Bloody deeds, bloody words

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The Independent Online
'TENSIONS are running high,' said Jack Bannister, and you didn't need the eyesight of a golden eagle to see he was right. '%@dollars %&*%&]' shouted the cheerful, roly-poly form of M W Gatting when Merv Hughes bowled him. '*%@dollars ]' screamed Shane Warne after every turned-down appeal. '@&*%dollars @%*&%@dollars %&*]*?dollars ]' rejoindered Merv every time someone played and missed. Across the nation, pensioners trying to tune into Good Morning With Anne And Nick raised their pens to write furious letters to the Director-General of the BBC. What had happened to sport these days? What had happened to cricket?

Or, perhaps more to the point, why was everyone so surprised? I love this idea that all sportsmen conduct themselves according to ageless and unwritten rules of fair play and correct behaviour. Five minutes watching any sport on television, and you know that the very reverse is true. In fact, it's probably just as well that self-appointed guardians of good taste like William Rees-Mogg don't watch an awful lot of television sport. The outcry, if ever they did, would surely be deafening.

Just begin with the Premier League, which, as we all know, makes Reservoir Dogs look like Crystal Tipps & Alastair. Even if you discount the bone-crunching violence and Vinny Jones' haircut, there's the perennial problem of vocabulary. Indeed, on the evidence of close-ups, Tony Adams has a vocabulary of precisely one word, or two if you count the present participle. This must be a bit of a disadvantage when you have to tell your team-mates what to do, and no doubt introduces an element of risk into communication with referees. And yet he's by no means atypical.

Moving past more obvious cases like rugby union - which, you'll have noticed, has only really taken off in popularity since British youth stopped fighting wars - we find that the violence ethic has infected virtually every sport being played. I remember watching one of those women's hockey matches on television a while ago, and being astonished not only by the fevered screams of the schoolgirls in the crowd (bucket of water, please) but by the virtual bloodbath on the pitch. Here was sport at its most apparently genteel and olde-worlde, and yet if the credit 'Directed by Sam Peckinpah' had popped up at some point, I don't think I'd have been in the least surprised. Mary Whitehouse would have been appalled.

And cricket's as bad as anything. Not only is there constant sledging, fast short-pitched bowling and the sheer bloodlust on the face of Ken Palmer when he gives someone out, but Lord Rees-Mogg could surely fill an entire report of his watchdog committee simply by watching Curtly Ambrose walk back to his mark. Magnificent and admirable bowler though he may be, Ambrose also seems to suffer from the worst case of catarrh yet encountered by western medicine. Certainly, it's bad enough to make the use of a handkerchief impractical, unless that handkerchief was the size of Hampshire. Instead, Ambrose places a finger on one side of his nose and exhales sharply through the other nostril, thus emitting a ball of mucus approximately the size of a light aircraft. This then nestles on the lush green turf so lovingly tended by the groundsman and his staff, and as a result, only the brave and the foolhardy ever walk across a first-class cricket pitch in bare feet.

So perhaps we should excuse Mike Gatting for his visible outbreak of bad language. One mistake at that level can lose a game, or end a career. And besides, you don't know what he might have found on the end of his bat . . .