It’s only a game: sledging, stress and hyperbole

I was saddened to hear that Jonathan Trott, the immensely talented top order batsman from England, has returned home from the current Ashes tour in Australia to seek treatment for a stress related disorder. Well I am saddened that he is leaving the tour, I am equally overjoyed that Trott has stuck his hand up and sought assistance when he needed it.

The revalation that Trott has been dealing, for some time, with a stress related disorder and the intense focus in the aftermath of the “sledgegate” from the first test of the Ashes have given me, and should give all sports fans, a moment of pause. The fact is that cricket is a game played between two teams. It is not a conflict or war: it is not a scenario where life and death is on the line. The stakes between the teams are pride, respect and a trophy: not the control of the beach head or the fall of a despot. I think that fact has been lost on fans and pundits alike of late and that must stop!

It strikes me, that moment of pause had, that the reporting of cricket has gotten all a little bit serious and, alternatively, nasty. The reporting of the game in the Courier Mail during the first test has been nothing short of disrespectful and, indeed, nasty. Writing articles that specifically did not name a particular player and then dropping to new low depths to attack the looks of the partners of the English players was, I am sure all agree, the lowest form journalism. No fair minded fan of the game could support the “journalism” of the Courier Mail and, aside from firing up Stuart Broad, it served only to support the point that the reporting of the game has gotten unnecessarily nasty. The conduct of the print “journalists” (though I question that designation for those writing for the Courier Mail) was not sledging. It was nasty hyperbole of the worst order.

Sledging has been part of the game since its inception at all levels of the game. The fact that Michael Clarke sledged James Anderson and it appeared on Channel 9 (does anyone really think that this was a genuine mistake by the way?) is the only reason that we are talking about it. If it has not been picked up by the stump microphone it would not have been issue and Clarke would not have been charged. I played cricket from the age of 7 and have to say that even in U/12’s cricket there was an element of sledging during the course of play. Frankly: I heard worse sledging directed at me, than what Clarke said, in U/14’s cricket and remember vividly being welcomed to the crease in my first grade cricket game at the age of 15 to a spray of vitriol from the slips, wicket keeper and bowler that would make David Warner blush.

Now all of that sounds a little archaic but the point I raise here is that sledging is part of the game and is, of itself, a reinforcement that cricket is just game. This is because, no matter what was said on the field there was no player, ever, in my experience of playing cricket between the ages of 7 and 19 (with a couple of failed comebacks at 23, 25 and 29) who I did not shake the hand of at the end of the days play or who I wouldn’t have sat with at the end of play with for a chat and a beverage or 10. This is where the reporting of the game and sledging at the moment is missing the point: after the sledging that formed part of “sledgegate” at the end of the game each player shook each other’s hand and each captain in the press conferences said that what happened on the field would stay on the field.

If you love the game of cricket you must equally love sledging because it is part of the game and always will be. It is time for those that report the game to get off their metaphorical high horses on this topic and focus on the game and Australia’s victory.

Returning to Jonathan Trott and his return home to seek treatment: I am an Australian cricket fan and a sufferer of mental illness. My thoughts are with him as he goes through his treatment and I hope he returns to the field when he is ready to do so. The suggestion from some in the media and on social media that David Warner or sledging is to blame for Trott’s condition are as misguided as the “journalists” who write for the Courier Mail. Andy Flower and Hugh Morris have been overt on this point. Regardless of the cause/s Trott’s illness also serves to remind us that there are more important things in life than playing a game of cricket.

In the aftermath of the first test I think we all should take a moment and be reminded of this. The time for the ridiculous reporting of the game in the press and the angst surrounding sledging must stop because it is distracting everyone from the game itself rather than promoting it. Afterall, isn’t that what the media are supposed to be doing rather than inciting angst between the fans and players with their hyperbole?

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