A time and a place for sledging
I was very interested to read Gary Kirsten’s comment that South Africa won’t get involved in sledging on the current tour of New Zealand. As a player Kirsten was non-confrontational on the field and preferred to let his bat do the talking. His stance in this respect doesn’t surprise me. There is nothing wrong with that approach but at top level there is a time and a place for intimidation. The key is to recognise the right time and the correct situation for this strategy.
Sledging should never be an outburst of emotional abuse at an opposing player or team. That just displays a lack of control which normally leads to a lack of concentration, and that is exactly what should be avoided. Sledging should be a carefully orchestrated strategy that is done subtly with a view to breaking the opposition’s concentration at a crucial time.
Australia have been the masters of this strategy; we South Africans haven’t been too bad at this ourselves. Having sat in the Australian dressing room for many international matches, against all major test playing nations, I experienced first-hand how this process works.
The key is to identify players in the opposition who are vulnerable to this tactic and who will react emotionally. The Aussies pick their victims and their time to adopt this tactic in order to give them an edge.
When they spot a weakness in this respect, they pursue this character flaw relentlessly. They also work out pretty quickly which players in the opposition are motivated by sledging and the last thing they will do is to have a go at someone who they know will concentrate harder and perform better when under threat in this way.
The Kiwis are under the illusion that they are good at this type of thing. The truth is they are not at all. When you sledge you need the firepower to back it up. It is pretty difficult to go to war with an air rifle and that in the main has been the extent of the Black Caps' firepower in the modern era – with the exception of Richard Hadlee, who was a good bowler but not by any means scary. The West Indies of the eighties and some of the Aussie teams in days gone by did have the artillery to back up their sledges.
There is also some talk that Stephen Fleming as captain used this tactic well. I find that hard to believe. I will be surprised if big Flem could frighten anything or anyone. He may have been a few things in his day, but scary wasn’t one of them!
As South African sportsmen, most of us don’t take a backward step. Hopefully this will be the case in New Zealand over the next few weeks when the flak starts flying. In fact the Proteas should go the other way and get in first in the intimidation stakes.
Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are perfect examples of two players who should see to that. It will be disappointing if the Proteas shy away from looking the opposition in the eye and taking them on.
What Gary Kirsten hopefully meant was not to be distracted by the New Zealand players in this respect. Giving more than you get doesn’t have to be a distraction. In fact it could be an important tool towards establishing domination and a winning platform.