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Last Updated: Friday, 22 February 2008, 17:04 GMT
The truth about sledging
By Paul Fletcher

The International Cricket Council has announced that it is to adopt a zero tolerance policy to abusive behaviour on the field of play.

But whether this means the end of what is commonly termed sledging depends very much on your perspective.

Lancashire skipper and former Australian international Stuart Law gives the BBC his insight on the subject.


Verbal exchanges between players on the field of play is a feature of the game - and some use the term "sledging" as an all-encompassing term to describe all spoken interaction between players.

Stuart Law captained state side Queensland Bulls in Australia
Law believes sledging is sometimes a reaction to pressure

But in the opinion of Law it stops being acceptable banter and becomes sledging once it becomes personal.

"I think sledging is getting personal and really abusive," Law told BBC Sport.

"As a player you know there are certain things that you cannot say. You can refer to most things but when it starts getting personal you know you have over-stepped the line."

Queenslander Law learnt his cricket in the unforgiving Australian system and is no stranger to exchanging a word or two.

"I was pretty bad with it on the tongue. I'm not saying that I was whiter than white but after a while I said to myself 'you sound like a bit of a goose, just cut it out and let your bat do the talking'."

Law believes that most of what is said on the field falls into the category of banter - but that people watching the action do not necessarily realise this.

"What generally goes on is a bit of banter," added Law.

"A bit of laughing and joking between two people. It might be stuff like 'I thought we were supposed to go out for dinner last night, what's wrong with me do I stink?' Yet you say it with a serious face.

"Or it could be between two people on the same team. Stuff like someone at second slip talking to bat-pad.

"If people then pick up on the fact that you are saying something they think there is sledging going on."


Former Australia captain Steve Waugh once famously talked of "mental disintegration".

Much of the game is played in the head and the idea is that you test a player's mental strength as much as his technical ability.

Former Australia captain Steve Waugh
Waugh coined the term mental disintegration

If a player loses his focus or concentration then it is clearly to the advantage of the opposing team.

As Law explains: "Two players on a team could be talking about the batsman out in the middle, not involving them directly but talking around them.

"If they want to get involved, that is their prerogative. If they don't want to get involved and just concentrate on their cricket then the guys talking are wasting their breath.

"But as soon as they get involved and start joining the conversation they are taking their minds off the game of cricket and they are letting themselves and their team down."

Sometimes players sledging an opponent is a reaction to a pressure situation - but this does not help a player to handle the situation.

"When you get to a pressure situation there is no point just lashing out with your tongue," said Law.

"You have got to really sit back and think before you either open your mouth or opt to just get on with it."


There is no intention on the part of cricket's rulers to end verbal exchanges between players.

ICC code of conduct - law 2.8
Using language that is obscene, offensive or of a seriously insulting nature to another player, umpire, referee, team official or spectator.
(It is acknowledged that there will be verbal exchanges between players in the course of play. Rather than seeking to eliminate these exchanges entirely, umpires will look to lay charges when this falls below an acceptable standard. In this instance, language will be interpreted to include gestures)

Code of conduct law 2.8 explains their policy towards abusive behaviour on the field - and built into this is an acknowledgement that there will be talk between opposition players.

The code of conduct deems unacceptable "using language that is obscene, offensive or of a seriously insulting nature to another player, umpire, referee, team official or spectator" - and the ICC now intends to enforce this in full.

The announcement comes after India's recent Test series in Australia was marred by controversy after spinner Harbhajan Singh was charged for allegedly racially abusing Australia's Andrew Symonds, though the off-spinner was later cleared at an appeal.

The incident received massive press coverage in both countries, while the Indian team threatened to boycott the remainder of their Australian tour.


The ICC wants umpires to use the code of conduct to decide whether a breach of regulations has taken place.

This means the issue of whether banter has deteriorated into abusive behaviour is to some extent a subjective judgement.

Australia and India players exchange words during their recent Test series
The recent Test series between Australia and India was marred by controversy

But Law is confident that international cricketers understand the difference between banter and abusive behaviour.

"I would hope that players know where the boundaries are already," said the 39-year-old.

"We are dealing with grown men. OK some players might only be 20 but they have grown up in a team environment where they learn what is right and what is wrong - and if they don't their team-mates are letting them down."

The Australian, though, believes that the use of swear words on the field of play must be taken in context.

"The ICC are probably right to stand up and make that point about what has gone on over in Australia," he added.


"But there is a grey area. The way guys talk over a sports field is different to the way you talk over the dinner table.

"I still think that there are better ways to do it than if someone says a swear word then they are banned for a couple of games. The ICC have got to be very careful because a lot of people do swear out there these days."


Law is a former captain of Queensland and will skipper Lancashire this season. He is in no doubt that the captain on the field should be held responsible for the behaviour of his players.

"I think it is up to the captain," he said. "He has got to step in and say 'enough is enough, stop it now'.

"Deal with it there and then and it should be finished. If it is not then as captain you can do one of two things, you send the player from fine leg to fine leg until they cool down or you can send them off.

"The captain and the umpires out in the middle are the ones that hear and see what goes on and can find out what is going on.

"If they cannot control out in the middle and a player or a couple of players are still engaging in this sort of behaviour then they should get called up in front of the judiciary and dealt with accordingly."

Needless to say, Law is not expecting any problems at Lancashire this season.

"We have a lot of characters in our side and if we do get personal, players are likely to jump on the bloke straight away, that is no problem," said the Red Rose skipper.


Law is worried that in an age of increased professionalism there are less and less characters in the game.

A referee sends a player from the field during a football match
Law believes that yellow and red cards will help curb indiscipline

He believes that a system of yellow and red cards similar to that used in football will provide umpires with the authority to police the issue of verbal abuse but not at the expense of allowing players to express their personalities.

"I'm all for a yellow and red card system," he said.

"You would still be able to express yourself and say a few things but if you start getting personal then you receive a yellow card and a first warning. Any more and it's pack your bags, you are off."

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