Belfast Telegraph

If sledging we must go, then please – pull out the stops

BY Matthew Norman

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 England's Jimmy Anderson to, "get ready for a broken f*****g arm". The stencilling of L'Affaire Clarke onto the honours board of live mic fiasco, where it sits astride 'Yo, Blair!' and Gordon Brown's depiction of Rochdale's Gillian Duffy as a bigoted woman, is a blessing.

Sledging – the official 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."

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. In spite of Test cricket's reputation among those who disdain cricket as a languid, 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' to discuss '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.

Not since the early-1970s era of Dennis Lillee has the prospect of serious physical violence injected such a powerful shot of adrenaline in to 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 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 self out of here within the next 10 seconds, good doctor, I vouchsafe to ignite this Lucifer and set fire to thy beard", he might have spared us a deal of misery.

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