Monday, March 28, 2011

Shaun Tait - New high in uncontrolled sledging in Cricket

Shaun Tait has announced his retirement from One Day Internationals today. On one hand we should feel sorry for the early loss of arguably the fastest bowler in the circuit today. On the other hand... well, I think he was also arguably the most uncontrolled and most uneducated sledger the game has seen in recent past.

This is the famous episode against Dilshan in the WCC match against SL. Look 0:40 onwards and one can even see clearly the words he has used at top of his voice without any provocation. In fact it was used as planned ploy to provoke the batsman. One could say it is game tactics while another may see it as a downright uncivilized behavior in what was called the gentleman's game.

Sledging of course is nothing new and Tait was not the only one involved, Infact SL captain Kumar Sangakkara was once known as "Most Educated Sledger" in the game. Sanga's tactic was different but aimed at the same objective : to unnerve the batsman. However, Sanga didn't mix it (or at least not recorded as) with bad language, threatening behavior or with hate. In fact, he did it with wits and control in a non-offensive manner, hence the title "Most Educated Sledger".

There are other versions as well, most of times fast bowlers are the most notorious rule breakers, Australian fast bowlers in particular. So much so that it has become a common sight to see a Australian bowler muttering something insulting to the batsman after a delivery. See Bret Lee for instance, specially in his very first over. One get the feeling sometimes that they require it to get charged up. Of non Australian bowlers Javagal Srinath and Nehra, comes to mind but there are many others involving almost every team.

Spinners are not totally innocent either. Shane Warne and Harbajahn Singh for instance. I think Shane Warne wasn't using bad language in as uncontrolled manner as Shaun Tait did. Matthew Hayden once described Harbajan as an 'obnoxious weed', wonder how would he categorize the countryman Tait in that same scale!

If sledging is so common, why are we talking about it so much ? I think with Tait in this world cup, things got nastier than the tolerable levels. Specially in the match AUS vs IND. Tait was seen repeatedly sending off bad mouthed insults at Tendulkar and other Indian batsman. One gets the feeling that the bowler was certainly not fit as a sane sportsman in any sport not just in the so called gentleman's game. Is this the example we should set for youngsters watching or is this the spirit of the game or the spirit of sport in general ? Qualities like respecting the opponents, appreciate good cricket from anyone when we see it, taking win/loss both gracefully etc are all seems old fashioned now and players are just after each others throats.

Let us just compare Sachin with Tait. One is just a novice (comparatively) even though he can bowl fast at times, other is a legend often compared with Sir Don, perhaps the greatest batsman we have seen in our times. What kind of feeling does one get when you see the inexperienced kid sledging away at a legend ? utter lack of respect, not just for a great name in cricket but for the game itself! This is why the behavior could be described as Most Uneducated Sledging. Uncontrolled hate should have no place in sport. If one is unable to get motivated by patriotism and belief in self or by the desire to perform and excel, and if one need to get physically abusive and beastly to charge himself up and perform, such individuals are not good ambassadors for the game or for their countries, and hence not good sportsman, to say the least.

ICC should enforce a code of conduct in here. We know tennis players get huge fines where they swear and get caught in the camera. In tennis, players actually swear out of self frustration and it usually directed on themselves rather than the opponents who are at the other end of the caught. If it is still punishable, how come Tait's behavior in the video (0:40 onwards) get unnoticed ? Whether his retirement has something to do with his behavioral problems, I don't know. However, ICC certainly has an issue to address here. It is clearly straightforward with today's technology to find, prove and fine the culprits and save the image of the game. Why should we let the game degraded into this level ? even in a world cup where everybody watch ?

It would be unfair if we don't mention the good players and teams in here. Very seldom that one see a NewZealander or a West indies fast bowler sledging at opponents. West Indies in particular has a huge culture and tradition of fast bowling. Malcolm Marshal, Courtney Walsh, Ambrose etc comes to mind. Those great players were exemplary in this regard. If such greats after archiving such great feats could still do it without barking away at the opponents and can still be modest enough to respect the opponents, what excuse can a novice like Tait have for failing to behave ? England, may have had problems in the past but the current team certainly seems not to have any problems of extra aggressive/abusive individuals. South Africans are another great example, for they too are famous for quick bowlers, those who have earned it by performance of their arms and not mouths that is.

One theory to explain the behavior may be found from psychology, players who have not mentally strong enough to cope with the challenges on field or does not have enough skills or self confidence to cope with the proceedings can easily resort into cheap tactics of over aggressive behaviors, while the true greats who can perform without that are doing so. May be that's why we don't see much bad behavior or worst type of sledging from great players. Take the highest wicker takers, take Murali, Can you remember a moment he was insulting the batsman or trying to unnerve by putting verbal pressure ? I may be biased here, but I certainly take pride in Sri Lankan bowlers who not only refrain from throwing bad words at batsman they even smile most of time. Lasith Malinga and Murali comes to mind.

Indian bowling greats are same. How often was Anil Kumble charging opposition batsman with foul words ? However Indian quick bowlers need to learn a lesson here and not follow the example of Australians. They can find better examples from home and else where, someone needs to tell that to Nehra for instance.

Cricket could be a great vehicle to promote friendship and understanding among nations. We should not let it degrade into a level that it become a vehicle to spread hate, rivalry and mis understanding among nations and cricket fans. If I were the Australian ambassador for India at the time of Tait swearing at Tendulkar on TV where millions of Indian fans watching, I wouldn't be enjoying the moment.