Sledging gets Ashes off to a bumpy ride

London: Andy Roberts, a fearsome fast bowler in the formidable West Indies side of the 1970s, was renowned for not talking to opponents on the field.

If you ask those who faced him if this meant he lacked for 'commitment' or 'aggression', chances are you'll receive a very hollow laugh.

Equally, it's pretty difficult for everyone involved in a cricket match, where teams can be in the field for several hours at a stretch, to be as tight-lipped as Roberts.

Indeed when on the opening day of the first Test at Brisbane in 1946 Australia great Don Bradman, having made an unconvincing 28, was given "not out" after England were certain he'd nicked the ball to Jack Ikin at second slip, England captain Wally Hammond is reported to have said: "That's a (expletive deleted) fine way to start an Ashes series."

Roll the clock on some 67 years and there was general agreement Australia captain Michael Clarke had gone too far in threatening England No 11 James Anderson with a "broken arm" towards the end of the recent Ashes opener in Brisbane, which the hosts won by the crushing margin of 381 runs.

That was certainly the view of the International Cricket Council, who fined Clarke 20 percent of his match fee.

But afterwards Mitchell Johnson, England's tormentor-in-chief at Brisbane with his fiery left-arm fast bowling, said of the sledging: "I think it's worked for us. I definitely think they (England) are rattled by it."

It was all a far cry from the kind of amusing exchange enjoyed by Australia bowler Merv Hughes and England batsman Robin Smith.

Hughes, having told Smith he wasn't much of a batsman, saw his next ball hit for four.

"Hey Merv we make a fine pair. I can't bat and you can't bowl," Smith said, although his precise reply was a touch more colourful.

But given the increasingly crude nature of current sledging, former Australia captain Ian Chappell said this week he feared it might lead to physical violence.

"Something personal will be said at the wrong time and you'll have fisticuffs. I think we're getting close to fisticuffs," said Chappell, who resents suggestions his Australia side of the 1970s were sledging 'pioneers'.

"If I was playing now, firstly, I'd tell whoever was talking to shut up or it's going to be a long day, because I don't face up until you shut up," added Chappell, who said he'd talk to the bowler at the non-striker's end if he got no redress from the umpire.

Steve Waugh, when captain of the successful Australia side of the 1990s and early 2000s, made great play of "mental disintegration".

But one of Waugh's key players, Glenn McGrath made a crude comment to West Indies' Ramnaresh Sarwan about the supposed nature of his relationship with Brian Lara, the batsman's reply of "ask your wife" saw the Australia paceman react furiously.

What Sarwan didn't know was that Jane McGrath was suffering from cancer, a disease that ultimately took her life.

Equally, Australia's David Warner had no idea Jonathan Trott was about to leave the current tour with a stress-related illness when he called him "poor and weak" after the England batsman twice fell cheaply to Johnson.

"I think Dave Warner's comments were out of order. I don't believe you should comment on someone else personally on the opposition," Waugh said.

No doubt match officials will have stern words with Clarke and England captain Alastair Cook ahead of next week's second Test in Adelaide.

Meanwhile Waugh said Australia could cut down on the 'verbals'.

"They're playing well, so they don't need to do so much talking out there now," he added.

( Source : AFP )
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