A toothless tiger runs the game and national boards are only interested in what's good for them rather than what’s good for the game.
Brisbane: So at the end of the day, both Jimmy Anderson and Ravindra Jadeja were both exonerated. What started off with two defendants ends up with the ICC finding that, in essence, nothing really happened. No video evidence, a toothless tiger running the game and national cricket boards only interested in what's good for them rather than what's good for the game.
Mark my words; it is only a matter of time now before we have an incident involving fisticuffs on the field. Cricket lives in a leadership vacuum, born of a self-interest agenda that transcends basic decency.
As part of a multi-part series, let's examine the controversial issue of sledging from a variety of angles. There's the cultural perspective – some countries accept, nay condone it, even encourage it whilst other countries hold a cultural antipathy towards the overall practice (although they are now becoming better at this dark art, if that is something to indeed be proud of).
On an individual level, over the next few weeks, we will look at why some cricketers are more inclined to sledge and be sledged. I've played with many cricketers for whom sledging is an integral part of the fabric of the game, indistinguishable from any other 'skill'. I will declare my hand in the matter upfront – I view the practice as an unnecessary abomination, an uncivilized and uncouth excuse for poor manners in any life context.
Some will argue that it is part of the game and that no one takes it seriously. Others will say it is a calculated and effective tactic that has proven results. It is difficult to prosecute the argument both ways though; on one hand, it is a bit of harmless banter whilst on the other hand, it is calculated to put opponents off their game. Using that logic, it cannot necessarily be both.
Then there's the theory that it is often a vent for frustration and hyper-competitiveness, the so-called white line fever. There's plenty to dissect on this topic alone. Is it a valid excuse to justify behaviour that would not pass muster in any other civilian walk of life? Why does sport, seemingly less important (in some senses) than life itself, give itself this free trade zone, this zone of immunity that permits vile trash-talk that would almost be unlawful (or at the very least, grossly rude) in everyday life?
Ravindra Jadeja shakes James Anderson’s hand India’s victory in the second Test at Lord's on July 21. PIC/AFP
Some cricketers argue that sledging is an internal motivation mechanism, serving the purpose of helping them to motivate themselves for the contest that confronts them. The cowardly ones in this tribe prefer to do all the sledging but there are also many who provoke being sledged in order to fire themselves up. That is a fascinating discussion that could go on indefinitely.
We can look at the institutional response from the governors of the game. The ICC, the umpires, match referees and how that fits into the Code of Conduct. The players themselves sometimes have their own unofficial boundaries around what's acceptable but that has often proved to be an imperfect model. In the heat of battle, bullets can be fired indiscriminately and the victims can only be counted in the aftermath. Sometimes, the hunter himself becomes hunted.
What topics are off-limits? Who gets to decide? In recent times, race and religion are deemed to be no-go-zones but on what basis is this justifiable? Not everyone is sensitive to the same insults. Where are the lines, does everyone know (and agree) to these demarcation zones before the contest begins? Clearly not.
Can cricket retract from a culture that has virtually conceded that this fever cannot be controlled but the extent to which the disease spreads can be quarantined to some degree? Is there a danger that it excludes some people from participating? Are we prepared to lose talented youngsters who are not prepared to sacrifice their basic human niceties for the artificial arena of gladiatorial contest?
In Australia for example, kids that can't (or won't) participate in the sledge-fest that is senior Grade cricket will choose to play cricket in their own micro-leagues, perhaps in ethnic leagues, excluding themselves from the system that leads to representative selection.
For a variety of reasons (cultural, moral, language), not all cricketers see sledging as an integral part of the skill set. Their pure love for the game does not extend to the mental disintegration that Steve Waugh so famously eulogized. Are we at risk of missing out on some great talent because of this false notion that to play cricket at the highest level in Australia, one must learn to insult and be insulted as much as learning to play off the back foot?
There's plenty of humour to be had on this topic too. One entire piece can be devoted to some of the funniest stories related to sledging. I myself have been victim and perpetrator in this regard. There's undoubtedly room for banter that is genuinely funny and doesn't cross that fine line that takes it into the realm of the downright ugly.
Again, the problem here rests with how the humour is interpreted by the recipient. It is too often the case that the victim is humiliated to the point where the joke loses its intrinsic value and becomes a cruel act of bullying. Taken that far, is it worth the laughter, even if it is genuinely funny?
There's a lot of rubbish spoken about how sledging defines a "real man" and it is the last testing ground for those manhood rituals. The most vocal proponents of these arguments usually favour a situation where the batsman is heavily outnumbered by the fielding team. Fair fight? Real men? Many of the worst exponents of sledging are usually the most sensitive when it comes to being sledged. This is true on a national and individual level.
The umpires too are culpable in this area. Their contribution will not go unnoticed. Some countries (and individuals) seem to get away with more than others. Is this an unconscious bias or is it just that when you do something rarely, it stands out like a beacon? On that basis, those who sledge the most often benefit from being perceived as "business as usual". All hail Jimmy Anderson.
Exploring this topic is not meant intended as a witch hunt but as an exhaustive investigation into an aspect of the game that is now almost indistinguishable from the very fabric of the game. It deserves more than a cursory comment or careless throwaway line. To understand how it started, why it happens, how effective it is and the potential ramifications, the topic of sledging needs a forensic analysis over a period of time, allowing time to digest each aspect before moving on to tackle the next contentious issue.
It is my intention to dissect this beast with deliberate intent, peeling away the layers and trying to ultimately assess whether it is now an essential feature of the modern game or a growing cancer that has been allowed to grow without invasive surgery. Does it enhance or poison this once-noble game that is synonymous with sayings like "playing with a straight bat" and "it's just not cricket"?
Or has cricket now become a cut-throat business that laughs in the face of old-fashioned niceties? If that is where we are heading, perhaps it is time to dispense with artificial boundaries and legalise sledging. Maybe it's all in the eye of the beholder.
The Greek philosopher, Epictetus once opined: "It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting." He could have added; "philosophy and morality are useless without video evidence".
Brisbane-based Michael Jeh will continue to bring up double standards in cricket
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