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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 April, 2005, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Sledging storm blown out of proportion
By Scott Heinrich

Shane Warne
Once Shane gets under your skin and makes you think about him and not your game, he's got you
Dean Jones on Warne (above)

Sledging, that very cricketing euphemism for verbal jousting between opponents, has provided the sport with some of its most colourful and tense moments.

Sometimes it is innocuous, often it is close to the bone - always it is meant to unsettle your opponent and take cricket away from the pitch and into the mind.

But regardless of the scale of the exchange, an unspoken code between cricketers ordains that what happens on the field stays on the field.

All that changed this week when Sussex skipper Chris Adams publicly accused Shane Warne, his Hampshire counterpart, of trying to humiliate young keeper Matt Prior.

Without knowing exactly what was said it is hard to be strident either way, but what one man might find humiliating another might see as a cue to retort, or even let his cricket to the talking.

Let it be said that Warne is many things before he is an angel; he is renowned for adding spicy commentary to his lethal leg-breaks.

It is part of his game, and a man with Warne's history learns very quickly to get what he gives. Tabloid fodder and back page material in equal measure, Warne is an obvious target.

If this were football we'd be calling it handbags. I don't see why everyone's making a big deal out of a bit of sledging

There are always - always - two sides to any story, but something Warne does not do is speak out of school.

His way is to seek out the opposition after the game and discuss what happened over a beer. He could have told the media about Adams' behaviour, but he did not.

Inevitably, Hampshire rose to their skipper's defence - and there has been no shortage of Warne's countrymen to speak up for him.

"Warney might have been putting Prior through the cycle a bit, just teaching him the ropes," former Test batsman Dean Jones told BBC Sport.

"But it's no big deal. Wake up and smell the coffee - it's just soft.

"I captained Chris Adams at Derbyshire. We beat Australia on the Ashes tour of 1997 but he didn't like being sledged by the Australians at the best of times."

Matt Prior
Prior (above) was humiliated by Warne, according to Adams

Jones said it was commonplace in cricket to single out a particular player and test his mental strength.

"You pick your mark, certain players who might get in your way and need a gee-up, then you do it in a way that that will not distract you from your game," he explained.

"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Everybody knows which players might get revved up a bit, and Warney loves looking at you.

"He got that from Ian Botham. Botham loved to look at the opposition batsmen, study their idiosyncrasies and nervous habits.

"He wanted to get under your skin and make you think about him and not your game, and that's what Warney does.

"Once Shane starts doing that, he's got you. It's part of the learning process for young Prior."

Adams has been around a long while and doesn't usually whinge, so he must have seen something out of the ordinary to take offence

Clearly, there must be boundaries for how players can behave on the field of play, and abuse in any form should not be tolerated.

It is the task of the umpire to police this, and Ian Gould and Mervyn Kitchen said only that the game between Hampshire and Sussex was played at Test match intensity.

How likely is it that, in a 15-year career that has taken him to World Cup finals and Test successes all over the world, Warne will pick a Saturday at Hove to release his darkest demons?

Has Warne finally crossed the line of decency, or has Chris Adams made a mountain out of a molehill?

Again, only the players at Hove know the answer to that, but interestingly Prior himself has been quiet on the matter.

Adams, understandably, wanted to shield Prior from what he interpreted as bullying. As captain, he deemed it his duty.

But he might have considered that Prior could learn something from Warne, who did not become the world's leading Test wicket-taker by being a stupid cricketer.

Or a soft one.

Interview: Sussex captain Chris Adams on Shane Warne

Interview: ICC spokesman Brendon McClements

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