The Derek Alberts Column: Sledging - The dark side of cricket
EWN Sport's Derek Alberts turns his attention to sledging in cricket, with hostilities renewed in the Ashes series between hosts England and Australia.
"Get ready for a broken f***ing arm."
Those were the words of Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke to Jimmy Anderson during an Ashes test at the Gabba in 2013.
A year later, Clarke delivered a moving eulogy at the funeral of his friend and former teammate Phil Hughes, the man at the lectern fighting back the tears and scarcely recognisable from the one who threatened to damage Anderson in Brisbane.
There's something about the Ashes that brings out the ugly side of those competing. Anderson himself said, somewhat surprisingly, that the Aussies refused to share a drink with their opponents following England's crushing win in the opening Test of the current series in Cardiff. Surprising, given that the two sides stopped doing that back in the 1980s when former Aussie skipper Allan Border accused his team of being too nice to the English.
What wasn't surprising was Anderson's silence on the subject a week later, when his team was on the receiving end of an even bigger hiding at the hands of their rivals at Lords.
It's far easier to enjoy a beer with your vanquished foe than it is to do so with your conqueror. There's no doubt the Australians would have sent plenty of invites the seamer's way following their win, all of which would have been met with nothing but disdain, and deep embarrassment.
Anderson has been a prime target for the Aussies for years, and he added fuel to the fire ahead of the series when he called for a sledging truce between the two sides, prompting nothing but bemusement from the opposing camp given that they regard him as one of the biggest sledgers in the game.
Steve Waugh famously described sledging as mental disintegration, and it's still very much a weapon in most team's arsenals, the Australians of course being the chief exponents of the tactic. The Ashes hijinks aside, Clarke's men are seldom far from controversy when it comes to verbal bouncers. Clarke, again, was involved in an ugly spat with South African speedster Dale Steyn during the third Test between the two sides in Cape Town last year, with the Protea saying afterwards that the 34-year-old had crossed the line.
The two seem to have buried the hatchet somewhat, but with Steyn being a firebrand himself and certainly no pushover, where exactly is the line when it comes to the so-called gentleman's game?
According to former test batsman and current commentator HD Ackerman, sledging is fine until it becomes personal. Ackerman was on the receiving end of plenty of insults during his playing days, but he took exception when another former Protea, with over 60 test caps to his name, insulted his late father and cricketing icon Hylton during a match.
Kepler Wessels, the Bloemfontein-born dual-international, loved exchanging words with opponents, saying he could give as good as he got. A skill he said that was honed, unsurprisingly, Down Under.
Another man who thrived in that type of atmosphere was that man again, Steve Waugh. His opposing captain during the 1997 Ashes series, Michael Atherton, believed that the Australian loved being sledged so much that it made him perform even better. As a result, Atherton's England opted to give Waugh the silent treatment when he batted during the third test in Manchester. Atherton, writing in his biography, said that the Australian skipper quickly realised their tactic, and replied "Oh, I get it. Nobody's talking to Steve. OK. I'll talk to my f***ing self then."
The move backfired horribly for the English, as Waugh continued 'talking to himself' for a total of 624 minutes, scoring centuries in both innings to guide his side to a 268 run victory.
Paddy Upton, who's worked with a number of international sides as a mental conditioning coach, and is the current head coach of IPL side the Rajasthan Royals, says that sledging will never leave the game, but it is utilised poorly.
"Hurling insults is all good and well, but a tactic that could definitely be used more is the ability to get someone to think about their technique. As soon as you're thinking about your hands, feet, balance, head, you're in compromised state because you're using your thinking brain and not your instinctive brain. It's particularly effective against over-analytical players" said Upton.
He may be a fan, but Upton maintains that the best advice he ever received about sledging came from his coach when he was an under-22 cricketer at Western Province, the aforementioned Hylton Ackerman: "You only earn the right to sledge once you're a good enough cricketer, but once you're a good enough cricketer, there's no need to sledge."
But don't expect that quote to be displayed too prominently in the Edgbaston changing rooms when the third Ashes test gets underway.
Derek Alberts is a sports anchor at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @derekalberts1