Indians love drama. Period.
Look at our movies. They may be termed as romantic-comedies, thrillers, horror, and the like, but they all fall under the broader umbrella of drama.
That is because we operate on – and are driven by – emotions. Even when it comes to sports, we’re cricket fanatics, probably because no other sport has as much as drama as cricket. Even if you are a creathen (i.e. an Indian who find cricket to be interesting), you won’t have succeeded in omitting cricket from your life completely. On the contrary, it’s a given that you must have faced flak from your friends for being such a heathen. Somehow, the sport’s a part of our lifeblood. Don’t believe it? Go watch a match of gully cricket. See how the emotions run high and the abuses that are slung willy-nilly. They can put Glen McGrath to shame.
Which brings us to the greater question: How much drama is too much – Not only in cricket, but in every professionally played sport?
WHEN THE SPICE IS RIGHT
Sledging is common when emotions run high. It is seen across almost every team sport. It creates drama, especially in cricket. You can’t expect a bunch of humans to not pounce on another their opponent. Deep down, we are still controlled by our animal instincts. So, when a gang of eleven players is against two on the field, of course, things are going to spin slightly out of control, especially verbally. And that’s okay. It defines the aggressiveness a player has. Off-field, the same players might be friends, but on-field, dynamics change. Your friend is an opponent and to keep them down, you will use any trick in your playbook. Sledging can be one such move. It fills the opponent with rage, causing them to lose focus. Steven Waugh has called sledging as a way to cause mental disintegration, a humorous attempt to distract the opponent. For Australians, it’s a weapon used often and to great effect.
However, it can also turn the tables on the team that is sledging.
Sir Viv Richards was once sledged by Greg Thomas who was bowling. That over went so badly for Greg Thomas that it became the stuff of legends. Vivian Richards sent the bowler out of the stadium to search for the ball that he had hammered out into the nearby river.
Sledging creates excitement. But is such excitement needed in every game? Chess is a game of concentration and sledging might be an appropriate way to make someone lose their cool. But is it okay to do so? Perhaps we can find agreement in the bare minimum that if sledging is a form of entertainment, then it should only be included in those games which are popular because of the entertainment factor they provide than their competitiveness. This is why cricket matches are not played just between two teams battling it out on the field, but have multiple different points of view, each one different from the other.
Because it provides entertainment.
Even football, which has a wider audience, thrives on providing drama and entertainment.
These are the sports where sledging is accepted, where even the audience often partakes in it. But you won’t see this happening in the Olympics. In fact, such actions could get you permanently banned in that realm.
So, the difference between the games in which we can sledge and in which we can’t is the entertainment value they provide.
THE BRAIN ON SPICE
Numerous studies have been conducted to study the effect of sledging on the mental capabilities of the sportsperson. Some people tend to think that the mental conditions of a sportsperson should not affect their physical prowess. But that’s not true. When we feel anger, our body’s temperature rises. But anger also decreases concentration. And human emotions range a wide gamut from the depths of despair to the peaks of success.
Some might feel bad about affecting a person mentally to win a game. High emotions caused by sledging could trigger an underlying condition in the sportsperson, which would be detrimental to the spirit of the game.
This tactic is used off-field too, in our day to day life.
It has been known that Muhammad Ali used to sledge his opponents before entering the ring. This made the opponent change his aim from winning the bout to obliterating Ali, making them lose sight of the end goal.
In soccer, it is not only your reaction time, your competence and your skill that are important, at the same time, you also have to stay focussed, remember the tactics and have the presence of mind to combine your instincts with your instructions.
In such a case, if rival fans begin sledging you, then you can lose concentration as your emotions come to the fore. In fact, hurting someone emotionally might make the person lose all their focus from the task at hand and make them focus on whatever is causing them mental disturbance.
To understand why this happens, we need to go back to the days of the caveman. Imagine a group of our Neanderthal ancestors living in a forest. If you were separated from your group, it would certainly mean death. Forget the predators, even getting lost and being alone could be fatal.
In Cricket, a batsman, when sledged by a bowler who has 10 outfield players to back him in a pack, is sure to feel alone. This is also why when fans in a soccer field sledge their rival team, the perception is that the opponent has greater support, and the team which is sledged may get demoralized and lose their focus. This is where the entire concept of home and away matches comes into the picture as well.
Sledging is not just a winning tactic it’s an emotional tool. If used rightly it will take you to victory without causing any permanent emotional damage to the opponent but if used excessively, it might transform into bullying or even a sort of emotional torture that could leave scars. Friendly banter will keep the game competitive but excessive sledging might lead to long term harm.
TOO MUCH SPICE CAN BURN
Yes, sledging is good. It can take the boredom out of a boring game. But there’s a thin line between sledging and bullying.
You could draw a similar parallel between constructive criticism and insults.
There are no predefined laws as to what is acceptable and what is not, the judgment lies on the sport organizers and the people. However, everyone should agree that there’s a point where no one should go. Some lines which should not be crossed.
Comments on a person’s race, family, relationships and even beliefs are the worst forms of sledging.
Remember the Harbhajan-Symonds scandal which got both parties fined?
And how much sledging is even acceptable? Should a sport only be known for the sledging? For example, WWE is a dramatic show, more entertainment than wrestling. Much of it is only insults, braggadocio, and name-calling. Sure, it brings in the fans, but aren’t we doing injustice to the sport itself?
In the game of Kusthi, the Indian form of wrestling, opponents are given strict warnings that anything happening inside the ring should have no bearing outside it, and vice versa.
After all, sledging can leave a permanent mark on the player’s mind. They might not even remember the game, but will remember what they felt. What they were made to feel.
Local kabbadi matches have a high amount of sledging, and the animosity is often carried over outside the game too. Even spectators get involved in abusing their rival teams in such games. This degrades the sanctity of the sport.
In the end, it is us, the fans who need to decide how much of such behaviour are we willing to accept in the game. After all, demand creates supply, and if the people are attracted to a game because of sledging, then it will be encouraged – and maybe even staged – causing the sport to be known not for the competition, but only for the spice. And that can burn.