Sledging is a term used in cricket to describe the practice whereby some players seek to gain an advantage by insulting or verbally intimidating the opposing player. The purpose is to try to weaken the opponent's concentration, thereby causing him to make mistakes or underperform. It can be effective because the batsman stands within hearing range of the bowler and certain close fielders; and vice versa. The insults may be direct or feature in conversations among fielders designed to be overheard.
There is debate in the cricketing world as to whether this constitutes poor sportsmanship or good-humoured banter. Sledging is often mistaken for abuse, and whilst comments aimed as sledges do sometimes cross the line into personal abuse, this is not usually the case. Sledging is usually simply an often humorous, sometimes insulting attempt at distraction. Former Australian captain Steve Waugh referred to the practice as 'mental disintegration'.
According to Ian Chappell, the use of "sledging" as a term originated at Adelaide Oval in either the 1963–1964 or 1964–1965 Sheffield Shield competition. Chappell claims that a cricketer who swore in the presence of a woman was said to have reacted to an incident "like a sledgehammer". As a result, the direction of insults or obscenities at opponents became known as "sledging". Despite the relatively recent coining of the term, the practice is as old as cricket itself, with historical accounts of witty banter between players being quite common.
According to the BBC’s Pat Murphy: “My understanding is that it came from the mid-sixties and a guy called Grahame Corling, who used to open the bowling for New South Wales and Australia … apparently the suggestion was that this guy's wife was [having an affair] with another team-mate, and when he came into bat [the fielding team] started singing When a Man Loves A Woman, the old Percy Sledge number.”
The 1974–75 Australians were labelled the Ugly Australians for their hard-nosed cricket, verbal abuse and hostile fast bowling. "Behind the batsmen, Rod Marsh and his captain Ian Chappell would vie with each other in profanity", and Tom Graveney wrote "It was an open secret that he used to encourage his players to give a lot of verbal abuse to rival batsman when they were at the wicket in an attempt to break their concentration."
West Indian batsman Viv Richards was notorious for punishing bowlers that dared to sledge him. So much so, that many opposing captains banned their players from the practice. However in a county game against Glamorgan, Greg Thomas attempted to sledge him after he had played and missed at several balls in a row. He informed Richards: "It's red, round and weighs about five ounces, in case you were wondering." Richards hammered the next delivery out of the cricket grounds and into a nearby river. Turning to the bowler, he commented: "Greg, you know what it looks like, now go and find it."
Sledging is common at most levels of the game in Australia, but one Australian with a particular reputation for sledging was former fast bowler Merv Hughes. His intimidating and aggressive bowling style was often accompanied by a mixture of humorous witticisms, and vitriolic abuse. On occasions he crossed the line from sledging to insulting; however, there are numerous occasions of classic sledges delivered by Hughes.
One incident, as recalled by Hughes, was when he was bowling to Pakistan batsman Javed Miandad, who informed the overweight bowler that he "was too fat to play cricket" and that he "should be a bus driver". After being taunted for about five overs, Hughes decided to bowl around the wicket, and bowled a bouncer getting Javed caught at gully. As he was celebrating with his teammates, Hughes stuck his hand out in Javed's path, and yelled, "tickets please!".
1996 Cricket World Cup Quarter Final
In 1996 Cricket World Cup when after being hit for a boundary and openly sledged by Pakistan batsman Aamir Sohail, Indian bowler Venkatesh Prasad clean bowled Sohail the very next ball, (which many consider the turning point of the match). India went on to defeat Pakistan by a margin of 39 runs thereby qualifying for the semi-finals.
Harbhajan–Symonds incident (2007–2008)
Sledging came into the media spotlight during the 2007–08 Indian tour of Australia when Harbhajan Singh was accused of alleged racial abuse towards Andrew Symonds, who is of Jamaican ancestry and the only 'black' player in the otherwise 'all-white' Australian team. The allegation was not proved and a proposed three-match ban on Harbhajan was lifted. He was instead charged with a Level 2.8 offence (abuse and insult not amounting to racism) to which he pleaded guilty and was fined 50 per cent of his match fees, although the Appeals Commissioner later noted that had he been aware of Harbhajan's prior record, a one-Test ban would have been issued.
2013–14 Ashes series
During the 2013-14 Ashes, a stump microphone clearly caught Australian captain Michael Clarke telling England's Jimmy Anderson to "get ready for a broken fucking arm" during the first Test at The Gabba. Clarke was fined 20 per cent of his match fee by the ICC for the outburst. 
Although the practice of trying to distract opponents by verbal abuse is common to virtually all sports, "sledging" per se relates to cricket. Other sports sometimes have their own terminology for verbal abuse: for example, basketball calls it trash talk and in ice hockey it is called chirping. An exception is Gaelic football. Down Gaelic footballer Brendan Coulter has admitted to being targeted by sledging while on the field of play.
Verbal intimidation has long been an integral part of boxing, in which during the preliminaries (such as weigh-ins) and the fights themselves the boxers frequently verbally abuse each other and threaten dire consequences. This is usually intended to hype up the fight to attract more media attention and bigger crowds. Muhammad Ali was renowned for loudly rapping in which round he would despatch his opponent, but the most famous sledging was his more serious "What's my name?" roared at his fallen opponent, who had dared still call him Cassius Clay.
In popular culture
- In the film Baseketball, as the lead characters are codifying rules for the game they have developed, they quickly realise the role of sledging and expressly provide for it in the rules, referring to a successful sledging effort as a "psych-out."
- BBC Sport: India board proposes sledging ban. Retrieved on 2 November 2008.
- Graham Seal, The Lingo: Listening to Australian English (University of New South Wales Press, 1999, ISBN 0-86840-680-5): page 141.
- BBC Radio 5Live, ‘Yes it's the Ashes’, 11 July 2009
- "Our turn to be bounced!". The Age. 17 January 1977. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- O'Reilly, Bill (16 February 1979). "Sportsmanship given a terrible hiding". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- p119, Bob Willis and Patrick Murphy, Starting With Grace, A Pictorial Celebration of Cricket 1864–1986, Stanley Paul, 1986
- pp116-117, Tom Graveney and Norman Miller, The Ten Greatest Test Teams, Sidgewick and Jackson, 1988
- Lighter examples of sledging – BBC Sport
- "Harbhajan Singh – Andrew Symonds racism hearing". Cricketcircle.com. Retrieved 2 November 2008.
- Praverman, Frank (29 January 2008). "Harbhajan Singh cleared of making racist comments to Andrew Symonds". Timesoline (London). Retrieved 2 November 2008.
- Silverman, Jason (Sep–Oct 1999). "The Art of Trash Talk". Psychology Today.
- "Benny Coulter: ‘I’ve been the victim of GAA sledging’". The Score. 28 March 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2012.