Category Archives: Sledging

Justifying Australia Hatred

I think the best case against Australia starts with Brad Haddin’s extraordinary behavior during the World Cup. There are plenty of exhibits; the most damning one comes right after Glenn Maxwell bowls Guptill with the most innocuous of deliveries. The shame for Guptill, who has blown it in a World Cup final, is evident, but Haddin decides to add to the pathos with sarcastic clapping in his face.

And why? Here he is:

“You know what? They deserved it,” Haddin said of New Zealand’s batsmen being the subject of several send-offs. “They were that nice to us in New Zealand and we were that uncomfortable. I said in the team meeting: ‘I can’t stand for this anymore, we’re going at them as hard as we can.’

“It was that uncomfortable. All they were was that nice to us for seven days. I said, ‘I’m not playing cricket like this. If we get another crack at these guys in the final I’m letting everything [out].’ I’m not playing another one-day game, so they can suspend me for as long as they like.”

This makes absolutely no sense. I’d be willing to dismiss this behavior as yet another silly episode featuring Australian men and their petulant masculine insecurity–but this was a World Cup final! What kind of man–that too, one close to his 40th year on this planet–looks at the great spectacle and history of the World Cup, at the import and importance of this final, and thinks: Yeah, I’m going to help my team by being an asshole.

Is there a difference between what Haddin did and the Kiwis’ own performance against South Africa in 2011? I think it’s the difference between instrumental sledging–aggression aimed at unsettling the opposition–and gratuitous immaturity. The former is barely justifiable (I don’t like it, but I imagine most cricket fans don’t care and even like a “little spice”); the latter, especially among a team as capable and talented as Australia, is downright bizarre.

Haddin’s behavior, to use a popular phrase, is not a bug of Australia’s cricket, it is a feature. Rather than relying on actual aggression, this team insists on adding a veneer of rudeness that will not age with any grace; whatever affection we have for the West Indian greats of the 70s and 80s will not (and should not) be extended to this sorry lot. It’s a pity, because this team is so good and play cricket so well — but from here on out, I’ll greet their victory and success with a sarcastic clap.


When Sledging Becomes Harmful

I dismissed the Jadeja-Anderson dispute too casually in my last post, so I want to add a careful amendment. One thing that has always irked me about sledging disputes is the general devaluation of the power of speech. So, in this case, it is agreed by all sides that Jimmy Anderson did say some hurtful things to Jadeja. However, he escaped judgment because Jadeja then “turned around” — aggressively, apparently? — leading Anderson to act in self defense.

The upshot is clear: A cricketer can spew a fair amount of abuse, and his target will have to turn the other cheek. Any hint of physical action will be harshly punished (except in “self defense”?); what is spoken is, generally, free.

I’m not a fan of this approach because I think it undervalues how important and powerful speech can be. As I wrote in a previous post:

Speech matters, and it can in fact cause harm. To focus on the physical aspect of an argument seems natural, since violence among men is always a concern. But it is ridiculous not to view harmful speech as potentially injurious as well… [The] sledger — the one having fun at somebody’s expense — enjoys a massive legal loophole, because he knows that, to a large extent, sledging in cricket is tolerated (and increasingly celebrated).

It’s not like what I’m arguing for is unprecedented. In the Shane Warne-Marlon Samuels dispute, the arbiter in that case said Samuels’ throwing his bat was, to some extent, justified by Warne’s “extreme provocation.” That wasn’t an international game, but the same principle applies. And that says: If a cricketer comes at you, again and again and inappropriately (such as off the field of play, as Anderson did), then go ahead — do what you must. Turn around, even.

Cameron White Is Wrong About Marlon ‘The Legend’ Samuels

Just a quick recap for non-cricket fans: After Shane Warne got in Marlon Samuels’ face during a game, Warne then threw a cricket ball at Samuels (it  may have just been by accident). At this point, Samuels — who, really, had just heard quite a tirade from Warne — threw his bat high in the air (and in Warne’s general direction). The video is below:

So, Warne got into a fair amount of trouble, but Cricinfo reports the verdict for Samuels (and Cameron White’s reaction):

Samuels was let off with a reprimand after the Code of Conduct commissioner John Price ruled that Samuels threw his bat after “extreme provocation” from Warne, who had just thrown a ball that hit Samuels.

“Being provoked, I don’t think you can use that as an excuse,” White said in Melbourne on Tuesday. “It’s remarkable, isn’t it? How many times have you seen someone throw their cricket bat on a cricket field and get [reprimanded] for being extremely provoked? I’ve never seen it before. That’s what the judiciary came up with.”

White is acting as many parents do when their squabbling children start to yell, “Well he started it — No, I didn’t — Yes, you did!”  The easiest course for any parent at this point is to appear neutral and punish both sides equally, and leave aside the thorny factual question of who started what.

While that approach may work for parenting, it’s silly when it comes to adjudicating conflicts among adults. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can still fucking hurt. Warne was clearly the provocateur during this incident, and his constant, unyielding attempts to unsettle Samuels was designed to elicit some reaction.* I’m passionate about this case because of a similar one that occurred in 2008 between Gautam Gambhir and Shane Watson. The Australian tormented Gambhir during the course of his innings, and started to swear at him. Gambhir, understandably angry, elbowed Watson. The judge — the estimable A. Sachs — dismissed Anil Kumble’s argument that swearing is particularly offensive to South Asians, who place high stock on the power of words. As he put it, “However severe the verbal assaults on them may be, players are obliged not to give vent to their anger through physical retaliation.”

Again, very silly. Speech matters, and it can in fact cause harm. To focus on the physical aspect of an argument seems natural, since violence among men is always a concern. But it is ridiculous not to view harmful speech as potentially injurious as well. Sachs would prefer that players turn the other cheek for as long as they stay at the crease, and maintain a masculine silence about the whole thing. Meanwhile, the sledger — the one having fun at somebody’s expense — enjoys a massive legal loophole, because he knows that, to a large extent, sledging in cricket is tolerated (and increasingly celebrated).

No, commissioner Price was right, and White wrong: you get in another player’s face, then you should expect to have a cricket bat coming at you.

*I understand that Warne was simply “repaying” Samuels for tugging at Hussey’s shirt, which I felt was reprehensible. However, cricketers are not judges, and Warne should have left it to the match referee to pass judgment on Samuels.

Are Indian Cricketers Jerks?

I’ve asked this question before, and Churimuri offers a good answer:

In the obnoxious way they carry themselves—the testosterone-rich swagger, the arrogant chewing of gum—you would think that by some divine right, India is destined to win always, no matter what, and the other team is only there to help them do that. But if there is anything worse than their body language, it surely must be their awful bawdy language?

Bad puns aside, the blog post also includes examples from the India-South Africa match, when all the Indian bowlers apparently called their South African scalps a variant of “sister/motherfucker.” While I place a high premium on the “spirit” discourse of the game, I do not mind particularly boisterous celebrations after a batsman’s dismissal. Alas,  alas, this concession does not include accusing opponents of incest.

That said, the English team has been particularly awful this tournament — not against their opponents, but against each other. On several occasions, Graeme Swann has looked ready to brutally stab his teammates (though Jimmy Anderson and Kevin Pietersen deserved some physical punishment for their ridiculous non-catch against Ireland). Andrew Strauss has thrown daggers all around, and Matt Prior must think Jimmy Anderson is a complete idiot for the legside filth he has thrown this series. (Not to mention the ridiculously prolonged tantrums Swann threw during the game against Bangladesh.) 

It’s funny to watch, and it’s certainly unexpected — given all the teamwork cliches we have been fed over the decades — but I really like it. It reminds me of playing on streets in Bombay (and in pick-up games in school), where teams are thrown together based on factors other than merit (convenience, numbers, relationships) and a little screaming and a few tempers are par for the course (rarely, at least in my experience, are they permanently damaging to friendships). Once, during a practice game (a match very much thrown together at the last minute), one of my “teammates” also acted as the wicketkeeper because we didn’t have enough players. As the bowler (from the other team) delivered the ball, this guy — again, my teammate — chirped in my ear, “Four ball! Four ball!” and then tsk-tsked when I merely paddled it away for a dot. (It didn’t help that this guy came from Cathedral School, a bastion of indulgent elitism and entitlement. ((I went to Campion for a brief period. I’m fully objective on this point.))

During a different game, I did drop a sitter off the best batsman in the opposition. In response, my team’s selectors promptly dropped me for the rest of my term in school. Bitterness ensued. Grame, I know what it’s like to have to deal with mere mortals.

Stuart Broad Needs To Calm Down

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the video of Stuart Broad throwing a ball at debutante star Zulqarnain Haider, Day 3, 2nd Test. Pretty mean stuff, especially Broad’s cursory apology:

And this is Simon Jones throwing a ball at Matthew Hayden. There are some differences: Hayden did step out of his crease for a bit, but more importantly, Jones had the decency to go up to him and apologize and take Hayden’s curses to his face:

The Gambhir-Kamran Akmal Spat

Cricket Online, my still-favorite cricket highlights website (despite its new advertising blitz addition), just put up scenes from the emotional India-Pakistan encounter in the Asia Cup. I’ll reserve comment on Harbhajan and Shoaib, since both are incorrigible showmen most concerned with themselves.

But just a quick point about Gambhir and Akmal. Gambhir gets mad at the Pakistani wicketkeeper for appealing twice unsuccessfully (and loudly) for a behind-the-stumps catch. On both occasions, the appeal seems somewhat implausible — but that does not matter. Like lawyers, cricketers are allowed to make whatever argument they want to the presiding judge (in this case, the umpire) and let him decide the case. Now, ideally, you wouldn’t want cricketers appealing when they have conclusive evidence of a batsman’s innocence, but I submit it’s allowed, just as we don’t require batsmen to walk after they know they’re out.

To summarize: pipe down, Gambhir. I defended you when Albie Sachs penalized you and Shane Watson, but on this occasion, you went too far.

Yusuf Pathan Rides The Anger

After another blazingly fast innings in the IPL (this one against the Deccan Chargers), Yusuf Pathan explained his inspiration:

“When somebody from the opposition involves in sledging you are more pumped up to do well. When I went in to bat, Symonds said a few words and after that I was determined to perform with the bat,” Pathan said after Rajasthan registered a convincing eight-wicket victory to register their straight victory in the tournament.

This relates to one of my earliest posts about the use of anger and emotion in cricket. We often hear commentators plead for cricketers with a good “cricketing brain,” one that pursues shots with minimal risks and plays “smart cricket” (usually, hit a boundary and then sneak a quick single). Sometimes, you don’t need to stay calm in “pressure situations.” You need to let loose, hit out and make everyone — namely, Symonds — pay.

The Sulieman Benn-Johnson-Haddin Spat

I’m a bit late to this, being nearly 24 hours behind Brisbane, but a nasty little exchange between Benn-Johnson-Haddin on the field. I disagree with Chris Broad’s decision to suspend Benn for two ODIs; he was merely responding to an out-and-out aggressive show from Haddin (pointing bats and what not).

After all, the initial cause for the drama — Johnson and Benn colliding — was hardly rude; just a normal tussle. What escalated things was Haddin’s display, followed by some sharp words. Now, Benn could have just moved on — and he’d have a better case if he didn’t point at Haddin in the middle of the pitch — but cricketers aren’t supposed to be angels.

Watch the episode here:

The Ethics Of Booing Ponting

There’s been a lot of talk criticizing English crowds for consistently booing Australian captain Ricky Ponting through the tour (and even at that holiest of sacred grounds, Lord’s). I’m not sure I understand that. I’m a huge fan of players respecting the “spirit” motif behind the game, but I don’t think that should apply to cricket audiences as well.

Not that I condone various audience offenses through the years (ahem, Indian crowds throwing bottles and possibly shooting Andrew Flintoff, ahem ahem), but there are degrees that are acceptable here. Isn’t Indian cricket more exciting precisely because the crowds are so partisan, wildly cheering any boundary only to crushingly fall silent when a wicket falls?

Ah, yes, you may say, but supporting and booing are two separate things. OK. But I think there’s fair enough room for a Ponting Exception. Here’s a man who has indulged the worst instincts on the field, where behavior actually counts for something, frowning crankily when umpires ruled against him or swearing at the English dressing room after being run-out in 2005. He’s also led a team that excels at “mental disintegration,” insisting that sledging and jibes are an integral part of cricket.

Fine then. If that’s the case — if you want to broaden up the game beyond just bat and ball — then a crowd (already facing more lax rules about sportsmanship, since it isn’t on the field) should get behind their team. So when Ponting made a delightful 74 in the Headingley Test, the audience rightly let him know exactly how they felt about it when he was dismissed (though, to be fair, certain sectors also applauded him loudly).

Yes, the man played brilliantly, and it’s always heartwarming to see a home crowd give an opposition player a nice send-off, but it’s just as much fun to see it telling a particularly despised captain to shove off.

Ricky Ponting Hates England

I don’t think Ricky Ponting is in any position to lecture anyone about the spirit of cricket, but I’ll leave it to Uncle J Rod to properly sniff out the hypocrisies from both sides on England’s stalling tactics near the end of the Monty Panesar-Jimmy Anderson partnership.