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Monday / May 20.
HomemitwocentsWhat’s in a Sledge, Anyway?

What’s in a Sledge, Anyway?

Geoff Lawson writes that Australians are well known around the globe for hurling abuse at each other and our opponents on and off the sports field. Isn’t this just our way of being friendly?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]

During the recently traversed summer (Sydney is excused from thinking it had a real summer) I was on the cricket commentary circuit around Australia. I am extremely fortunate to have a job with ABC radio talking up and around the nation’s premier summer past time. The international cricket season began with two Test match contests with our Australasian neighbours from east across ‘the ditch’. The short series was shared and our Kiwi cousins were overjoyed at having their first win on enemy soil since 1986.

Good luck to them, their team played well in a thrilling finale in Hobart. The ensuing media scrum was somewhat polarised as you might imagine. Wild street parties in Dunedin and funereal team talks at Cricket Australia headquarters in Melbourne. Both were overstated, as sporting celebrations or obituaries often are. Triumphalism in reference to sporting contests is not simply naive but immature. Bragging rights are ok as long as you don’t brag too long or too loud. It’s a game, not life and death (though that’s not what was said by the former great American football coach Vince Lombardi, after whom the Super Bowl trophy is named: “Winning… is not life and death, it’s much more important than that”).

New Zealand has some fine cricketers and they should be acknowledged for their achievement, not their nationality, by all fans and followers. I don’t really buy into the cross Tasman attitudes based on a distorted sibling rivalry, I love it when the Kiwis do well on the world stage, except on the rugby field.

These are our future members… It is great to see their enthusiasm for their chosen caree

Caravan Moves On

The dogs barked and the cricket caravan moved on, much to the joy of sub-continental ex-pats, tourists and the many Indian students completing their educations in the great south land. The ensuing visiting cricket team was on their own. The 50 over World Cup of Cricket Champions had come for a long stay. Tactical and teasing Test matches along with biff and bash limited overs stuff was on the menu from Boxing Day to Shrove Tuesday (in fact, a little past that).

The cricket was interesting if rarely enthralling throughout, but one of the more fascinating sights at every match was the colour and vibrancy of the Indian (and later the Sri Lankan) supporters who came to grounds in big numbers from Perth to Brisbane. Nowhere else in the world could so many fans of the visiting team turn up for matches so far from native soil. The colour and cacophony that accompanied their team shirts, drums, cymbals and flags into cricket grounds brought an unusual atmosphere to venues where too often the home supporters imbibe in a tad too much amber fluid, shout a mite too loud with questionable language and fail to see out the full fixture.

Without the impetus of alcohol the Indian fans are already intoxicating. In the match at the Gabba in Brisbane between India and Sri Lanka a small crowd of around 6,000 attended on a Tuesday afternoon and evening… a single thousand may have been locals interested in the contest but not necessarily the outcome. The fans from the Tear drop of India and the mainland all sat in one area. Side by side, cheek-by-cheek, fluttering flags and banners intertwined in a sea of colour and symbols. They screamed for Sachin and cheered for Chandimal without a single cross word or baleful stare. Make no mistake, there were buckets-full of passion, and dollops of disappointment when Tendulkar or Sangakkarra were dismissed. Indians were silent and Sri Lankans jubilant and all were tolerant of the others emotions and actions.

The game was the point of common interest but the spirit of how the game is theoretically played was clearly evident in the stands if not always in the middle of the pitch (sledging, physical confrontation, abusive language and under arm bowling sometimes makes the ‘theoretically’ assertion seem trite).

Difference is Cultural

During the match I was interviewed by an Indian television crew that was doing a documentary on the differences in ‘culture’ between India and Australia. This search had been driven (surprise, surprise) by an incident on the field in a Test match almost four years before. On initial examination, a misunderstanding of language, coupled with some combative competitive players lead to the swapping of diplomatic cables. So important is cricket, and the behaviour if not the results of the competitors, that the dust has still not settled completely since 2008.

In 1932–33 the famous ‘Bodyline’ series did lead to the respective Prime Ministers having serious correspondence about the national ramifications of bowling bouncers in Test matches – and that was between the mother nation and the faraway child!

The TV crew didn’t understand how you could ‘sledge’ (from ‘subtle as a sledge hammer’) someone during the match then have a drink and a chat off the field. They saw that style of verbal communication as a degree of racism. Why do people have to play the ‘race’ card when they feel aggrieved? The concept of ‘what happens on the field stays on the field’ was not one they were familiar with so I tried to allay their fears and point out the differences between sport and real life. It certainly had nothing to do with what you looked like, how you dressed or what gods you may or may not believe in.

The Australian way is one of self-deprecation and red hot competition. The motives seem too great a juxtaposition for most, but our history of struggle with the elements and the toughness of our pioneers means it works very well in the land of drought and flooding rain.

Australians do mean to offend with their language, but only as a means of becoming familiar, as a way to express the fact that we share common interests, common fears, and that’s is how we deal with it down in Terra Australis. I’m not totally convinced that the documentary will help broaden the understanding of our methods and culture but maybe a few hundred million Indians will at least have the knowledge that despite our cultural differences we are a pretty friendly bunch… just not on the sporting fields.

Geoff Lawson OAM is a qualified optometrist and an ambassador for Optometry Giving Sight. He is a former Australian cricketer and the former coach of the Pakistan cricket team. In 1990 he received an OAM for services to cricket and in 2002 was given the Australian Sports Medal.