Banter and threats pass and it’s the calibre of a true cricketer that shines through at the end

2013-11-29 00:00

CRICKET purists, and those who played the game when it was just a decent contest between bat and ball, must be reeling in shock at the current state of affairs and what has been going on out in the middle. The current Ashes series in Australia has most people thinking the game has gone to the dogs.

Suddenly cricket has become a game of verbal intimidation, threats and slander, where appreciation for a sweet cover drive or a cartwheeling stump has been replaced by players baying for blood and wanting to hurt and injure the opposition, rather than use skill to get them out.

Granted, threats and sledging have been part and parcel of the game for years and many players prefer to leave what happens on the field just there. In days gone past, that could be justified when a cold beer or two at the end of the day saw all aggression and intimidation washed away.

Shock and horror descended on the noble game in 1932 when Douglas Jardine’s English side unleashed Harold Larwood and Bill Voce on the Australians, instructing them to attack the batsmen with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries aimed at the body. The idea was to nullify Don Bradman’s appetite for runs, but he adopted his own ways and means to deal with it and still produced a bagful.

Other Australians, including captain Bill Woodfull and ’keeper Bertie Oldfield, were felled by this type of bowling and so serious was the situation, the tour was nearly called off and relations between the great cricket rivals ruined forever.

Thankfully sanity prevailed, but the so-called “bodyline” bowling set a precedent for what cricket was to become. It was the first sign that the game was changing and nowadays, it’s laughable to think that batsmen would complain a bowler was bowling too short at them.

As the game and technology progressed, the core principles of the game were still preached to all. Play hard but fair and display humility in all situations, whether winning or losing. Television has added a new dimension to the game, bringing players into thousands of homes and creating role models for aspiring wannabe cricketers.

That’s great for the game but, at times, it’s worth asking, is it great for young players to see the example set by their national heroes? Getting back to the current Ashes, it’s well and good to call it on-field banter but, like anything, surely there needs to be a line drawn between banter and threats.

All cricketers will say they have been the subject of banter, from schoolboy level and beyond, and they are all the richer for it.

Proteas Test skipper Graeme Smith had it in ounces when he made his debut against the Australians and it made him tough and resilient. He had his moments when he bit back a little more severely than he should have, but he stayed the distance. When he walked out to bat at Sydney in the Third Test of the 2008/09 series, he endeared himself to the most hardened and tattooed Aussie and today he is a respected captain and opponent.

Current Australian captain Michael Clarke was caught by the stump cam in the first Test of the current Ashes series at Brisbane telling England tail-ender James Anderson that he would get his arm broken. At a press conference afterwards, Clarke referred to it as banter, saying it was no worse than some of the things he had copped in his career. It’s not really a laughing matter and clearly indicates the Australian way of thinking as the series unfolds. Fast left-arm bowler Mitchell Johnson has spoken of “the fear in the English players’ eyes” and it seems the Aussie are like a bunch of rabid dogs keen for blood rather than upholding cricket’s values.

England’s Stuart Broad has gained the Australians’ wrath after not walking in the first Test at Trent Bridge earlier this year, but he did what any cricketer would do by letting the umpires make the decision. Ironically, he was backed for his actions by former Australian captains Steve Waugh and Allan Border. However, the current crop of Aussies, under the egging-on of coach Darren Lehman, have made a meal of it, with threats in the newspaper and on radio.

Like a dog with its tail between its legs, Lehman later admitted he was wrong in what he said, but the damage was done and he knew it. Remember Mark Waugh clipping the stumps with his bat at Adelaide in the third Test against South Africa in 1997/98? No crying by the Aussies on that one and he was lauded for pulling the wool over the umpires’ eyes.

The bottom line is this — Test cricket is the ultimate contest between bat and ball. Talking and threatening passes in the breeze and it’s the calibre of a true Test cricketer that shines through at the end of the day, thanks to his feats with bat, ball or both. Broad might not be everyone’s favourite, but give him a clap for taking the Aussies on at their own game.

Guaranteed, by the end of this Ashes tour, he will have won over many Aussie fans for his grit, determination and refusal to be intimidated.

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