Michael Roberts

I write from a partisan position. Suspicious though I am of most forms of fundamentalism, I am a crusader against “sledging,” or verbal intimidation as it should be called in distinction from permissible light banter. Based on my information gleaned about the humiliations to which the Sri Lankan cricketers on tour of Australia in 1989-90 were subject, I wrote an article then on “Abuse: Western Forms of Imperialism in World Cricket.” When re-printed by Pravada in Sri Lanka the editors altered it to “Bat, Ball and Foul Mouth.” That title is more apposite.

My principal argument against the use of verbal instruments on the cricketing field was that it destroyed the critical principle of a level playing field by favouring individuals and/or teams with verbal skills in sharp practice and cutting-talk. This point holds. I insist still.

I warned then that it was likely that the cancer of verbal intimidation would be diffused as the sub-continental teams adopted it as a means of survival on the field. Though I cautioned the Sri Lankans against falling prey to this form of cultural imperialism, it seems as if this forecast has come to pass, albeit in partial measure. I am informed that some verbal intimidation occurs at all levels of cricket in Sri Lanka. More recently, Kumar Sangakkara secured some notoriety on this issue after a spat with Michael Atherton. And just yesterday, Rohan Wijeyeratne chastised him in the Island newspaper for his “yapping.” That Sangakkara should be at the “cutting edge” is surely no accident. From a leading family in Kandy and the elite school of Trinity College, he is among the most Westernised and English-proficient in the present Sri Lankan team.

My crusade against verbal intimidation was revived in May this year when I sent the ICC an essay on the subject (since published in the Baggy Green vol 4: 1 October 2001 with editorial amendments). As the title indicated I argued for “Sin-bin for Verbal Intimidation.” Though nourished in the same “old school of cricket” as Mike Coward, it follows that I do not agree with his stance in the Australian of 10 December 2001 and that I endorse the editorial line presented in the same issue.

My strictures and the demand for the immediate punishment of individual players and/or captain were extended to the “heinous act” of claiming manifest bump-ball catches as true catches (while granting that there are grey moments when this occurs). I would not place ball-tampering on the same scale unless it is systematic team action or with extraneous instrument (Tendulkar’s misdemeanour, as visually captured and as evident from Denness’s subsequent “clarification,” was minor).

Thus, I favour the codification of scales of “crime” and the scales of punishment for each such act, though aware that contradictions will still arise – as they do in any bureaucratised scheme of things. The point about the penalty known as “sin-binning” is that its deleterious effects are immediate and there is no scope for appeal. But equally critical to the campaign against verbal intimidation is the implementation of two simple practices in all international games: (1) the sound system attached to stump-cam must be audible in the Judgment Room reserved for the Match Referee and Third Umpire, though closed off to the public; and (2) the umpires on field must be wired to the Third Umpire in the same manner as soccer and rugger Referees. Three pairs of ears and eyes are better than two and there is no reason why final decisions on specific issues cannot be left to those on the field (especially for bump-ball m catches, where the camera does obscure rather than aid).

These measures must be supported by off-field actions. Among these should be a systematic effort at all levels to delete the legitimising euphemism known as “sledging” from our vocabulary and to call the spade a spade: it is non other than an act of verbal assault or intimidation.

Michael Roberts,
Anthropology, University of Adelaide
10 December 2001