Cricket is supposedly the sport of gentlemen but the current Ashes series has dealt it terrible PR.
Sledging has reared its ugly head. While it won’t quite fully overshadow the impressive and aggressive cricket played by Australia, it has certainly left a murky blot on the game’s copy book.
The art of sledging – verbal abuse dished out to batsmen by the fielding side in the hope it will put them off their game – is nothing new.
There is one famous story of Zimbabwean batsman Eddo Brandes who took his position at the crease to be asked by the Aussie fast bowler Glenn McGrath: “Why are you so fat?”. His sharp reply had something to do with the eating of biscuits as a reward every time he was secretly “entertained” by McGrath’s better-half.
The sledging at the Ashes has nowhere been as imaginative as that famous story. Indeed, on occasion, it has been aggressive and at times vile, with threats of broken arms and other such nonsense being flung around like George Bailey boundaries in a Jimmy Anderson over.
It is true that there is intense rivalry between the two teams.
The Ashes are of vital importance.
Anyone in any doubt should check the tired faces of commuters on their way to work in the morning after staying up all night to check scores from Down Under on Sky Sports, Twitter or Test Match Special.
Down the years, the Ashes have, in the main (we won’t mention the Bodyline series of 1932-33), been played with a sporting ethos running through them. Freddie Flintoff consoling crestfallen Aussie tail-ender Brett Lee when England triumphed in the 2005 Edgbaston Ashes test encapsulated the spirit of that rivalry.
The press has helped up the ante Down Under. The treatment of Stuart Broad by some sections of the Aussie media has been ridiculous. His decision to arrive at the first press conference of the first Ashes test carrying the local newspaper which refused to use his name in protest over his refusal to walk in the previous series seemed at the time a cheeky gesture. With the benefit of hindsight, it now seems just downright daft.
As well as the sledging antics, cricketers have also fallen foul to that infamous of traps which usually snares their footballing colleagues – social media.
In quick succession, we have read in newspapers apologies from Ryan Harris and Graeme Swann over indiscretions on social media. Swann’s was much more serious than Harris’s drink-fuelled outburst, stupidly likening the Ashes loss to rape.
Cricket has become far more professional in recent years, with more money being put into, which may explain the increased rivalry as well as increased scrutiny.
Match-fixing scandals have tarnished the face of the game over the past decade. Cricket has fought hard to put these behind it but the last thing it needed was sledging and football-like anger chipping away at its very heart in the current Ashes series.
England limply surrendered the Ashes in horrible fashion.
But with only pride left to play for, the management – and indeed PR men – for both teams should be driving home the message that England and Australia have a responsibility to restore cricket’s good name by improving the on and off-field behaviour towards each other.
Football tends to bring out the worst in people and has for too long trodden the path of bad behaviour. Cricket should do all it can not to follow it.