4 December, 2022


Against Verbal Assaults Within Cricket Field

By Michael Roberts

Dr. 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.[1]

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[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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 [1990]Abuse: Western Forms of Domination in World Cricket” Sri Lankan, August 1990

Michael Roberts [1999] “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 RobertsCricket, Dirty Cricket,” reprinted in Roberts, Essaying Cricket. Sri Lanka and Beyond, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, pp. 98-102.

Michael RobertsLegitimising 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 2016The 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/

[1] See Roberts, “Intimidating Assault Tactics” 27 Oct. 2016 and Roberts, Hughes Coronial Inquest,” 13 Oct. 2016.

[2] It is probable that he had puffed out his chest, but I cannot vouch for that phenomenon.

[3] See Roberts, People of Righteousness,” 2011 and “Amnesty International,” 2011.

[4] See Roberts,” BBC Blind,” 2013 and “Righteous Blindness,” 2016.

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Latest comments

  • 0


    With all due respect, I am a firm believer that some form of Sledging and misbehavior is a must in a Cricket. Unlike you, I am not a Rhodes scholar but I am one who attended an Ivy League school.

    And above all, I am a veteran of the Armed forces of Sri Lanka and a distinguished Cricketer. As a Cricketer, I don’t tolerate anyone’s garbage in the Middle. Being a fast bowler I am lethally aggressive at the opponents. I have even got physical and slapped an opponent once. On another occasion when I was batting and a close-in fielder sledged me I asked him when he was bending down, to do something which I am not allowed to write here. Last but not least, once I bowled a beamer at a Batsman that it nearly killed him.

    But I love to watch such rivalry in the middle.

    • 4

      No need to remind the reader that you are no Rhodes scholar or Ivy League Uni graduate. Your comment makes it clear. If you were a ;distinguished’ cricketer, as you seem to think, the world is yet to know about you! Your views on sledging in cricket are a disgrace to the so=called gentleman’s game and to yourself. If you think slapping an opponent is acceptable in cricket you must play elle or something else. IDIOT!

      • 0

        Point Blank,

        Let me ask you a few simple questions. Have you ever played Cricket for your school’s first eleven? If so, which school, which year and in what capacity?

        • 2

          Retarded (Rtd) fu&kup idiot army coolie boy Reginald Shemale Perehera, cricket has no place for a hoodlum like you. You are a gutter dweller who belongs in the bloody gutters. Why don’t you put your school name and when you played and then we can talk. Little weasels like you are in abundance in the Sri Lankan political culture. Bugger you have no class and someone should catch you and slap your filthy mouth.

  • 3

    India equals $$$$$$$. So no action will be taken. Media will stifle the story. India is the powerhouse of Cricket not only because of their top ranking but because of their money power. Umpires cower. BTW, Russell Arnold is a better announcer even with his fake accent than Ranjith Fdo of old. He is intelligent. He is doing better as a commentator than he was as a Batsman. He was a great fielder but his Test cricket and ODI runs are rather pedestrian

  • 1

    Dr Roberts,

    Well said! I and many others will both approve and support our stand.

    Those of us of a certain vintage will remember the time when there was ‘friendly banter’ on the field, and rarely hostile or antagonistic which would be quickly stamped out by the captain.

    But times have changed, and not for the better on playing fields everywhere. Amazingly, in the most contact of sports, rugby, the level of sledging is least.

    Let us hope that the tide will turn, but don’t hold your breath.

  • 0

    I’m reading your article during a rain break in the 1st Ashes Test, after a mornings play that, despite all the pre-match hyperbole, was as well mannered as a club match at Nondescripts.

    Chatter on the field of play is generally non-offensive and literally harmless. It very, very occasionally degenerates into outbursts such as the Dikwella incident. I too saw it live on TV, and thought it was well handled by the umpires, but agree with you that it would have been instructive to turn the pitch mics up – it would discourage players from becoming too offensive – for the sole reason that their sponsors would soon pull their luctrative deals.

    However, I fail to see the link between Doug Bollinger sledging Phil Hughes (a mature international cricketer), and his subsequent mis-hook at a ball from Sean Abbot that led to his death.

  • 0

    I agree with the suggestion to turn up the stump mics during incidents such as Dikwella vs India. The players’ sponsors would be horrified by their brand being associated with even mild misbehaviour of the kind we witnessed, and the threat of withdrawing their sponsorship would improve behaviour overnight.

    Otherwise this seems to be rather a large bee in the authors bonnet; there has always been plenty of chatter on cricket fields, some of it offensive but rarely harmful. The last thing the televised game needs is more interference from umpires, referees etc, all of which take time out of the game spectators and viewers are paying a lot to see.

    Finally, to link some banter from Doug (‘the rug’) Bollinger to the death of Phil Hughes from a ball subsequently bowled by Sean Abbot is ridiculous. Hughes was a seasoned international cricketer who would have been chirped by bowlers all his cricketing life. He just played too early at a medium paced bouncer – a tragedy, but nothing to do with sledging.

    • 1

      I don’t agree with turning up the stump mics. Then it will become an entertainment of difderent sort. Certain player woiuld like to be heard and not seen. Reading the sledge post match is ore interesting then you can relate it back to the wicket, or the glorius four!

  • 0

    Apologies for repeating myself……I thought my first effort had been deleted before posting!!

    Glad to report too that the whole 1st day of Ashes cricket was played in the finest Corinthian spirit, in front of nearly 40000 paying spectators….

  • 1

    Te trouble with us is that we have no backbone! In that respect, I admire “Captain Cool”, though not his ways in his capacity as a Cabinet Minister. When this confrontation was happening, where was the S.L captain?!! He should have confronted Kohli and the umpires and even stopped play for a while.

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