I won’t say a bad word about sledging, I swear ...
Common decency is fast eroding, and as for sportsmanship, well ... it’s infected the lower leagues too
It’s just another of cricket’s many muddy inlets.
Like some of the others, unsettling the batsman with verbal taunts is primarily aimed at creating a competitive advantage. Problem is, taunting has no clearly established boundaries.
We are talking here about the banter that is predominantly dispensed from the fielding team to batsmen at the crease. It has for long been one of the game’s murky areas, one in which few attempt to bring clarity. Call it what you may, but in descending order of acceptability quips, lively banter, wisecracks, verbal jabs, digs, sledging or downright verbal abuse have been part of the game since WG Grace had stubble.
Its frequency, and perhaps tone, has become more amplified over the years.
Its latest offering, courtesy of Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed arrived in Tuesday’s ODI and seemed to be directed at SA bowling allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo.
“Hey black guy, where’s your mother sitting today? What [prayer] have you got her to say for you today?” he said in Urdu.
By delivering it in a language that Phehlukwayo may have a tough time deciphering, Sarfraz may claim, and in fact has, that it was directed at no one in particular.
The wicketkeeper showed some contrition on Twitter but did not apologise to Phehlukwayo, who seemed to be the target of his racial epithet. Clearly his slur was not aimed at Rassie van der Dussen, the other batsman at the crease. Van der Dussen happens to be white and he did everything but ride his luck in a match-winning innings.
The Pakistan Cricket Board issued a statement expressing its regret over Sarfraz’s comments, and said the incident “highlighted the importance and significance of player education and training at all levels”.
The next time Sarfraz walks out to represent his country it will be in his 50th Test, while Tuesday’s match in Durban was his 100th ODI. He is no rookie and if he still needs to be educated as his employers seem to suggest, can you imagine what the frustrated newbies in the Pakistan team dream up?
In a wider context Sarfraz’s infraction speaks to an issue cricket has simply failed to address adequately.
The use of insulting or degrading language is still widely tolerated among the game’s elite, while those who plod along recreationally on weekends happily follow that example.
The Australians used it as a form of, as they put it, “mental degradation”, and applied it much to their advantage throughout the 1970s and 1980s, especially against teams endowed with more pronounced pigmentation.
One can make the argument that the pros have much at stake and that the cocktail of high emotion and testosterone inevitably contributes to flare-ups. No one should wish away high levels of testosterone, or that a batsman needs the odd reminder of his questionable technique, but it should always be accompanied by an appropriate lid.
After all, it’s the pros who set the example. I occasionally plod along in Jozi’s lower leagues and it is hard to think of a match in recent seasons that didn’t throw up at least one unsavoury spat.
Common decency is fast eroding, and as for sportsmanship, well, that’s almost as hard to find as spectators at a four-day franchise match.
Lively and at times acerbic banter between teams should always be encouraged. Much of cricket’s richness resides in it. Besides, I doubt anyone wants to play the game in a sterile environment.
Cricket can, however, do more to establish clearer boundaries about what is acceptable and what’s not. Failure to do so will further erode already dwindling participation numbers.
As for Sarfraz: catch a wake-up.