Former Proteas weigh in on the %$#@*&! sledging debate
Let the players sort things out for themselves, they say
It is hardly surprising that there are strong opposing views on either side of the sledge fence.
Quinton de Kock and David Warner’s tête-à-tête in Durban has brought a part of the game deliberately cloaked in intrigue and often hearsay, into sharp focus. What “happens on the field, stays on the field” mantra is the frequently used cover.
At its core sledging is the marked degeneration of what used to be lively banter.
Pointing out an opponent’s, almost exclusively a batsman’s, shortcomings is one way of keeping the fielding team entertained, with the proviso that such engagement is at least humorous.For former Proteas allrounder and coach Eric Simons the rules of engagement have changed. “I don’t know how players can be proud of themselves if you’ve just won a Test but it is partly due to the mental disintegration of the opposition,” said Simons.
“Sledging used to be much more fun, much more humorous. Sure, it was meant to unsettle somebody but the intention was to have fun. What concerns me is that it has become a strategic plan of teams to sledge and it is expected of young guys to get involved.
“You may have the odd situation where through the sheer heat of battle an incident would flare up but that is part and parcel of international sport.
“In the past you had certain players who sledged and those who didn’t. Those who did, didn’t expect others to be like them. Today, if you don’t sledge you don’t have the team at heart and you don’t have team spirit and you are not a hard man.
“It is almost like it has become part of team culture. It’s almost like breaking a team rule if you don’t,” said Simons.
Former Proteas’ quick Fanie de Villiers disagrees. Sledging, he argues, is now part of the sport’s lexicon. He believes sledging is a part of the game that shouldn’t just be tolerated, it should be encouraged.“I reckon players should be able to have a go at the each other without coming to blows. The guys who get sensitive when they get sledged probably know that there is a semblance of truth in what is being said.
“If you put a lid on it I think it is detracting from the game’s marketability. Look at how soccer players behave towards the referee. It’s become part of the drama.”
De Villiers believes the sport needs needle to help keep it front of mind. He was after all, an agent provocateur himself.
“I used to say to Mark Taylor that he is the most overrated captain Australia’s ever had and he used to then hit the ball in the air.”
De Villiers recalled a Test in Adelaide in which the lines of what is acceptable got blurred. “I was sent in as night watchman to join Peter Kirsten and soon I was reminded of the size of my nose and forehead.
“I survived to stumps but in the dressing room I told Brian McMillan that he can expect hell. The next day he was also told about his nose and he got upset. He thought it was personal and Allan Donald copped some abuse too.
“Allan Border (the then Aussie captain) felt that if things didn’t get personal it can stay on the field.
“I don’t mind sledging but if you are going to get personal you must be prepared to sort things out.”
‘The biggest evil in the game are match referees’
Simons said some players handle sledging better than others. “In sport there are people who struggle under that kind of abuse. To win a game because you attacked that aspect of a player is nothing to be proud of.
“I recall in the late 2000s a player, who ended up playing a lot of international cricket, came back to Cape Town after he played in his first Test saying: ‘If that is what I’ve got to be like to be an international cricketer, then I don’t want to be one’.”
Neither Simons nor De Villiers want to see on-field banter outlawed.
“The biggest evil in the game are match referees,” said De Villiers with typical candour. “They are a bunch of old men who are killjoys who try and justify their existence. Players should be able to sort these things out between each other. They are adults after all.”
Simons is a proponent of more diplomatic means.
“I think what the game is crying out for is for some of the captains to stand up and say this is not the way we want to play the game and we will regulate it ourselves. I think the players should be regulating themselves.”