Sledging: Todd (Gleisner), Agnew, Jackson, Haigh, Lalor, Dahl, Arlott and Plato

First published 24 January, 2015

by David Wilson


The social game. That yahoo character from admin who tonks you for three consecutive boundaries, while laughing the whole time. You can see he has no ability at all. Do you give him a mouthful?


The junior weekenders. Parents in one breath banging on about sportsmanship, doing the right thing, about how doing the tough thing can mean holding your tongue. In the next, calling out over the fence: “with a stance like that I hope you can play the bouncer, mate.”


The seniors. Work is shite. You’re newly single (again). You’ve had a rough few games. You’re a real chance to be dropped next week. But you’re better than these other blokes. It’s embarrassing. It’s crap. You’re buzzing about the field ‘talking a wicket,’ making yourself indispensible.

“Carn Macca, give him some chin music.”

“Hey Jonno, have you seen anyone more selfish than this bloke?”

“Hey batsman, you need to score a run before you protect your average.”

You spew it all day. Nowhere else can you act this much of a goat.


The international. There are more eyes on you than ever. It’s the same game, though. Same mental tests. Same pressure points to press.

“You hit that. You know it. F#*kin cheat.”

Short time later, when dismissed, you get into him.

“More than you deserved, you maggot.”

“We won’t forget you, you cheat.”

‘Piss off.”


It goes on, of course.

Tom Gleisner used his insight into this established character trait to fuel the humour of Warwick Todd. “In addition to being beaten, the game was marred by another incident. And yes, it involved the press again. In a photo taken by the Daily Mirror it was alleged you could clearly see me mouthing the phrase “f#*k off!” to English captain Mike Atherton after he was dismissed. Which is total c#*p, with a capital C.R.A.P. For a start, I don’t indulge in that sort of unsportsmanlike behaviour, and second, if you look closely at the photo you’ll see my mouth is actually obscured by my middle finger pointing up.

The Warwick Todd Diaries, Tom Gleisner, p33


This week former England Test bowler and now BBC Test Match Special commentator Jonathan Agnew drew publicity to sledging. “Michael Clarke said very clearly that (Phillip) Hughes’ memory would run through the team, and would be in the way they would play their cricket,” Agnew said.

“Well, I haven’t seen evidence of that.”

“I really hoped that out of this tragedy might have come some good,” he said.

“But the players haven’t behaved any better, and I think that’s a real disappointment.”


I thought that an interesting observation.


Yet Russell Jackson in the Australian Guardian rapidly took issue with the associating of Hughes with the (ongoing) sledging conversation.

“Agnew’s right in one sense. Sledging is certainly not an issue to be brushed off. Many opponents would justifiably claim that it’s workplace bullying dressed as entertainment, but where it sits in cricket’s long list of pressing concerns is debatable.

“To complain about the verbal misfires of cricketers while using as grist for your mill one man stricken with grief and another who can no longer speak for himself takes the gall of … well, a sledger.”


Others including Gideon Haigh and Peter Lalor have queried this input of J Agnew (in blog posts and tweets to which I’ve lost the links). Perhaps these Australian cricket writers are too close to the players to be objective about the merest reference to P Hughes?


All of this leads to many questions. Why does sledging stand out so much? Why do so many of us detest it? Are we right to seek its eradication? Can it ever be eradicated? Who are our role models? Who sets the agenda?

Sledging goes on. But why does it go on? And need it go on?

I think there are two reasons why it goes on.

One is for strategic advantage. The idea of ‘getting under someone’s skin.’ That’s talking from slip to your mid-wicket about the poor shot selection you’ve witnessed today. Or, with less subtlety, criticizing someone directly. It’s needling. Seeking a lapse in concentration. It can be clever, crass, brazen, rude, or anything in between. There’s no need for it. It’s possible to use only cricketing skills to play cricket.

Two is an emotional reaction or response to an event. This is a harried bowler giving the departing batsman a send-off. There’s nothing to recommend this type of sledge. It’s awful. The emotion of it aligns with the Magic Finger.

“The Magic Finger is something I’ve been able to do all my life.

I can’t tell you just how I do it, because I don’t even know myself.

But it always happens when I get cross, when I see red…

Then I get very, very hot all over…

Then the tip of the forefinger on my right hand begins to tingle most terribly…

And suddenly a sort of flash comes out of me, a quick flash, like something electric.

It jumps out and touches the person who has made me cross…”

Roald Dahl, The Magic Finger


In both cases, though, individuals are acting of their own free will, making decisions and choices every time. Importantly, actions can be changed. Desirable behaviour can be taught. It’s just a question of what we want to see.

One justification for sledging seems to be that it’s the Australian way. John Arlott in his piece “Australianism” (1949) starts by asking: “Why are the Australian cricketers different? Why is a Test match against Australia different from a Test match against any other country? And why do we feel that it is different?”

He mounts a solid argument along behavioural lines, before finishing with this: “We are faced with Australian batting, bowling, fielding, captaincy – and ‘Australianism’. ‘Australianism’ means single-minded determination to win – to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means that where the ‘impossible’ is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it – and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them. It means that they have never lost a match – particularly a Test match – until the last run is scored or their last wicket taken.

As an Australian reading it, I feel pride. But Australians, in skating close to the edge of the laws, can also uphold what is right. Aggression can be channelled many ways. It’s odd to declare, blamelessly, “that’s the way I play,” as a way of condoning poor behaviour. A strong coach/ parent/ mentor would suspend player if he/she failed to act responsibly. And that player would soon learn the expectations.


Plato, living in Athens 2400 years ago, came up with four big ideas that we all of us would do well to revisit fairly often; all of which apply here (this is a transcript from the “School of Life” clip posted below):

1. Think more. We rarely give ourselves time to think carefully and logically about our lives and how to lead them. Sometimes we just go along with what the Greeks call “doxa,” or popular opinion. in the 36 books he wrote, Plato showed this opinion to be riddled with errors, prejudice and superstition (fame is great; follow your heart; money is the key to a good life). The problem is, popular opinions edge us towards the wrong values, careers and relationships. Plato’s answer is: Know Yourself. It means doing a special kind of therapy: philosophy; subjecting your ideas to examination, rather than acting on impulse. If you strengthen your self-knowledge you don’t get so pulled around by feelings. Plato compared the role of our feelings to being dragged dangerously along by a group of wild horses. In honour of his friend and mentor Socrates, this kind of examination is called a “Socratic discussion”. You can have it with yourself, or ideally with another person who isn’t trying to catch you out, but wants to help you clarify your own ideas.

2. Let your lover change you. That sounds weird if you think that love means finding someone who wants you ‘just the way you are.’ In The Symposium, Plato’s play about a dinner party where a group of friends drink too much and get talking about love, sex and relationships, Plato says: “true love is admiration.” In other words, the person you need to get together with, should have very good qualities, which you yourself, lack. Let’s say they should be really brave, or organised, or warm and sincere. By getting close to this person, you can become a little like they are. The right person for us helps us grow to our full potential. For Plato, in a relationship, a couple shouldn’t love each other exactly as they are right now. They should be committed to educating each other and to enduring the stormy passages this inevitably involves. Each person should wish to seduce the other into becoming a better version of themselves.

3. Decode the message of beauty. Everyone pretty much likes beautiful things. But Plato was the first to ask ‘why do we like them?’ He found a fascinating reason. Beautiful objects are whispering important truths to us about the good life. We find things beautiful when we unconsciously sense in them, qualities we need, but are missing in our lives. Gentleness, harmony, balance,  peace, strength… Beautiful objects therefore have a really important function: they help to educate our souls. Ugliness is a serious matter, too. It parades dangerous and damaged characteristics in front of us. It makes it harder for us to be wise, kind and calm. Plato sees art as therapeutic. It’s the duty of artists and poets, nowadays novellists, TV producers and designers to help us to live good lives.

4. Reform society. Plato spent a lot of time thinking of how the government and society should ideally be. He was the world’s first Utopian thinker. In this, he was inspired by Athens’ great rival, Sparta. This was a city-sized machine for turning out great soldiers. Everything the Spartans did: how they raised their children; how their economy was organised; whom they admired; how they had sex; what they ate; was all tailored to that one goal. And Sparta was hugely successful, from a military point of view. But that wasn’t Plato’s concern. He wanted to know: ‘how could a society get better at producing, not military power, but fulfilled people?’ In his book The Republic, Plato identifies a number of changes that should be made. Athenian society was very focused on the rich, and sports celebrities. Plato wasn’t impressed. It really matters who we admire, because celebrities influence our outlook, ideas and conduct. And bad heroes give glamour to flaws of character. Plato therefore wanted to give Athens new celebrities, replacing the current crop with ideally wise and good people he called Guardians; models for everyone’s good development. These people would be distinguished by their record of public service, their modesty and simple habits, their dislike of the limelight, and their wide and deep experience. They would be the most honoured and admired people in society. He also wanted to end democracy in Athens. He wasn’t crazy. He just observed how few people think properly before they vote, and therefore we get very sub-standard rulers. He didn’t want to replace democracy with a horrid dictatorship, but he wanted to prevent people from voting until they had started to think rationally. That is, until they had become philosophers. Otherwise, government would become some kind of mob rule. To help the process, Plato started a school; the Academy, in Athens, which lasted a good 300 years. There pupils learned not just maths and spelling, but also how to be good and kind. His ultimate goal was that politicians should become philosophers



So what would Plato, the Utopian thinker, say about sledging? Looking at his four big ideas:

1. Think more. Don’t act emotionally. That’s a given.

2. Let your lover change you. Choose your role models carefully. The Chris Rogers’ of the world, perhaps.

3. Decode the message of beauty. It’s a fine thing to admire beautiful conduct and to avoid ugly conduct.

4. Reform society. Do it. Act. Draw a line. No send-offs, no sledging. Instead, how about we see what you can do with a bat and a ball?

Perhaps J Agnew is guilty only of being a Utopian thinker. It’s worth a try.

About David Wilson

@e_regnans muddling along.


  1. I remember Mark Waugh giggling when some poor Sri Lankan batsman was hit in the chest by Glenn McGrath. Waugh didn’t say a thing but he laughed.
    Last year when Jimmy Anderson was hit in the ribs, Shane Watson laughed and mimicked the ooff Anderson let out as the ball fractured his rib.
    Watson didn’t say anything. But he laughed.
    Upon watching those incidents, I laughed too. Because cricket is a tough game.
    I don’t worry too much about sledging. Most of it we can’t hear anyway.
    And it’s a tough game. It is impossible not to chip away because it’s an acceptable part of the game. As a junior, we used to come up with sledges at training and use them during games.
    Our coach didn’t mind. But he gave us two directives. Never give anyone a send-off. And when you’re out, never mouth off.
    It’s the send-off I hate more than any other sledge. And the batsman looks like a twit when he mouths off after he is out.

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thoughtful and perceptive piece. After I read it I started Googling ‘Cricket Sledges’. There were a number of Top 10, 20 and nearly every one involved an Australian player. Some were funny, particularly the comebacks, like Botham’s response to Rod Marsh’s question. See examples here:

    However, most were nasty and picked on weight or wives and children. What’s that got to do with cricket? I see and think about Plato’s concept of Pharmakos/Pharmakon – Elixir/Poison in most aspects of life, but particularly sport in recent times. That which heals can also wound, depending on the dose. The balance between thinking and doing is crucial and that’s why John Kennedy Snr’s ‘Don’t Think. Do’ mantra is flawed. Think first or think while your doing, is not as catchy as a slogan is it?
    Aristotle had more to say about the benefits of emotion fear, pity, hubris, humility and humour. Sport and relationships devoid of emotion wouldn’t last long.

    Do you use Socratic dialogue in the classroom? I’ve found it useful for first year students as a portal for discussing and questioning what we perceive as normal and natural in the world around us, like the acceptance of sledging as part of the game and the Kennedy mantra as part of the motivational vernacular.

    Terrific work ER. Got me thinking/philosophising first thing on a Friday morning.

  3. Nice one ER. The only trouble with this thinking caper, is what guides your thinking?
    So many people are a prisoner of their own obsessive, random mind.
    It’s not MY mind, its THE mind. The bloody thing has a mind of its own, tossing up unhelpful shit out of nowhere all the time.
    The only epithet I’m personally proud of coining is “I’m so smart I can think my way up my own arsehole.”
    The thing I have found most helpful is the Buddhist tradition of mindfulness meditation. Unthinking. Discarding the chatter and expectation that the mind thrives on.
    As for sledging, I see it as one part of giving umpires back authority to manage the game on the field. DRS, slow over rates etc.
    The lunatics (players, broadcasters, ICC and their attendant mendicants) are running the asylum.

  4. Dave Brown says:

    Love the diversity of sources. I reckon Aggers was spot on even if he didn’t express it as well as he wished (he printed a clarification last night). For me he was attempting to get to the nub of how does Hughes’ death help us to contextualise what cricket means to us and how it should be played? The answer from our players seems to be it means nothing beyond the personal and symbolic (i.e. I’ll mourn him and look to the heavens when I score a century but I will continue to contextualise cricket in the same way). It’s business as usual. I share Aggers’ disppointment with how the summer of test cricket played out.

    In a funny sort of way send offs bother me less than sledging. The send off is the explosion of pent up frustrations, flaming bright but devoid of meaning. At its worst sledging is flat out bullying – 11 guys ganging up on one (or two), using that numerical advantage to menace in a calculating manner.

    As much as the ICC need to either enforce the laws of the game or change them, for a Utopian that may be missing the point. Players should change their behaviour not because they are forced to but because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Dream on…

  5. Peter Schumacher says:

    Really interesting piece, I had not read the Plato previously. I like the way that David contextualizes those quotes back into the present.

    I agree with Agnew wholeheartedly but I think too that the last two sentences of Dave’s contribution also say it for me as well.

  6. I reckon Jonathan Agnew was being naive to think that all the vows made during the ceremonies would translate into a Utopian world where the Aussies didn’t sledge. Sledging has always been a part of the game and will always be a part of the game. And sledging itself isn’t the problem: it’s its boundaries. Just as off spinners have pushed over the 15% bend on their elbows these last few decades, fielders have pushed the limits of sledges in the same regard. It’s all part of water finding its own level. Sledging, like anything else, will always try to transgress its boundaries. The trick is, I guess, getting the boundaries tightened just right (coz we don’t want choir boys out there as much as we don’t want Gordon Ramsey!)

  7. John Butler says:

    These are heretic thoughts E Reg.

    Thinking for ourselves rather than follow the gang? Bordering on un-Australian.

    Our forefathers fought wars for the right to take instruction from our betters. A proud tradition we maintain to this day.

    Why would cricketers be any different?

  8. Luke Reynolds says:

    Very interesting. I have no problem with general sledging, but can’t stand send-offs. Sledging gets highlighted in top-level cricket but also happens in many sports, including the major football codes, yet very rarely reported on unless something controversial has been said eg. racist. Cricket cops it’s whack for this.
    Being just an average player I have never sledged in my cricket career. But copped heaps. Nothing personal. I’m happy with that. Often play better when sledged.
    Superbly written piece ER.

  9. G’day there is an old Russian adage, “facts are stubborn things.” If more Indian players, than Australians, were fined for on field indiscretions in our recent series, why do so many people seem to work themselves into a lather re the so called sledging of the home side ? To paraphrase a former politician, , please explain.


  10. Look Regnans or whatever your real name is, can you just leave this Greek history shit out of your articles. This is a decent red-blooded sports website for Australians. OK?
    “Speak English” for Christ’s sake.

  11. Michael Viljoen says:

    Sorry, but I can’t see what this article is getting at. Was Plato a batsman or a bowler? How does he want cricket to be played, sanitised and without emotion? It’s close to arrogance when one person thinks he can define for the rest of us beauty or ugliness. This article, like every other article I ever read on sledging, can’t even define the word.

    Cricket is about showing your skill, your athleticism, and your character. But playing cricket is not about being nice. Directing a projectile at someone’s head is not being nice. But that is part of the game. It has been so for more than 100 years and will continue to be so.

    Of course, there are rules and boundaries. But this article seems to lean towards cricket being played in a cemetery or a library – ‘no talking allowed’.

    I remember being captain of the year 9 students who traditionally challenged the teachers on the last day of school. The history teacher was keeping up to the wicket while I was batting. He kept quietly suggesting that the bowling was rubbish, and I should tonk it over the fence. I tried exactly that, and hit it straight up in the air.

    Was that ‘sledging’, the dreaded ‘S’ word that no one can define. It was definitely a fielder speaking directly to a batsman. Though not as deep or mind bending as the words of Plato, those few words were enough to unsettle and outwit me.

    ER, in many ways, cricket is a unique sport and should be played in its unique manner. But words, used to advantage, are integral to all life and sport. You can’t legislate all words, speaking and human interaction out of the game. Who would want that?

  12. G’day all,
    ironmike20 – on-field commentary encouraged, send-offs not. Sounds like shades of grey. Would we endorse talking about someone’s poor performance in a group setting in front of them?
    P Dimitriadis – the balance between thinking and doing is indeed crucial. Who do you want to be?
    P Baulderstone – what guides your thinking? Well asked. Critical thinking and self-reflection are as not widespread as Plato would have liked. Again, who do you want to be?
    D Brown – reminds me of a teaching/ parenting philosophy. Children (people) should do the right thing not for reward (a lolly, an ice-cream) or to avoid punishment (Time out, a fine), but because it’s the right thing to do.
    P Schumacher – thanks. Glad to share the content.
    T Bone – why? Tradition is NOT a reason to continue a practice (e.g. slavery).
    J Butler – Aretha Franklin had a song or two about all this, didn’t she? THINK
    L Reynolds – thanks. It’s an interesting topic, I agree. I keep coming back to the idea of acting in a way consistent with “who I want to be”.
    Glen – It’s not a question of comparisons. It’s a question of desirable behaviour.
    P Baulderstone – nice one. I caught bits & pieces of DA Warner’s latest contribution during the week. Seems as though he’s made his choice regarding who he wants to be.
    M Viljoen – thanks but I fear you struck out twice there with the arguments of (i) you need to have played top level cricket to understand it, and (ii) the idea that a non-sledging team would be silent and without encouragement. To counter (i), i reference the very idea of philosophy. To counter (ii), I suggest considering the notion of positive encouragement of one’s own teammates. I was lucky enough to play a game of village cricket in England last year. Not only was there zero sledging (I was either batting or square leg umpire for almost our entire innings), but the fielding team had me laughing along with their self-mockery and enthusiasm for life. It was a rowdy fielding team, full of great spirit and fight, and totally devoid of poor behaviour towards opposition players. Imagine.

  13. Hey David

    I wondered what Orwell or Huxley would have made of an aspiration like this. I reckon they would have said, yes, it’s a beautiful notion, but are us flawed humans capable of realizing it? And in a professional sport construct? Hmm, I dare say they’d have said it’s pie in the sky.

    Still reckon it’s all about boundaries mate. You’ve got professionals playing for high stakes and they’ll use whatever is available to them to get an advantage. One of those things is, of course, sledging. While there are grey areas about what’s going too far, they will always push into them. And no thanks to weak cricket administrators, the areas are getting greyer by the minute.

  14. E.regnans says:

    Thanks T Bone- pie in the sky? But it’s not. Plenty of professional teams don’t sledge. Australia does presently. There was a time when Australia didn’t, as well. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Martin Crowe in Wisden:

  15. Good on ya Dave. The world needs its dreamers to fight its lost causes; and reforming Dave Warner and co is as lost as they come. But futile as it is, I like the idea that noble types like you’ll will keep trying: it’ll keep us closer to the wading pool of the cesspool we’re in than it’s perilous and murkier deep end (and yes, I know, I need to lighten up!)

  16. Michael Viljoen says:

    ER, I like your aims and you’re idealism. And I liked Martin Crowe’s article, though I think maybe he was exaggerating. Are things really that bad? I agree that cricket is, or must be, or should be a gentlemen’s sport. It’s intrinsic to the name, cricket.

    Like in other sporting activities, by competing we aim to draw out the best from our opponent. But that means playing our best, and playing our hardest. And cricket is confrontational by nature. It’s nose to nose, bat against ball, thrust and parry. When you’re really into it, it can be hard to fully and enthusiastically ‘encourage your own team’ without somewhat discouraging the other.

    And what if Warner thought the other team was cheating? Would we expect someone like him to keep quiet?

    Where would you draw the line when defining on field behaviour? Do you want to say no fieldsman can ever talk to a batsman? Are fieldsmen not allowed to say out loud that they’d prefer if this current batsman was back in the pavilion?

    Thanks for leading by example. I think that’s the way to go. But I don’t want to try and outlaw talking or expressing yourself on the field. It’s hard to legislate sporting behaviour. It’s too simple to say, ‘be nice to one another.’ Cricket is a contact sport, or at least a pretty fierce one. We show respect to our opponent. But it’s not about being nice.

  17. E.regnans says:

    Thanks T Bone & M Viljoen
    Played 15+ years of local park cricket in Australia. I accept that here sledging is a cultural norm, but the point is that it need not be.
    We can do better.

    Today Greg Baum says this too, in The Age:

  18. Good article by Baum. Sounds like there’s a real groundswell by you idealists. Hope you go on to prove the Orwells and Huxleys of this world wrong (oh, and lesser types like me as well!)

  19. There is so much in this thread, not the least of which is people itching to discuss the bigger issues while being hamstrung by doing it through sport.

    But it is sport we start with here. So it is interesting to know what in these considerations is specific to cricket/essential to cricket/peripheral to cricket/elemental to cricket etc and equally to sport and equally to life broadly.

    Much I agree with re Plato and thinking and Socratic dialogue and so on.

    But that’s because I believe in the quest for understanding/personal improvement and creating a community which is at least safe, where life is respected, where people are accepted, and things are fair and equitable,

    What is concerning, when I survey my own approach to this sledging issue, and understandings of this sledging issue, is that I just don’t care. I don’t care because I think that elite cricket has lost any authority it once had, or claimed.

    That’s concerning to me because I should care. I should care because I have loved cricket and i have valued its place.

    Admittedly I have, often seen the best in it. And taken the best from it. To the point of romanticising it. Confessions of a Thirteenth Man may be seen in that light, although there is a realists’ dimension to it. My Ashes tour is pursued to fulfil a dream. The conclusion is that my dream is satisfied – in a sufficienlty realistic way, enough that I am happy to accept it as satisfying. Some would say because there is no alternative. I would say what more can you do than pursue it faithfully.

    In the case of this discussion, notwithstanding the complications in the arguments, and in acknowledging the contestability of the place of cricket in helping us think through things any way, I know that I need E Regnans and, G Baum. For prompting thought – with a motive to never lose sight that if we don’t strive, if we don’t pursue the better way we will wind up in a dystopian mire.

    Yes, Orwell and Huxley described such dystopias.

    But Orwell had not given up at all. Committing to pointing out the ultimate outcome of the direction of the Soviet way (Animal Farm) or the totalitarian way (1984) is not the act of a man resigned to the hopelessness of mankind. It’s a man who believes in something better, and he has given us all a good shake up.

  20. Michael Viljoen says:

    Thanks. John, for a great post.

    When you speak of cricket ‘losing its authority’, I think the ‘underarm game’ of 1981 was the low point. It was that day at the MCG when cricket showed that winning was more important than even playing. “Winning at all costs” had taken a turn down a strange wormhole, from which I don’t think cricket has fully recovered.

    The underarm was more than smelly. But Greg Chappell not accepting Martin Snedden’s word after his clear outfield catch to dismiss Chappell when on 52 was a slap in the face to player honesty. We lost something at the MCG that day that we might never get back.

    Greg Baum’s article mentions a generous act by Tim Symczek in the heat of the contest. That was in tennis. Has cricket fallen so far that we can’t even imagine such acts of true sportsmanship on the cricket field anymore? I believe that cricketers too have these kinds of gestures inside them, somewhere in their DNA, but it seems cricket has lost the ability or occasion to bring it to the surface.

    A few years after the underarm, in 1984 (Orwell’s year) at the MCG test, Craig McDermott bowled Richie Richardson with an accidental beam ball. The ball slipped out of his hand and went directly from Richardson’s face onto the wicket without ever touching the ground. The captain (Border, I think) told McDermott to apologise to Richardson, who was departing the field. But couldn’t the captain have recalled the batsman? That would have brought the game back closer to what it is supposed to be about.

  21. Sport (noun) – “The continuation of war by other means”?

  22. Gregor Lewis says:

    Riveting piece David.
    Interesting conversation thereafter too.

    As for Mr. Agnew, I think he was rather hoping the immediate past consequences of reality, that visited themselves upon the cricket world in general and the Australian Cricket Team in particular, would have lifted the veil from players’ wrt the pointlessness of such behaviour.

    But associating Phil Hughes’ name directly with those expectations, without clarifying was, IMO, in poor taste.

    Ever since I had to ‘struggle heroically’ to restrain myself from not following through on a hook shot, in order to take a sledging wicketkeeper’s head off when he started calling me a cheat because he tried to con square leg umpy into giving me out stumped (and failed obviously), I have had to come to terms with my violent aversion to the practice of it.

    The irony of it all is, reason though I might, my instinctive response rings truest. No matter how hard I think about it, I still want that m….. f…..’s head decorating the middle of my willow with a plump cherry marking the sweet spot.

    Well may you then say to me, ‘He succeeded. He took you out of your game. Put you off to the point of taking your mind off the game completely.’

    Well, no. I still made runs that day, but I never wanted to play cricket ever again.

    I have heard the arguments from manufactured ‘epistemones’ of human nature, that justify such blatantly disrespectful behaviour as a fact of life you have to live with. A denial of responsibility to act with your most authentic representation of the integrity of your character, because there are UMPIRES present to straighten you up, if they think your behaviour is out of line.

    In the same way that I wish such ‘philosophers’ would follow that line of reason to its logical & frightening conclusion – ‘I’ll just keep killing people, robbing people, abusing children & adults in society, because there are police there to regulate my behaviour and it’s their job to tell me when I’ve crossed the line – I do believe Mr. Agnew rather naïvely hoped, the devastating reality of consequences many of these cricketers saw unfold before them in realtime, would have prompted a rethink about the possible end result their rhetoric presages, if you follow it through to its logical conclusion.

    Until then, consequences … Real, unadulterated consequences had been reduced to abstract imaginings, quickly disregarded by anyone with true (cough) competitive spirit (cough, cough).

    As I sit here on another vigil watching my sleeping mother, listening to her occasionally laboured breathing, I remember something I have known all along, ever since my personal cricketing epiphany. My perspective might have been changed by events. My focus fully resolved elsewhere … on other matters entirely less mundane than a game of cricket.

    But even now as I sit here, watching Mama’s unending night inexorably unfold, when I think about that wicketkeeper, I still want to take his head off … Just as much now as I did then. I have not been changed – not even one scintilla – by subsequent sobering events. Deep inside with respect to cricket, I am still the same guy who didn’t say a word back then, but specific to cricket, thought up bloody murder, and damn the torpedoes.

    In terms of their own cricket, and the sledging element therein, I would expect Mr. Agnew now understands, the Australian cricketers are much the same. Affected, but deep down, in the specific heat of the game, entirely unchanged.

  23. Gregor, I hope your mother is comfortable and I wish her the very best.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion. I like how your comment is centred on a personal observation which I get the impression is an honest observation. Like many elements of this discussion your comment has encouraged me to think further about what we do. I agree with your assessment of the logical conclusion of the ‘boundary’ argument. I think of my own experience in regards boundaries, and whether they have driven the notion of better behaviour, or whether there is a better way of driving it. (That is behaviour which does not bring suffering to others, however close, however distant)

    Of the many things for which I am grateful to my father (and to a lesser extent my mother and extended family), the elemental belief in doing things because they are right is very high in the list. Personal gain was never an agenda for Dad. Indeed, he was a man of profound humility and not as an affectation but at his very core. So at least we grew up with that. Whether people want to label that idealism or not, it has had a significant effect on my own understandings. The degree to which it has driven my own behaviour is debatable – we all live lives of disappointment and quiet desperation when we measure them against our own ideals. But I do know that when I feel/think something is wrong, or disappointing enough, for me to challenge its values, a major question is whether I should then walk away. That includes institutions, organisations, clubs, sports etc At the time of that questioning there is the need to challenge my own understanding. My thinking could be all over the shop. And of course there are complicated things from which you cannot walk away.

  24. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    I hope your mum is okay Gregor and happy name day !!
    I played for a club, Croxton, where we sledged each other on an off the field. Anything the opposition tried was pretty tame in comparison.
    Some memorable sledges from teammates:
    “Go fetch your own shit”
    “Taxi!” and “Hope you’ve got your drivers licence.” (After being hit out of the ground)
    “”Give him a bucket.” and “Couldn’t catch a cold” (After dropping a catch)
    Being called ‘Beverly’ after taking 1 for 102 (6 dropped catches) in a GF as a reference to Beverly Hills 90210 which was a popular TV show at the time.
    “You don’t need to wear a box as you got no balls anyway.” “Stop wasting our time by taking guard” (Batting ability)
    “Bring him on at both ends so we can get it over with and go to the pub” (Bad spell of bowling)
    Ahh yes, don’t think Plato, Aristotle,Orwell or Agnew would have lasted long at Croxton YC in the 1990s.

  25. Gregor Lewis says:

    John, Phil thank you for your kind thoughts and warm wishes to Mama and me.

    Ma is a tough old hag. A hand woven heshian sack from the turn of the 19/20th Centuries has got nothing on her for stubbornness and outside in impermeability. That’s why it irks me greatly that she is being assailed from inside, out.

    I apologise to David for hijacking such a thoughtful, entirely apropos piece with my maudlin personal tangent. But I will say one thing further, which I think relates.

    Ma’s progressing dementia has had many effects. But one utterly dumbfounding one for me to come to terms with. The utter dissolution of her boundaries when it comes to proper behaviour. While I worry about her physical well-being, my nightly vigils are to ensure Ma doesn’t ‘go rogue’ … Namely wrt her developing disregard for proper areas to relieve oneself, even when one has a commode next to their bed.

    And she has a foul mouth. Inquiries on my end have uncovered that she always had that capacity, but her sense of responsibility, both societal and religious kept that aptitude tightly reined. Entirely hidden from her son.

    Frankly, for the most part I find it hilarious, especially when her zingers connect her to time and place more dexterously than regular conversation tends to nowadays. And though often this behaviour is an aggressive response against my efforts to help her, it does not offend me because there is nothing in it, beyond the instinctive ‘wit’ of the moment.

    Much like the banter Phil describes above.

    If sledging was limited to that, then the game would be the richer for it. Instead, folks – the Australian Cricket Team foremost among them – have taken the line marking acceptable behaviour, for a long walk beyond the bounds of good reason… And then used dissociative reasoning to mitigate their own level of responsibility.

    Specific to my example above, the event unfolded after I had swept their spinner for two consecutive boundaries by tiptoeing down the pitch just enough to meet his flighted deliveries on the full. I shaped to move down to the next one too but stayed back with bat raised as he arrowed it wide of off after seeing me twitch.

    Now my back foot was half in behind the crease, but in my attempt to retract my front foot long after the ball had been bowled, I realised the WK was hovering over the stumps, still with ball in hand. I smelled a rat and that contributed to my less than graceful recovery to standing position. (Came close to emulating Tuffers that day in Brisbane I think it was).

    But my back foot never left the ground, despite this WK’s stentorian appeals to the contrary.

    Lots of ‘banter’ could have been directed my way wrt my splayed position as he took off the bails, but instead he felt entitled to cry cheater, when it was he for whom that cock croweth. And he didn’t stop until I tonked the spinner back to permanent fielder.

    That entitlement is what irked me most then. What tasks me greatly still. And that IMO, can only come from such poor examples as we saw daily in the recent Test Series, as well as last year’s Ashes.

    I have no problem with sledging where it has meaning AND purpose. Some of the best descriptions of the human condition stem from that. My problem lies when the purpose is only to destroy, by any means possible, when the conduct prescribed by the rules has seen things unfolding, not entirely your way.

  26. Terry Towelling says:

    I am beginning to sense that the cricket school I was reared in was some sort of unique ecosystem. In our particular corner of the Riverina, sledging was absolutely verboten, as was virtually any form of communication with the batsmen while you were in the field. When the other side’s captain came out to bat, your own captain would call for a round of applause before he faced his first rock, which he would acknowledge with a nod or a touch of his cap peak. You would also clap a batsman’s 50 or ton, and clap a bloke off if he had batted well. Otherwise, communication with the other side was not on.

    If you were a kid in the side and (say) you struck up a conversation with a mate of yours from the other team when he walked out to bat, you would be pulled into line by a sharp word from your skipper. You didn’t chat in a friendly way to batsmen from the other side, because you didn’t want to do anything to make them feel comfortable and relaxed. By the same token, you didn’t chip them or hang shit on them, because that would be an act of dickheadry. Proper cricketers did their talking with the bat and ball. If this gives the impression that the men and boys I was playing with were or against in some way effete or non-competitive or ineffably middle-class or something, that impression would be erroneous. We are talking about fellows who spent their working week in factories and mills and shearing sheds and who had, in some cases, played cricket at a pretty serious representative level. And it was the same when we travelled around playing against other towns in rep cricket. Rarely would a cross word, or any word at all, be exchanged on the paddock. You would play your cricket hard but you would play it with bat and ball, not with your gob.

    I just thought this was the way that cricket was played, until I got to university and opened the batting in my first inter-college match, and came up against a left-arm opening bowler from Sydney who had played for NSW at a junior level and had the sleeveless jumper to prove it. From my first play and miss outside off, to my final succumbing for a scratchy 7 or 8-odd, he was into me. Not only (according to him) was my strokeplay inelegant and sub-standard, but I was fat, short, slow, I had the wrong shoes, poor footwork, an ugly girlfriend, no girlfriend, no hope of ever getting a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a promiscuous mother and so on and so forth. Later on, at the end of the game, he came up to me with a broad smile and outstretched hand, as if the whole unrelenting character assassination thing had never taken place. It was certainly a puzzling experience for a cricketer brought up in the “cone of silence” school. I had assumed that he had given me a barrage of sarcasm and abuse because he had taken a personal dislike to me, but no – he had just done it because, to him, that was the way you played cricket.

    Of course, unless you are a serious cricket journeyman, you probably don’t play cricket in enough different environments to form any proper conclusions as to the whys and wherefores of it all. My own theory was that perhaps we didn’t have a sledging culture in our club cricket in the bush because the blokes you were playing against week in or week out were the same blokes you would be seeing and dealing with around town in general life during the week. It is tough to let loose on a bloke about his shithouse footwork or ugly wife or cheap shoes or what not if you are going to be buying fencing wire off him or sitting next to him in Geography on Monday. Whereas if he comes from some suburb 10 miles away and you don’t know him from a bar of soap, it is easier to cut loose on him. That’s my working theiory, anyway. It may be wrong.

  27. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Sledging interesting topic and totally agree at club level that what you cop from your teammates is far less than what you cop from teammates . As some 1 who was known to sledge I have one regret allowing what I copped from opposition to affect me when I was younger also a firm believer that what happens stays on the ground and a drink together with both sides afterwards together is important . At the elite level loath to criticise in that we don’t hear the full story . Anderson re the broken arm line by Clarke comment the word around the cricket traps was this was very mild compared to what , Anderson dishes out himself . The monkey gate drama was a step above sledging and it certainly appeared that , Indias power saved , H Singh from a lengthy deserved suspension again a cricket industry opinion also thanks , OBP interesting discussion

  28. Go well Gregor and Ma Gregor. Both Mary and I have had a parent fade away slowly and pass in the last few years.
    Made me realise that I was in the championship quarter of my own life and its too late to come back past orange time.
    Focuses the mind and makes every moment precious.

  29. I always laughed when sledged by the other team because our primary school coach told us the only reason people sledged was because they thought you were better than them, and therefore, gave me confidence. Even more so when it got abusive. Once playing warehouse cricket in Beenleigh, I was given not out after a light feathering to their keeper. (I was no Adam Gilchrist…) There were a few light hearted digs for about ten minutes but as runs started to accumulate, the sledging took on a ‘heightened tone’. When our innings finished I was not out for thirty odd in a total of about 120. Their keeper opened the batting, made a few and then snicked it to myself taking the diving catch in front of first slip in my trusty red GN wicketty glove. He walked off with the comment “See mate, I walked”. To which I replied “That’s because you bloody hit it”. While not a moral victory, it was somewhat satisfying.

  30. Couldn’t agree more about Orwell, John. Though he was resigned that we will ultimately fail to realize utopias, he was nevertheless passionate and romantic about our strivings towards them. In an Orwellian construct, hopelessness is empowered to be inspirational.

  31. Jill Scanlon says:

    Many a wise word has been written here – both in the article and in the comments it has inspired: more so than I could hope to ever expand upon with the same degree of ponderance.
    So I will just add that sledging to me has always been a lesser-light of the game but in the form of competitive banter has had a place on the field. What I have found more and more distasteful and alienating is the caustic, spiteful and nasty nature in the of the delivery of comments as well as of the comments themselves. Unnecessary and, to my mind, completely averse to the tenets of both this great game and of sport more generally.

  32. Patrick Skene says:

    Excellent piece Dave! You had me at “the yahoo character from admin”

  33. E.regnans says:

    …have to admit that we all missed opponents being ‘too nice’ as a justification.
    The Age, 30 March:
    Australia’s World Cup winning wicketkeeper Brad Haddin has defended his sledging in the World Cup final against New Zealand, saying the Kiwis “deserved it”.
    “They were that nice to us in New Zealand and we were that uncomfortable,” Haddin told Triple M in Sydney.
    “I said in the team meeting: ‘I can’t stand for this any more. We’re going at them as hard as we can.’

  34. When I first heard that, E.regnans, I’d assumed it was satire. I still can’t believe it isn’t.

  35. Almost three years down the track…
    And which attitudes have changed?

    I reckon community standards and expectations have probably changed. But players and hangers-on still reach for the “boys will be boys” line. Or from Jonny Bairstow this week: “we’re elite sportsmen.”
    Come on, now.

    Tim Lane covered this well in the Sunday Age:

    …in which he references Andrew Webster’s beauty from last Friday: “What has cricket learnt about sledging from the Phillip Hughes inquest?”

    Choices. Choices.

  36. Can some one include a synopsis of when Habrajahn racially abused Andrew Symonds, or maybe the mouthiness of Virat Kohli.

    I wonder if we can include some of the comments made by the Windies pace men in their hey day when they told batsmen they were going to kill them.

    It ‘d be nice to know if sledging is practiced in as many countries as cricket is played.


  37. I’m finding the debate this time around to be wearing a substantial cloak of colonialism (and on re-reading, is substantially present in the Arlott excerpt). Many of the English responses we are seeing seem to construe the same behavior to mean one thing when practiced by an Englishman and something entirely different when practiced by an Australian. Conversely, they see the headlines of the tabloid Murdoch press and, perhaps reasonably, think we are a rabid pack baying for blood in whatever form it comes.

    Fact remains, umpires have it within their remit to penalise the use of abusive language (much of what the Australian cricketers are rumoured to have said in the first test would comfortably meet that definition) but choose (are instructed?) not to. I don’t hold out hope for much else.

  38. An interesting time to read this. I had a lengthy discussion about this with Dad – when did we become a sledging nation? Was it World Series Cricket, when entertainment (read: conflict) became king? Is it possible to put a timeline on the development of our cricketing behaviour?

    It seems now so ingrained. Kids watched their heroes do it, and so it goes on, from one generation to the next. Which is why the digression to Plato is so interesting. We just don’t seem to know any other way.

    The other thing I find interesting was Baum mentioning Australia as the common denominator. And sides acting a certain way against Australian teams I think follows the same logical pattern as our teams following what came before them. Losing to Australia, consistently, for so many nations, made them realise everything the Australians did that they weren’t doing. They kind of idolised them, in a begrudging way. How do we be like the best? The answer, of course, is Virat Kohli. England in 2005. Many others. So many teams that beat Australia do so precisely by matching fire with fire. And on it goes.

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