By Michael Roberts –
Verbal intimidation within the boundary ropes of the cricket field has been tolerated far, far too long by the cricketing authorities (ICC and MCC). This disease has been sustained by weak umpiring from personnel of all nationalities and by clever cover-jobs from eminent cricketers of all nationalities manning the TV commentary teams (including Sunil Gavaskar, Harsha Bhogle, Simon Doull, Russel Arnold and Matthew Hayden and Murali Karthik in the present series in India).
One step in this glossing over has been the widespread reference to verbal intimidation by the term “sledging” (or “sledges”) – sometimes backed up by amusing tales of clever “sledges” of the bantering sort. However, such examples and the incidence of banter are at one end of the scale. They are not of the same order as those incidents of intimidation that are of a type that would often spark fights when expressed in a pub or on the street …. And could therefore count as “assault” in a court of law.
Such actions, whether pre-planned or arising from an event on the field (as with the recent intimidation of Niroshan Dickwella), sully the “spirit of cricket” and would appal such gentlemen as Colin Cowdrey. It is in this spirit that I condemn all the personnel concerned in this cover-job and do so in terms that I have sustained since the late 1980s (see below).
My argument is simple: these actions seek to disturb a batsman’s equanimity and to generate indiscretions which produce a dismissal. They are not sportsmanlike. Verbal digs accompanied the barrage of bouncers directed at Phil Hughes by Doug Bollinger in one over after lunch during a Sheffield Shield match in Sydney on the 25th November 2014. They were, in effect, part of a package seeking to send a talented batsman who had accumulated 63 runs back to the pavilion. Perchance, one ball hit Hughes on the neck and became a “king-hit.” So, Hughes went to the pavilion. On a stretcher. And ended up as a corpse. That was not Bollinger’s intent; but he was an instrument in a deliberate NSW programme of intimidation with bouncers and verbals as one package.
So, let me elaborate my argument by presenting the ESPN written commentary on the Mohammed Shami over (over 15 in the innings) which generated THE DICKWELLA INCIDENT on 20th November.
Mohammed Shami to Dickwella, (no ball) SIX, what the weird shots! He’s basically skipped across outside off, and ends up behind the stumps when he scoops the ball away over the backward square leg boundary. And it appears Dickwella plays it only after he noted there were three fielders behind square on the leg side. He knows that will mean a no-ball – which began on a good length outside off and ended up in exactly the strangest place possible
There’s a bit of chatter building, bringing the umpires into play. Ashwin comes up to chat with Dickwella. Then walks off. Then Umpire Llong intervenes and that makes Kohli go up and talk to him.
There are missing dimensions in this summary account. Ashwin walked from mid-on to speak to Dickwella and though his body language cannot be called threatening, it was hardly amiable.
When the umpires and Kohli joined Dickwella mid-pitch (as Ashwin withdrew), Kohli spoke in the manner stern and a camera shot indicates him tapping Dickwella on the chest lightly.
From a sitting room couch afar I read the actions of these Indian cricketers as forms of intimidation. When, a few balls later, Mohammed Shami walked up to Dickwella and stared at him from a foot distance the combined effect – and thus intention – was/is clear: several Indian cricketers were reprimanding Dickwella for his audacity and seeking to disturb his equilibrium with the intention of prizing out his wicket.
The ESPN account of Over 18 is as follows:
0= Mohammed Shami to Dickwella, no run, outside edge which bounces short of first slip. But who cares about that. Shami walks right up to the batsman in his follow through and gives the batsman a piece of his mind
18.2 = Shami begins running in to bowl, but Dickwella isn’t ready. Shami doesn’t like that. He absolutely hates Dickwella putting his head down and waving his hand to make him stay back. That brings both of them into a long-distance love spat. Tempers flaring everywhere.
The Deep Truth
Those beyond the ropes and watchers on screen do not know what was said. But the umpires would have heard the exchanges. HOWEVER,
- I doubt if they reported the incident in full detail in their post-match memoranda.
- The TV technicians (and the esteemed high-profile commentators?) have kept their mouths shut about whatever they heard on stump audio.
- The ICC permits this type of charade to continue …. year in, year out.
A Simple Solution
One: stump-audios should be turned up to full volume so that all of us can participate in the “clever banter” of these lovely sportsmen and thus appreciate their dulcet intonations.
Two: we should ask the moral lords in the MCC to press the ICC to take reformatory action that bans verbal intimidation (suitably defined) on the cricket field….… and to kick arse if necessary to effect such reform.
Three: the ICC should institute a policy of “sin-binning” for verbal intimidation – using different scales of punishment in terms of hours off-the-field and pinpointing the captain of the fielding side in particular.
Roberts as Reformer since 1990
In pressing this argument, I am self-aware. It is a position of moral righteousness. Such reasoning can assume excessive paths. I am fully alive to the possibility of excess because of the manner in which the recent upsurge of “secular fundamentalism” has supported all manner of excessive claims in the Western world and, incidentally, sustained erroneous interpretations of Eelam War IV by personnel who have absolutely no expertise in battle theatre settings.
However, I note here that I have held to this line of criticism ever since 1990. This was because I became aware of the incidence of verbal intimidation encountered by the Sri Lankan cricket team under Arjuna Ranatunga that toured Australia in 1989/90. In 1989/90 the squad had to twiddle their thumbs and play second class cricket for a spell because the Commonwealth Games at Auckland (24 Jan-3 Feb 1990) forced a split in their main tour schedule. Much of this time was in the Adelaide area and I was among those in the Australia Sri Lanka Association of Adelaide that hosted the team (and the Aussie Academy squad led by Brendon Julian) at a dinner once. During this spell the team was hosted by the Claessens and I met several players off and on. A chat during a leisurely dinner Arjuna and Ruwan Kalpage at the house of Tilak and Dawn Gunasekera was especially enlightening. The Sri Lankan players were taken aback and perturbed by this phenomenon of verbal intimidation – a force encountered not only from the leading Aussie sides, but even in the outback facing country sides and third grade teams. I received first-hand information on this issue.
I heard some local Sri Lankans advising the players to retort with kunu-harapa – Sinhala filth. In my own mind, I rejected that sort of advice. For one, the Aussies would not understand the Sinhala words, even though they would divine the intent. Secondly, our Sri Lankans would be no match for the Aussies in English repartee and/or verbal intimidation.
However, my main objection was a principled moral one. To stoop to the same level of verbal intimidation/assault was to sunder the spirit of cricket. One was becoming a win-at-all-costs Western man, a mean man. “Nay,” I said, “stay firm and remain a Sri Lankan cricketer. Do not dispense with your culture.”
I recall writing an article on this topic for a Melbourne rag put out by local Sri Lankans. If memory serves me correct, it was entitled “Abuse: Western Forms of Domination in World Cricket.” I indicated that the Asian cricketers were being asked (forced?) to become Western clones.
What a bloody good forecast. That has come to pass. Alas!
Michael Roberts  “Abuse: Western Forms of Domination in World Cricket” Sri Lankan, August 1990
Michael Roberts  “The Grunt, The Spit and The Scowl in Sports,” originally 1999, reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 96-97.
Michael Roberts 2000 “Against verbal intimidation in cricket,” TheWicket.com, http://www.ozlanka.com/commentary/intimidation.htm
Michael Roberts 2002 “Letter to the ICC, 25 November 2002,” reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 103-06.
Michael Roberts 2001 “Sin bin for verbal Intimidation,” originally printed on 28 April 2001, reprint in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.
Michael Roberts 2003 “Verbal Assault on the cricket field: ICC piss-weak, TV commentators insouciant,” 27 November 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/verbal-assault-on-the-cricket-field-icc-piss-weak-tv-commentators-insouciant/
Michael Roberts: Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, ISBN 955 12566-26-9
Michael Roberts “Vilification, Zero Tolerance and Double Standards in Cricket,” www.cricket.dilmahtea.com, 7 November 2007.
Michael Roberts “Cricket, Dirty Cricket,” reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.
Michael Roberts “Legitimising the Bullyboys on the Cricket Field,”www.cricket.dilmahtea.com, 16 Dec 2004.
Michael Roberts “Saving Murali: Action On-field and Off-field, 1995-2005,” in Roberts, Incursions & Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2011, pp.111-38.
Michael Roberts: “People of Righteousness march on Sri Lanka,” The Island, 22 June 2011 and https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/people-of-righteousness-target-sri-lanka/
Michael Roberts: “Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision in Sri Lanka in 2009,” 10 Aug. 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/amnesty-international-reveals-its-flawed-tunnel-vision-on-sri-lanka-in-2009/
Michael Roberts: “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-11221
Michael Roberts: “Righteous Blindness. In Cricket and In War,” 19 February 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/righteous-blindness-in-cricket-and-in-war/#more-19774
Michael Roberts: “Intimidating Assault Tactics behind Phil-Hughes’ Death by Bouncer,” 27 October 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/10/27/intimidating-assault-tactics-behind-phil-hughes-death-by-bouncer/
Roberts 2016 “The Phil Hughes Coronial Inquest: Cricketers Wallow in Contradictory Evidence,” 13 October 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/the-phil-hughes-coronial-inquest-cricketers-wallow-in-contradictory-evidence/
Roberts 2016 “Against Verbal Intimidation in Cricket: A Voice in A Wasteland,” 12 October 2016, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/against-verbal-intimidation-in-cricket-a-voice-in-a-wasteland/
Roberts 2016 “Alex Kontouris faces “Chin Music” at the Coronial Inquest into Phil-Hughes’ Death,” 13 October 2016, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/alex-kontouris-faces-chin-music-at-the-coronial-inquest-into-phil-hughes-death/
Michael Roberts: “An Early Plea: Ban Verbal Assaults within the Cricket Field,” 8 March 2017, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/an-early-plea-in-1990-ban-verbal-assaults-within-the-cricket-field/
Michael Roberts: “Dickwella’s Stupendous Six; The Umpires caught Napping,” 21 November 2017, https://cricketique.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/dickwellas-stupendous-six-the-umpires-caught-napping/
 See Roberts, “Intimidating Assault Tactics” 27 Oct. 2016 and Roberts, Hughes Coronial Inquest,” 13 Oct. 2016.
 It is probable that he had puffed out his chest, but I cannot vouch for that phenomenon.
 See Roberts, People of Righteousness,” 2011 and “Amnesty International,” 2011.
 See Roberts,” BBC Blind,” 2013 and “Righteous Blindness,” 2016.