One man's insult is another's witticism

Australia

"The Aussie war of words has been non-stop in this Ashes series. Whether you think any of this is right is of course another question," writes Peter Miller.

In the closing moments of the Brisbane Test Michael Clarke told James Anderson that he needed to get ready for a broken arm. Some thought this was the height of witty 'banter', while others screamed with outrage.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, it is normally where you find it. Clarke said something not very nice, while this shouldn't be applauded it is not really worthy of our condemnation. Worse things are said on every sports field in the world – and challenging <a href='http://www.paddypower.com/bet/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting odds</b></a> have often been vindicated for this.

There has been a change of approach by this Australian side under the stewardship of Darren Lehmann. Boof wants winners, and part of that is making yourselves an unpleasant team to play. When Allan Border was telling Robin Smith he couldn't have a drink of water back in 1989 he was setting a benchmark.

It wasn't about Smith wanting to have a drink. It was telling Smith that while we are playing you we will make your lives as uncomfortable as possible. Border's approach saw a turnaround in the fortunes of Australia in that series. Perhaps it is no coincidence that this newly combative Australia have won for the first time in 10 months.

Even off the pitch the Australian sledgathon has continued. From Shane Warne's relentless insistence that Cook was winning all wrong, to Dave Warner going at Trott in press conferences, to the Australian newspapers banning mention of Stuart Broad.

The Aussie war of words has been non-stop in this Ashes series. Whether you think any of this is right is of course another question. Players would tell you that what goes on in the heat of battle is all part of the process, many would argue that doing the same at a press conference is a disrespectful step too far.

Despite it being expressly outlawed in the worthy but pointless Spirit of Cricket preamble to the Laws of Cricket, sledging has been part of the game for almost as long as it has existed. Some people are more people artful than others.

There are examples that have become part of cricket folklore. Eddo Brandes and biscuits, Andrew Flintoff telling Tino Best to mind the windows, Merv Hughes and his bus driver impression. While those examples are funny, there are plenty of others that have a darker side.

Some will tell you that it is acceptable to engage in sledging if you raise a laugh while doing it. What is and is not funny could not be any more subjective, and by trying to say insults are fine if they get a giggle you will tie yourself in all sorts of logical knots.

Where you draw the line is a difficult one, and again one that will be a matter of opinion. For many Michael Clarke went too far by threatening violence, for others that would be less offensive than a joke about a players wife or kids. One man's insult is another man's witticism.

Perhaps the most telling part of the whole Clarke situation is that it only became an issue because it was broadcast via the stump microphones. It was said within ear shot of the umpires, but if it had not been broadcast he would not have faced sanction.

Players say that and worse in the course of any cricket match, and passions only run hotter the more high profile the occasion. In response to the furore around Clarke's comments England captain Alastair Cook would not criticise him. He described Test cricket as 'a war'. We may want to think of cricket that is played by gentlemen who say please and thank you, but that could not be further from the truth.

We are told so often that it has become cliched that cricket is a game played in the space between your ears. A natural extension of that is an attempt to get inside your opponents head. International cricketers are playing to win, if they think that by chirping in an opponent's ear will increase their chances of victory it will continue.

While these comments are all but inevitable, it is odd to revel in them. Telling an opponent that he is going to suffer serious injury is wrong. While it is not wrong enough for us to sever all diplomatic ties with Australia, it is not something that we should be gleefully celebrating.

It would be standing on the beach telling the tide not to come in if you were to campaign for this to stop. More than anything else the players don't want it to. For them it has always been, and always will be part of the game.

If Clarke, who sports impressive <a href='http://www.paddypower.com/bet/cricket/ashes-series-2013?ev_oc_grp_ids=375116' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>odds to be the series' top run-scorer</b></a>, had done what he did on the street he could have faced arrest for a Public Order offence. On the cricket field he can get away with it as long as no one outside the 15 men out in the middle hears it. Again, we learn that the Spirit of Cricket has as much substance as any ghost.

<b>Peter Miller (@TheCricketGeek)</b>

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