An Ashes series between England and Australia is always a fiercely contested affair. Both on and off the pitch, the two sides will trade heavy blows with devastating regularity, and the side that best deals with the psychological battering sent their way will often come out on top.
Sledging in Test Match cricket is one thing, but my trip to the Adelaide Oval for the second Magellan Ashes test earlier this month threw up a problem deeply ingrained within the sport. There is a precedent to be followed, but it isn’t being followed by the players.
During the periods of play over the course of the five day test match there were signs up on the big screens placed around the ground warning the spectators that any aggressive or discriminatory behaviour would result in them being ejected from the ground. However out in the middle this does not seem to be the case. In the first test match at the Gabba in Brisbane, David Warner was heard on the stump mic making reference to an incident involving England batsman Jonny Bairstow and Australian opener Cameron Bancroft.
Test Match cricket is famous for its sledging and incidents of aggression in the heat of battle, however there is a fine line between getting under an opponent’s skin and outright unacceptable language and behaviour that has no place on a sports field.
Going back to the 2013-14 winter Ashes series in Australia, captain Michael Clarke was accused of threatening incoming England batsman James Anderson with a broken arm, and his predecessor Ricky Ponting was seen on camera at Trent Bridge launching into a verbal assault on then England coach Duncan Fletcher for what he perceived to be unsportsmanlike behaviour after he was run out by substitute fielder Gary Pratt. Ponting was also at the heart of a highly controversial incident during the Ashes winter of 2010-11 after aggressively questioning an umpiring decision to not overturn a decision against England batsman Kevin Pietersen.
Whilst these issues are unacceptable on the field of play, where players should act as role models to younger spectators, the discrepancy between supporters who can be ejected immediately for overstepping the mark with their language or behaviour and their sporting heroes who will often stay on the field of play and more often than not face no disciplinary action is equally disheartening.
If derogatory behaviour off the pitch is to be struck out of the game altogether, then a precedent must be set that punishes any player that oversteps the mark. There is a fine line here that must be tread carefully so as not to eliminate an element of Test Match cricket that helps to make it the enthralling spectacle that it is.
However with that in mind, how are you supposed to expect members of the crowd caught up in the emotion of the game to respect the players on the opposite side of their allegiance if those players can’t retain an element of respect for their own opponents?