Cricket, deemed famously as a ‘Gentleman’s game’ has seen some drastic changes over the past 2-3 decades. Not only has the game changed with multiple formats (read ODIs, T20s) coming into existence, but also with the way the game is played. The term Sledging has been coined predominantly in the era where the Aussies began their dominance in world cricket between the mid 90s up-to the 2007 World cup in all formats of the game. However this is not a very recent phenomenon and has been around for ages. Some call it ‘gamesmanship’ while many others, especially Australians; call it ‘mental disintegration’.
Many coaches, pundits and followers of the game mention cricket as a sport which his 90% mental and 10% physical. There are reasons for it because of the fact that there is a gap between 2 deliveries where the batsman and the bowler have time to ponder upon the next delivery, re-work on their concentration levels and at times even forget about what happened in the previous delivery or innings. This is where the mental toughness aspect comes into play and only the mentally strong can survive this test.
Sledging is a way of trying to break the concentration or the thought process of a batsman or a bowler by uttering something that has nothing to do with the present situation of the game (at least in 70-80% of the cases). It is also a tactic to test the tenacity of a player (young or old) to withstand pressure in a game where 11 others are breathing down your neck and trying to get the better of you. Many players have crumbled under the pressure to both perform as well as react to some infamous murmurings and have lost the plot.
While it might look adventurous and might even get some publicity and TRP’s on television, sledging as a practice is bad for the game. Ultimately, sport is played to show your skills, endurance and ability to handle pressure than how well you abused or gave a mouthful to an opponent player. While a few serial offenders or ‘sledgers’ might argue that they play cricket the hard way, however it’s not good for the game especially for young players and followers who want to emulate their role models. In the past decade, sledging has become contagious and there are far more number of countries as well as players indulging in it. For e.g., there have been many examples of these incidents in the last few editions of the IPL where some young Indian players have indulged in voicing some expletives to many senior and respected opponents.
There is a subtle line of difference between aggression and sledging. The famous West Indian fast bowlers of yester years like Walsh, Ambrose, Marshall, Holding etc. never uttered a word to the batsman. They had the famous fast bowler’s stare that would tell a story or two. The very fact that cricket is not a contact sport says a lot about how players should conduct themselves on the field. There are ways and means to get under the skin of the opposition. Use your creative skills, set annoying fields as captain, bowl an uncomfortable line or length to a batsman, play the reverse sweep or the switch-hit and irritate the bowler. If these skills are exhibited on the cricket field, there can be no better value for money for a spectator or the fan.
Everyone loves a bit of banter here and there in sport, but when banter turns into swearing, personal abuse and remarks, then it kills the spirit of the game.