into the fire for good.

- Sunday News

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