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. The term has also been used in other sports, as when the tennis player Nick Kyrgios insulted his opponent, Stan Wawrinka, by referring to a purported encounter between another player and the latter's girlfriend.
There is debate in the cricketing world as to whether this constitutes poor sportsmanship or good-humoured banter. Sledging is sometimes interpreted as abuse, and it is acknowledged some comments aimed as sledges do sometimes cross the line into personal abuse, however this is not always the case. Sledging can sometimes be a humorous attempt at distraction. Former Australian captain Steve Waugh referred to the practice as 'mental disintegration'.
Australian newspapers acknowledged "sledging" as a term in the mid-1970s. 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. W. G. Grace and his brother E. M. were noted throughout their careers for being "noisy and boisterous" on the field. W. G. admitted that they used to "chaff" (i.e., tease) opponents, and this is seen as part of the gamesmanship for which E. M. and W. G. were always controversial.
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".
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 the nearby river Taff. 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!".
Harbhajan–Symonds incident (2007–08)
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. Symonds was unable to state if he had heard Harbhajan use a term in his native tongue "teri maa ki" (an offensive Hindi term) which appears to be pronounced with an "n" and accepted that it was a possibility. 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.
2011 Cricket World Cup
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.
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