My husband has been reading the Barry Norman’s Book of Cricket. Now he knows I am far from being an avid follower of cricket–my interest in the game waxes and wanes with the performance of our national team, and has naturally hit rock bottom of late–so he very kindly refrains from talking cricket with me. Yesterday, however, he handed me the book and asked me to read a chapter on the phenomenon of sledging or the heckling that bowlers, with the wicket-keeper in active cahoots, indulge in to distract batsmen into making mistakes and losing their wickets. Something like that is bound to make for interesting reading, and I must say I was not disappointed!
By all accounts sledging has existed ever since the game came to be played but it is undoubtedly the Australians who can lay claim to having raised it to the level of an art, having perfected it with a great deal of practice.It comes as no surprise that the word itself owes its origin to an Australian slang for someone who swears in the presence of a lady–a sledge is somebody who is as subtle as a sledge-hammer.
Sledging primarily involves insults about the batsman’s ineptitude. If the batsman can keep his cool and hit the ball well, the joke can all too easily be turned on the bowler. Instance: Aussie fast bowler Merv Hughes to Robin Smith:’You can’t f****** bat!’ Smith responded by sending the ball to the boundary, and shouting back,’We make a good pair, Merv. I can’t f****** bat and you can’t f****** bowl!’ Not bad!
Another delightful gem involves perennial bad boy Shane Warne. When Daryll Cullinan of South Africa went in to bat against Australia, Warne said he’d been waiting two years for the chance to get him out again. Cullinan looked Warne up and down and retorted:’Looks like you spent the whole time eating.’ I wish the book had carried a photograph of Warnie’s face at this point 😉
And my personal favourite–Norman quotes Mark Waugh as greeting an incoming James Ormond (err…who??) with ” Stone me, look who it is!! Mate, you aren’t good enough to be playing for England!! ‘Maybe not’, responded Ormond,’ but I’m the best player in my family.’ Brilliant!!
It frequently gets personal, Norman gleefully informs us, but it isn’t taken too seriously as long as it is ‘within limits’.
It wouldn’t be out of place here to take a look at some of the ‘personal but within limits’ incidents that the book recounts:
1.Rodney Marsh to an incoming Ian Botham,’ G’day, Beefy! How are your wife and my kids? Botham, quick as a flash,’ The wife’s fine, the kids are retarded’. Ouch!!
2.Glenn McGrath to Ramnaresh Sarwan,’What’s Lara like in bed,mate? Sarwan:’ I don’t know, ask your wife!’ Eek! I suppose Sarwan was only giving back as good as he got, but did he have to bring in his tormentor’s wife?
3.Glenn McGrath again to the plump Zimbabwean Eddo Brandes,’Why are you so fat? ‘Brandes:’ Because every time I f*** your wife she gives me a biscuit.'( Uncalled for and way too crass. I seriously don’t get it why Norman thinks this was within limits)
And now for what Norman does consider ‘way beyond the limit’. Well, the ‘monkeygate’ involving Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds for one. And another incident when during a county match Ronnie Irani, Essex captain, accused Hampshire’s Shane Warne of calling his mother a whore.
Hmm. But I was intrigued by the fact that similar suggestions about the players’ wives are considered acceptable. Apparently, insults directed at the wife are not reported while those directed at the mother are. Why does calling someone’s mother names cause more offence? Could it be because the idea of the mother as an asexual, pure being transcends cultures? And could it be that it is considered unmanly to react too strongly to insults made to the wife, as that might betray the man as being a tad too loving and devoted?
What do you think?