Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cultural Differences in Cricket

The current furore regarding the 'sledging' issue between India and Australia has got me thinking about the differences in how we grow up, and how we play cricket. This issue has been with me for a while and I thought that I would finally try and verbalise my feelings. Having been an avid cricket viewer for well over twenty years now, I feel that there are inherent cultural differences in how varying countries play cricket, and this is the basis of the problem. It is not racially based, but rather a cultural style of playing.

For the sake of the argument, I have lumped India/Pakistan and Sri Lanka together in comparison to Australia/West Indies/South Africa and England (and ignored the rest just to keep it simple). I feel that the two groups have some fundamental differences in how they play the game, and this is a major part of the inconsistencies that we are seeing in decisions made by the ICC umpires and match referees over the past few years.

As two examples (and these are generic examples and not meant to be a criticism), Australia/West Indies/South Africa and England all play cricket in quite a physical manner. By this I mean that there is a fair amount of intimidation (sledging/staring etc) of the opposition even in lower grade cricket. In contrast, I don't think that this is inherently part of the Indian/Pakistan/Sri Lanka approach to playing our great game. Their national teams will try to do it, but it is not what they are used to. In contrast to this, India/Pakistan/Sri Lanka seem to have a habit of appealing vigorously for anything that is even vaguely close to being out. Whether this is a deliberate attempt to bias an umpire or just part of their game I don't know. I don't think that Australia/West Indies/South Africa and England appear to do this as instinctively, and it looks very contrived when they attempt to do it.

Why this is becoming a problem is that players from the India/Pakistan/Sri Lanka group are now being judged by ICC umpires and match referees from the Australia/West Indies/South Africa and England group, and vice versa. What one side feels is a minor offence, the other side is not used to and therefore can reacts quite angrily to it. I feel that Steve Bucknor is an example of this, as he seems to get really agitated by the constant appealing of India etc, but the sledging doesn't phase him as much. He has grown up in the West Indian system of aggressive fast bowlers and batsmen, but he has not been part of the appealing culture and this therefore grates on him more as it is not something he is used to. In contrast, I remember umpires like Venkat coping well with the continuous appealing, but getting quite upset with the sledging side of things.

I realise that I am generalising greatly, and that this is just a theory that I am throwing out there and not one that I necessarily think is correct. Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, but we need to understand where everyone is coming from before we can iron out the inequalities in the ICC system that seem to occur.


John said...

That's true to a degree, but I see lots of junior cricket in India where sledging and 'mental disintegration' is slowly becoming the norm. Time was when Gavaskar walking out to bat against the Windies qartret was masculinity. I guess different definitions operate now.

Stuart said...

Thanks for the info. re India. It is interesting to see that sledging is slowly becoming the norm. even there. Sad really.

Stu said...

You make a really good point about the cultural differences here.

I've played plenty of quite low grade cricket in Australia and very clearly, sledging is completely in-grained as part of the culture - at all levels.

I think we should really be trying to differentiate between "sledging" and "abuse" though. Some of those famous quotes that do the rounds on emails every so often are really funny, and I'm sure add to the mind games, "one-ups-manship" and by-play, and from my point of view are a great part of the game. Clever, witty "sledges" are great fun. But it doesn't take much mental capacity at all to just stand at first slip and abuse someone - "question his parentage" or whatever - and this form of criticism rarely works anyway, usually just serving to further motivate the victim.

To the "art of sledging" (witty mind games and attempts to distract a batman or put him off his game) I say, bring it on, but there should be no room for abusive behaviour.

I also think the cultural barrier would be less, if the distinction was clearly made.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

interesting, but cultural differences apart, i think the aussies under steve waugh made sledging a systemic part of their gameplan. every other team has tried to follow suit but not with as much finesse. more on this at my blog... a sledge is a sledge is a sledge

Samir Chopra said...

I remember some comments from my Sydney days that I thought came into the category of "sledging" and not "abuse":

"C'mon boys, he doesn't want to be here!"; "Oh, nice one, Stuey, he didn't like that"; "Jeez, he's only got one shot"; "no idea, no idea at all, whats he doing out here"; "c'mon Maxy, at his head, he doesn't like it there"; "isn't this the bloke that ran his captain out the last game?"' "pretty arsey shot that"; "I think this bloke is the specialist fielder", and so on. Once in a while, the slips would talk loudly to each other with variants of the same. Or, the bowler would say something directly to the batsman "you sure you can hold the bat, mate?" or "C'mon, get an edge on that will you?".

When abuse entered the picture, things got ugly, and I don't care whether you are Aussie or not, everyone responds the same way.

Stuart said...

Both Sumit and Samir make some very good points (Sumit's post about sledging is well worth a read). The one thing I think that we all agree on is that abuse really should be stamped out.

I commented recently on another blog regarding the difference between psychological sledging and simple abuse, and Samir reinforces that point beautifully.

Samir Chopra said...


I remember talking to my team-mates back in Sydney, and quite a few of them said they preferred playing in the Northern Suburbs comp, because the Moore Park comp was "full of wankers that sledged non-stop". And there were a few teams like that in the Northern Suburbs comp, and we never, ever had a beer with them after the game. People always took the nasty sledging personally, to the extent that lots of guys wouldn't bother getting up from the team kit area to go shake hands after the game. I once wrote on my blog "the healing quality of the after-game handshake is overrated". I still believe it. People need to be careful about which lines are being crossed.

Uncle J rod said...

Sorry to be the odd voice out here, but i think one of the reasons i love cricket is the sledging. Cricket is a pyshcological game, so to me questioning someones technique or toughness is no different than an out swinger.

I grew up in the North Western suburbs of melbourne, its a tough area, very rarely though did sledging ever get to abuse. And when opposition players abused me instead of sledging, i knew i had them. I was a skinny 15 year old playing amongst men, they tried to break me every game.

I was a talented cricketer, but i was never top class. When i got to a high level of cricket i used my sledging, whether i was batting or bowling as a way of bringing my opposition down to my level.

I understand that some people from the sub continent have trouble with sledging, but i always found the best way to beat it, was to win games. Sledging always sounds so hollow and laughable when it comes from a losing team.

Sledging and gamesmanship have been around as long as the game itself. The problem is when, epspecially the Australians, it becomes abuse. When it becomes personal and when they lose it gets heaps worse.

So for me sledging is part of the game, but abuse is when it goes to far.

In all codes of football, sledging goes on just as much as cricket, the difference is in cricket the game stops for 30 seconds at a time and its easy to see and some times hear.

It's called test cricket for a reason.

Samir Chopra said...

So we're in agreement JRod? That the sledging is fine till it becomes abusive (and my sense is that when someone is becoming abusive they are probably losing control over their cricketing skills as well?).

I have a confession to make: I used to sledge a fair amount when I played in Sydney :)

Stuart said...

I think that this is where some of the confusion arises - the distinction between "sledging" (as Australians see it) and personal abuse. Sledging in Australia is often not directed at the batsman - as Samir points out, it is often said about the batsman.

I commented on a different blog earlier about Sanath Jayasuriya getting incredibly angry (and quickly out) when Hayden called out to the bowler "Look, he's changed his grip on the bat. He must be struggling". That is a great sledge - it got under Sanath's skin and he got out. That is the testing of the psychological strength of the opposition that JRod is referring to, and the game would be much poorer without out. But meaningless swearing and abuse is ridiculous, and usually fails to achieve anything anyway.

Uncle J rod said...

I can't believe Hayden actually came up with a good sledge. His sledging is usually of under 12 level.

So we all agree sledging is questioning technique, mettle or committment. And abuse is mentioning your mums undies.

Lets get this definition to Icc or Richie Benaud asap.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

wonder if mcenroe could've won wimbledon in this era with its super strict conduct code. if sledging is ok for cricket, why don't we see it in tennis - say when the players cross each other during the change of ends, or sit within audible range of each other in the break after two games. we seem to accept different behavioural standards for different sports. has anyone heard of sledging in golf? is cricket somehow a 'cheaper' sport?

Stuart said...

It is called "gamesmanship" in golf, and it is very common (particularly in matchplay, but also in strokeplay). Whilst it isn't sledging as such, the players use their caddies as sounding boards for comments about their opponents. Greg Norman would often loudly say to his caddy "its a seven iron" (when he was really hitting a five) to put doubt into his opponent's mind. Likewise, snide comments about changes in the opponent's grip, stance, swing etc are common.

Lee Trevino, just prior to a playoff for the US Open, threw a plastic snake on the ground in front of Jack Nicklaus. They both laughed, but that was clearly an attempt to disrupt Nicklaus. Arnold Palmer once said "Its good" (indicating he had conceded the putt) to Nicklaus in a playoff. However, as it was strokeplay, not matchplay, if Nicklaus had picked it up, he would have lost.

The best mind game was another one from Norman. Walking along the first fairway, he simply asked his opponent "do you breath in or out on your backswing?" This question was enough to make his opponent think about something other than what he was trying to achieve, and he lost.

Soulberry said...

Interesting viewpoint Stuart. There is some truth in that.

I played club cricket actively between 1975 and 1983. After that it was when I could make time or for my organisation. Now it is more of a carnival nature with a mix of young and old - more like family picnics on a Sunday under the aegis of an association I am a member of.

I don't know what sledge exactly means, but when I walked in to bat in my first club game in 1975 as a 13 year old (I wasn't too tall and quite skinny then), the field closed in on me. I was the no.9 batsman. The fellows around me were big...full grown beasts I could almost touch. They had me covered 360 degrees.

That was supposed to be intimidating and a couple of them got talking...the first was utterly disgusted at having to play a club that couldn't complete a team without plucking kids out of school. The other (their skipper)was in agreement and was more direct and asked me if I wanted to be bowled at underam.

I can still feel my ears were red and hot....meanwhile the bowler was quite peeved and disinterested to bowl at this small turnip.

Well, the match had to go on and he sort of reduced his run up and almost ambled in instead of his regular action. I was already sweating inside my gloves, despite it being a winter Sunday. I was determined not to make a fool of myself...that's all I remember.

The ball turned out to be just outside the off stump and deliciously within reach. All I remember is a sweet crack from my bat. Next ball and four runs later...there weren't as many close in was quiet for a while...the bowler was on to his full run-up and it was only an over later that the talk started again. They hadn't bargained for a tail-wag. Only, the talk which now came was encouragement and advice to the bowler. That didn't matter anymore...the first nerves were over. We lost that match but that's another story and I ended up with a stout 11 runs in my first club outing. But I did get a few pats and claps from my mates and the very same "sledgers" when I was dismissed.

In other matches since then...I have found that some talk and chirp always existed. There wasn't much even in the 80's. These days it is far more and constant and rather personal.

The above example is to illustrate that chatter was there before, perhaps more limited and there was an underlying sporting spirit. Today, there is hostility. That's a difference in my eyes. You may score a fifty but you'll probably walk off without the opposition bothering you on the way back to the pavilion with handshakes or pats.

About appealing - first off bowlers appeal always on the subcontinent because wickets are hard to come by. Then, some really do not bother to know the rules of the game beyond the barebones approach. Finally, I have to blame the umpires at the lesser levels whose performance forces a bowler not to take any chances and go ahead and appeal vigourously. That's a real problem...and probably is the main conditioning factor.

Just thought I'd share.

Anonymous said...

Continuing on the "cultural differences" angle, I've written a small post about why "monkey" as suggested by Steve Waugh, may not be racist for the Indian mind... found here:

Bucky (WA) said...

In my opinion sledging is cricket-related. When the attacks are personal, it is abuse and should not be tolerated.