Against Verbal Intimidation in Cricket: A Voice in A Wasteland

Michael Roberts

Some of the illuminating details that surfaced at the recent coroner’s inquiry in Sydney into the death of Philip Hughes when a bouncer bust an artery in his neck display the continuing prevalence of verbal assaults in the heart of Australian cricket and the legitimacy accorded to this ‘philosophical pillar.’ Verbal intimidation is often a twin brother of intimidating bouncers. Bouncers are now restricted — no more than one or two per over. Verbal intimidation is not — and the coroner’s verdict in Sydney only sustained, albeit inadvertently, the official blanket thrown around the practice. I will be writing more on these specifics around the verbal and bouncer assault on the turncoat New South Welshman Hughes by his former state buddies in the near future, but let me return to my old campaign against a macho cricketing practice that undermines the principle of a level playing field : namely, the use of verbal intimidation by those more versed and hardened in that practice. I present here one of my first (ineffective) blows from the year 2001 – an article entitled “Against Verbal Intimidation in Cricket” in

hughes_3116917bphil-hughes-22 patriotism-chritian-sacrifice-in-hughes

“I write from a partisan position. Suspicious though I am of most forms of fundamentalism, I am a crusader against “sledging,” or verbal intimidation as it should be called in distinction from permissible light banter. Based on my information gleaned about the humiliations to which the Sri Lankan cricketers on tour of Australia in 1989-90 were subject, I wrote an article then on “Abuse: Western Forms of Imperialism in World Cricket.” When re-printed by Pravada in Sri Lanka, the editors altered it to “Bat, Ball and Foul Mouth.” That title is more apposite.

My principal argument against the use of verbal instruments on the cricketing field was that it destroyed the critical principle of a level playing field by favouring individuals and/or teams with verbal skills in sharp practice and cutting-talk. This point holds. I insist still.

I warned then that it was likely that the cancer of verbal intimidation would be diffused as the sub-continental teams adopted it as a means of survival on the field. Though I cautioned the Sri Lankans against falling prey to this form of cultural imperialism, it seems as if this forecast has come to pass, albeit in partial measure. I am informed that some verbal intimidation occurs at all levels of cricket in Sri Lanka. More recently, KumarSangakkara secured some notoriety on this issue after a spat with Michael Atherton. And just yesterday, Rohan Wijeyeratne chastised him in the Island newspaper for his “yapping.” That Sangakkara should be at the “cutting edge” is surely no accident. From a leading family in Kandy and the elite school of Trinity College, he is among the most Westernised and English-proficient in the present Sri Lankan team.

My crusade against verbal intimidation was revived in May this year when I sent the ICC an essay on the subject (since published in the Baggy Green vol 4: 1 October 2001 with editorial amendments). As the title indicated I argued for “Sin-bin for Verbal Intimidation.” Though nourished in the same “old school of cricket” as Mike Coward, it follows that I do not agree with his stance in the Australian of 10 December 2001 and that I endorse the editorial line presented in the same issue.

My strictures and the demand for the immediate punishment of individual players and/or captain were extended to the “heinous act” of claiming manifest bump-ball catches as true catches (while granting that there are grey moments when this occurs). I would not place ball-tampering on the same scale unless it is systematic team action or with extraneous instrument (Tendulkar’s misdemeanour, as visually captured and as evident from Denness’s subsequent “clarification,” was minor).

Thus, I favour the codification of scales of “crime” and the scales of punishment for each such act, though aware that contradictions will still arise – as they do in any bureaucratised scheme of things. The point about the penalty known as “sin-binning” is that its deleterious effects are immediate and there is no scope for appeal. But equally critical to the campaign against verbal intimidation is the implementation of two simple practices in all international games: (1) the sound system attached to stump-cam must be audible in the Judgment Room reserved for the Match Referee and Third Umpire, though closed off to the public; and (2) the umpires on field must be wired to the Third Umpire in the same manner as soccer and rugger Referees. Three pairs of ears and eyes are better than two and there is no reason why final decisions on specific issues cannot be left to those on the field (especially for bump-ball m catches, where the camera does obscure rather than aid).

These measures must be supported by off-field actions. Among these should be a systematic effort at all levels to delete the legitimising euphemism known as “sledging” from our vocabulary and to call the spade a spade: it is non other than an act of verbal assault or intimidation.”

Michael Roberts,
Anthropology, University of Adelaide
10 December 2001


 Roberts 2003Legitimising the Bullyboys on the Cricket Field,, 16 Dec 2004.

Roberts 2003 “Verbal Assault on the cricket field: ICC piss-weak, TV commentators insouciant,” 27 November 2003.

Roberts 2007 “Vilification, Zero Tolerance and Double Standards in Cricket,”, 7 November 2007.




Sheffield Shield, New South Wales v South Australia at Sydney, Nov 25-28, 2014
25,26,27,28 November 2014 (4-day match)
South Australia 1st innings R M B 4s 6s SR
PJ Hughes not out 63 204 161 9 0 39.13
View dismissal MJ Cosgrove c O’Keefe b Lyon 32 98 68 6 0 47.05
View dismissal CJ Ferguson c †Haddin b Bollinger 28 69 41 4 0 68.29
TLW Cooper not out 5 35 22 0 0 22.72
Extras (lb 6, w 1, nb 1) 8
Total (2 wickets; 48.3 overs; 204 mins) 136 (2.80 runs per over)
Bowling O M R W Econ
MA Starc 10 3 24 0 2.40 (1nb)
View wicket DE Bollinger 10 1 32 1 3.20 (1w)
View wicket NM Lyon 15 5 31 1 2.06
SA Abbott 9.3 3 29 0 3.05
SR Watson 3 1 5 0 1.66
SNJ O’Keefe 1 0 9 0 9.00
New South Wales team

Match details

Toss – South Australia, who chose to bat
Points – New South Wales 1, South Australia 1
Umpires – AJ Barrow and MW Graham-Smith
Match referee – D Talalla

Close of play

  • Tue, 25 Nov – day 1 – South Australia 1st innings 136/2 (PJ Hughes 63*, TLW Cooper 5*, 48.3 ov)


Filed under Australian cricket, confrontations on field, cricket governance, cricketing rules, fair play, politics and cricket, sportsmanship, violent intrusions

6 responses to “Against Verbal Intimidation in Cricket: A Voice in A Wasteland

  1. Pingback: The Phil Hughes Coronial Inquest: Cricketers Wallow in Contradictory Evidence | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Pingback: Doug Bollinger on Back Foot in Phil Hughes Inquest | Critiquing Cricket

  3. Pingback: Alex Kontouris faces “Chin Music” at the Coronial Inquest into Phil-Hughes’ Death | Critiquing Cricket

  4. Pingback: Call for Clarification of Bouncer Laws at Inquest into the Phil Hughes Death | Critiquing Cricket

  5. Pingback: The ICC is Imbecile: Verbal Assaults permitted within Cricket Field | Thuppahi's Blog

  6. Pingback: Deadly Blows: Horrendous Onfield Events in Cricket | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply