Michael Clarke and the Ashes: The shocking thing about sledging is not the damage it causes but how witless it is

England and Australia might just as well indulge in a spot of ice hockey-style brawling

Share
Related Topics

If proof were demanded that the pre‑Socratic philosopher Heraclitus was right to observe that “everything is in a constant state of flux”, recent events in Brisbane supplied it. The cricketing tradition of sledging, though widely assumed to have reached a plateau of mind‑numbing predictability in the 1970s, has metamorphosed.

For this insight, our thanks go to Australia’s Channel 9 for mistakenly leaving a stump microphone on during a commercial break, thereby capturing Aussie captain Michael Clarke courteously advising our own Jimmy Anderson to “get ready for a broken f——— arm”. The host Ashes broadcaster has since apologised to Clarke for the error. But while admiring the Australian media’s refined sensibilities – a Sydney newspaper marked the mentally anguished Jonathan Trott’s departure with the delicately diarrhoid headline “Trott Does A Runner” – it had no need.

The stenciling of the L’Affaire Clarke on to the honours board of live mic fiasci, where it sits astride “Yo, Blair!” and Gordon Brown’s depiction of Rochdale’s Mrs Gillian Duffy as a bigoted woman, is a blessing. Sledging – the offical cricketese for “desperately lame attempts at intimidating wit”, as its kissing cousin “banter” is Australian for “moronic sub-playground insults” – has been confused for too long with one of the higher comedic forms.

The first recorded sledge inevitably involved WG Grace, who once responded to being bowled by announcing, “Twas the wind which took the bail off, good sir.” “Indeed, doctor,” interjected a Wildean umpire, “and let us hope the wind helps thee on thy journey back to the pavilion.” From that vaudevillian exchange, it was a downhill sledge ride all the way until the holy trinity of subjects deemed seemliest for manly mirth were closet homosexuality, cuckoldry and girth. The latter pair have often been artfully combined, as in the side-splitter that has a batsman reply to enquiry as to why he is so fat with: “ ’Cos your wife gives me a cookie every time I f—- her.”

We could enjoy countless more examples, all exquisitely subtle variations on a theme, but why risk a run on Boots’ supplies of ribcage repair kits when the genre seems so outmoded? Sledging has finally come of age, with any ambition to replicate the cut-and-thrust that delights fourth-formers when the teacher is out of earshot now replaced by blatant physical threats.

This is an excellent development. The compiler of the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations may be traumatised, but those who prefer George Orwell’s sober apercus will recall his analysis of international sport as war without weapons. With the Ashes elevated to a plane of honest and exhilarating viciousness, the Orwellian theme is taken up by the England captain Alastair Cook. “On the pitch,” he said, by way of acknowledging the essentially martial nature of the game, “it’s pretty much a war, isn’t it?” It is. Despite Test cricket’s reputation among those who disdain cricket as a languid and mannerly sport, the Ashes is a relentlessly brutal struggle between borderline psychotics, and deserves the poisonous verbals to match.

With the accusations and counter-accusations still flowing, the tension approaches a level of intensity unknown since the height of the Cold War. There is even talk of the England manager Andy Flower and his counterpart Darren Lehmann planning a crisis summit, presumably modelled on the SALT negotiations, to discuss some non-proliferation “sledging ground rules”.

Allow me to propose just one for their consideration. The stump microphones must be live at all times. If the Aussie opening batsman and chief thug David Warner informs Graeme Swann, “I’m gonna cut out yer liver, put it in the blender, garnish it with one of yer retinae, and force feed it to you via a funnel”, I want to hear it. If Kevin Pietersen ratchets up hostilities by pledging to sharpen the end of his bat for use as a makeshift axe with which to castrate the aptly simian banana-addict Peter Siddle, ditto.

Should Anglo-Australian relations deteriorate until a Test can be distinguished from a game of ice hockey only by the lack of ice and Michelin Man protective clothing, so much the better. Not since the early 1970s era of Dennis Lillee has the prospect of serious physical violence injected such a powerful shot of adrenaline into the bloodstream of the Ashes.

But even if things calm down and the need for a fully equipped field hospital on the square leg boundary abates, there must be no return to the kindergarten sledging. For too long the limp wisecracks were lionised by those who come over all Kriss Akabusi at the drop of a sensationally unfunny quip, and for this I blame the Victorian who inadvertently started the nonsense. If that anonymous bowler had set the tone by telling WG Grace “If thou fails to get thy f——— self out of here within the next 10 seconds, good doctor, I vouchsafe to ignite this Lucifer and set fire to thy f——— beard”, he might have spared us a deal of misery.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Reeyot Alemu (L) and Eskinder Nega (R)  

Voices in Danger: Ethiopian journalists are fleeing from prosecution while others languish in prison

Anne Mortensen
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?