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?

The Ashes: First Test, Day 1 Talking Points

I have just gotten home from the first day of the of 2013/14 Ashes series and what a first day it was! It was a day that had something for every cricket fan no matter whether you are an Australian or English fan or just a one of the game’s purists. It would be fair to say that it was England’s day but Australia’s fightback in the final session of the day has made it a closer day that looked likely at the tea break.

Here are my talking points from the first day’s play:

Courier Mail v Broad: Broad wins in a first round knock out!

The Courier Mail lost the plot with its campaign to sledge Stuart Broad and to “silence him” by ostensibly not mentioning his name. 5 wickets, including the first 4 of the Australian innings, on day one from England’s key allrounder are enough for me, and basically every cricket fan, to declare this battle a win for Broad by knockout. Widely panned by all serious cricket journalists and all fair minded fan this stunt has done nothing but fire up the English team and successfully so it would seem. The people responsible at the Courier Mail, the journalist who wrote the article, the person who operates the social media and the editor who approved the stunt should be banished from this series for the remainder.

White ball form DOES NOT equate to form in the long form of the game

Australia’s top order again struggled. I have been vehement on this blog and in general discussion that some of Australia’s test players had been given insufficient time to prepare due to playing in a one day series before the test match and, I hate to say I told you so, so it proved for the most part today. George Bailey, on debut after a stunning series of scores in ODI cricket, looked out of sorts and out of touch and played at a ball he should have left. Shane Watson parried at a ball outside off stump that he should have left alone. It is easy to say that with more time in first class cricket at home instead of being in India they may not have played at those balls. I know Brad Haddin was on the same tour but he is not a top 6 batsman.

The Maligned Rise: Mitchell Johnson

It was a great day for Johnson. Under the pump from most fans (including me I concede) and under pressure given the situation Johnson played a gem of an innings. He was assured in his foot work, left the right balls alone and hit some very long balls when the opportunity arose. This was an excellent rearguard performance but the real test for Johnson will come tomorrow when he is called on to take the new ball. I, for one, he can take the confidence he must have gained from today’s performance and put it into play with the ball.

The Pitch: slower than expected … just the way James Sutherland ordered

I went into the ground expecting to see an old school Gabba wicket in late November particularly given the weather we had in Brisbane earlier in the week. I expected a bouncy green tinged wicket. What we got today at the Gabba, in the main, was a slow wicket with limited lateral movement. Fans should hark their minds back to the openly reported directive from Cricket Australia that James Sutherland and his sidekick wanted to see more batter friendly pitches for first class cricket this year. Seems that directive has impacted on the pitch prepared by Kevin Mitchell Jnr for this test.

Tomorrow beckons with Australia on 8/273 with Brad Haddin unconquered on 78 and Ryan Harris on 4. It presents as another great day of cricket.