The Sledging Season: Australia's traditionalists fear it is just too damned quiet
Sunday 19 November 2006
To hear the laments of former players round Australia the team who were once ace sledgers have instead become pure as driven snow. They do not like what they are not hearing.
For two months men who once wore the baggy green have been queueing up to complain that their successors have gone soft. If they have not quite urged them to return to what used to be the status quo, they certainly expect less friendly banter.
The cordial relations between the sides in the previous Ashes have been cited as a contributory factor in Australia's defeat. "We didn't have an edge to our game," said Allan Border, under whose stewardship Australia were zealous in trying to undermine opponents with a verbal volley.
"We lost the attitude to the English we once had," said Merv Hughes, a big-hearted fast bowler and one of the most aggressive sledgers of all time. Mark Waugh speculated that too much fraternisation had taken away the Australians' aura.
Two more former captains joined the fray last week. Steve Waugh, who took sledging into a whole new psychological arena by coining the phrase "mental disintegration", said Shane Warne should be stopped "exchanging pleasantries on the field". Mark Taylor said: "Once the first ball is bowled there is no need to be nice." It all adds up to a yearning for a bygone era when anything went, men were men and sledgers were sledgers. But it seems improbable that they will be rewarded with a return to those halcyon days.
Senior members of the present team have castigated their predecessors. Warne, who knows a thing or two about turning the mental screw, said claims of going soft were rubbish. "I haven't been too friendly when I have played Test cricket for 15 years. That's well and truly documented. I wasn't friendly but I showed sportsmanship."
There is little doubt that Australia, under Ricky Ponting, have changed. They needed to. Ponting might be prone to bouts of bad temper and is forever cajoling umpires, but his team are less outrageously hard-nosed.
Before Marcus Trescothick went home after a recurrence of his stress-related condition there had been fears that he might have been reminded of it in the middle. Ponting had specifically rebutted the suggestion.
It is entirely possible that England will be milder under Andrew Flintoff than under Michael Vaughan. Vaughan is hardly a sledger but was unafraid to express an opinion. Fierce competitor though Flintoff is, he is more likely to smile than scowl.
But he was also responsible for a classic sledge against West Indies at Lord's in 2004. Tino Best, the tail-ender, was clearly champing at the bit to have a heave at Ashley Giles. Sensing this, Flintoff from slip, shouted: "Mind the windows, Tino." Next ball, Best charged Giles and was stumped. Maybe that is not what Border et al have in mind.
A WORD IN YOUR EAR: The top sledges to swear by
Oh, I remember you from a couple of years ago in Australia. You were shit then and you're fucking useless now. Mark Waugh to New Zealand wicketkeeper Adam Parore.
Parore: Yes, that was me, and when I was there you were going out with that ugly old slut, and now I hear you've married her. You dumb cunt.
Now, David, are you going to get out or am I going to have to bowl round the wicket and kill you.
Malcolm Marshall after David Boon had played and missed.
THE LOADED REMARK
Why is it that you bat with a half-sleeve shirt and bowl with a full-sleeved one? Kumar Sangakkara to Harbhajan Singh when his bowling action had just been reported as suspect.
THE STILETTO CUT
Oh dear, is that how you're going to play Shane Warne?
Matthew Hayden to Ian Bell.
For Christ's sake it's not a Test match. Jamie Siddons as Steve Waugh took his time taking guard in a state game.
Waugh: Of course it isn't. You're playing.
I don't like you, Reeve. I never have. You get right up my nose and if you come anywhere near me, I'll rearrange yours.
David Lloyd to Dermot Reeve.
THE GENERAL PUTDOWN
Who is your spinner on this tour? Kumar Sangakkara to England fielders while facing Gareth Batty.
From 'The Sledger's Handbook', by Liam McCann (FF&F, £6.99)
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