The reference to cricket as ‘the gentleman’s game’ is one that apparently dates right back to 17th Century English aristocrats. Right now, very few on this planet have lived a life where cricket has ever bared the resemblance of ‘the gentleman’s game’. From bodyline in the 1930’s to the ball tampering saga earlier this year, cricket in itself isn’t very gentlemanly. I often wondered if the reference came about because there’s no man to man contact. Perhaps it’s because cricketers don’t charge into one another like in Rugby, nor do they get to drop to the ground in a world of pain like a soccer player whose just been tickled behind the ear. There may not be physical contact by another player but still to this day, I’m yet to meet someone whose never been intimidated by the big fast bowler hurling the hard red thing at their head. As grown men we understand that this reference is a load of horse manure, but what about the young kids who are yet to experience the brutality that cricket can offer?
The 2010-11 Australian summer will be remembered for a couple of major cricket events that rocked the world. Firstly, it was Australia’s embarrassingly woeful capitulation to the Poms which resulted in a 3-1 loss. More importantly though, it was the season I broke my elbow (long story) two days before Christmas and had to miss the Under 14 Tasmanian Intrastate Cup. I was 13 at the time which coincidentally, despite being primed as the opening batsman for the Southern team, was about my batting average for that season.
I still travelled and watched the boys play, offering some moral support where I could. We made the final of the week long event, batted first and made a mammoth total thanks to a whopping 150 by Caleb Jewell who’s now contracted with the Tigers and Hobart Hurricanes. I was hanging around the team huddle out on the ground before the boys took their fielding positions for the second innings. With a Powerade in my left hand and my right arm in a sling, I walked off the ground and passed the umpires as they walked on. Next thing I hear is a threatening voice that said, “give me a drink of your f*****g Powerade or I’ll break your other arm!” Being an intimidated and nervous 13 year old, I gave my Powerade to the umpire who can’t have been any younger than 70.
After the game, which we won, I heard about something that that same umpire had said about one of our players during the game. After one of the boys tried but failed to run and take a catch, the umpire was overheard saying “if it was a cheeseburger you would have caught it”. That obviously worked as good motivation for the then tubby teenager, nearly eight years later and he’s one of the fittest and strongest men I know. Regardless, we were 13 year-old boys who were completely oblivious to any kind of sledging, playing the great game of cricket for the love and enjoyment that it brought. What hope did we have if it was umpires, not just opposition players, that were ripping into us?
My second game of first grade cricket as a 17 year old was where I really understood the brutality that cricket can offer through sledging. Standing at the non-striker’s end, I watched on as former QLD opener Wade Townsend copped a whole over of abuse from former Australian ODI player Brett Geeves who was standing at second slip. By this age, I sure wasn’t oblivious to the cheeky sledge here and there. The sheer relentlessness of this though was something else and was a real eye opener to a young bloke trying to make his way. A few overs later and one of their fast bowlers thought it was a good idea to call me a Jew. I struggle to find how someone would take offence to this, except perhaps if we were German and playing during the reign of Adolf Hitler. Alas, it shows how far players will go to unnerve, unsettle and hopefully dismiss an opposition batsman.
This article isn’t designed to want to stop the often vulgar and disgusting sledging. It’s always been part of the game, always will be, and is something that kids need to be educated on from a young age. One day I’ll have to explain to my children that sport, not just cricket, isn’t supposed to be easy, nor nice and friendly. I feel for the parents whose children came up to them after the ball tampering saga and asked, “why did they cheat?” We live in a global sporting world where athletes, teams and organizations will push the boundaries, disrespect opponents and do almost anything to win. Children need to be educated not blinded, so they can prepare for the experiences, good and bad, that sport can offer. As a child, my Dad would wander shopping centres and sport stores telling random people that his son would one day captain Australia. Although it didn’t eventuate, that kind of positivity can help counteract whatever sledging comes your way, even if it’s the big fast bowler who won’t stop telling you how f*****g shit you are.