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E-cyclopedia Monday, 14 December, 1998, 14:46 GMT
Sledging: The classic summer sport
It's the middle of summer, it's sunny and hot, and the forecast is good. Not, you might think, perfect weather for sledging.

But England's cricketers, currently on their Ashes tour of Australia, know different.

Their hosts are as outgoing and effusive in their greetings as ever, particularly when English batsmen are preparing to face deliveries.

But the Australians' orations are less likely to be calls of "Good show, old chap" than "You useless pommy [expletive deleted], you couldn't [expletive deleted] bat if you [expletive deleted] tried to, you [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]."

Merv Hughes : A master sledger, but look at that ridiculous 'tache!
Sledging, needling, haranguing, barracking - all terms for the ignoble art of giving a batsman some grief, are a speciality of the Australian team, although some teams do try to give as good as they get.

Examples of sledging are legion, and microphones in the pitch have raised awareness of it.

In Adelaide - the location of the third Ashes Test - in 1991, the master sledger Merv Hughes told Javed Miandad who was speaking in Urdu to talk English.

Javed then reportedly told Hughes he was a "fat bus conductor".

Hughes then gave Javed what one commentator called "a ferocious delivery", which got him out. "Tickets, please," Hughes called out as Javed headed back to the pavilion.

Hughes was also involved in a celebrated exchange with Robin Smith at Lord's in 1989, when he told Smith: "You can't f***ing bat." Smith then clouted the next ball and told Hughes: "Hey Merv, we make a fine pair. I can't f***ing bat and you can't f***ing bowl."

Even though the England team are outclassed verbally, none of them dare complain about the sledging they receive for fear of living up to the old stereotype of being whingeing poms.

Former England captain Graham Gooch, now England tour manager, is bullish about it.

"I think a bit of needle is part of the game. It gets the guys going. As long as it doesn't express itself to the people that are watching in the ring and it's kept between the players, I don't think it's a bad thing," he said.

Graham Gooch: Bullish
Modern players of the game might accept it as an occupational hazard - the master practitioner Merv Hughes has said he only sledged players he respected, so it was in effect a compliment.

Daily Telegraph columnist Donald Trelford has written that sledging has an honourable tradition - he says the great WG Grace kept up a "merciless commentary" on players and umpires, and his brother EM Grace even rushed into the crowd to attack any spectator heard voicing criticism.

However long it has been going on, it would seem to be against the rules of the game. Rule 42 states: "The captains are responsible at all times for ensuring that play is conducted within the spirit of the game as well as within the laws."

WG Grace: Sledge him at your peril (photo: Allsport Hulton Deutsch)
And even the great man of Australian cricket, Sir Don Bradman, has declared his opposition to the practice.

"If a fellow attempted it under me," he once said, "I would have given him one warning and if he repeated it I would have made sure he was not selected again."

Stern words, but whether anything will persuade the fat-headed, pea-brained [expletive deleted] lard-boys in the Australian team to desist is another matter.

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See also:

01 Dec 98 | England on Tour
12 Dec 98 | England on Tour
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