Friday, 26 September 2014

Column 30, 2014 – Top bants

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 102, Friday September 26, 2014.
[Full text below]

The Andrew Gale racism accusation has thrust player banter once again into the spotlight. The OED defines banter as ‘the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks’. The word had its time in the sun a few decades ago, but is now among the most irritating in the language, along with its own abbreviated form ‘bants’, largely due to its adoption by teenagers to mean ‘hijinks’, or any kind of boisterous schadenfreude they deem ‘top bants’.

Banter has a lot to answer for, and cricket is sorely afflicted. Sledging, some say, is part of the game. This I am prepared to accept on the condition – and it’s a non-negotiable condition – that it is funny.

South African batsman Daryl Cullinan is perhaps best remembered as Shane Warne’s bunny. He once arrived at the crease to Warne gloating that he’d been waiting two years for another chance to humiliate him, to which Cullinan deliciously shot back: “Looks like you spent them eating.”

Portliness is often at the heart of a good sledge. My brother-in-law once shouted from square-leg as I walked out to bat, “He’s wearing a stomach pad!” which had the whole field in stitches, including me. He was later delighted when I admitted that trying to think up a suitable riposte was consuming most of my concentration when I spooned one up in the air, so his sledge was directly responsible for my dismissal.

This kind of sledging seems to have gone out of fashion these days, in favour of brainless abuse.

“Get ready for a broken f***ing arm,” was Michael Clarke’s welcome to Jimmy Anderson last winter. Top bants, Michael. An army of ICC lawyers proved unable to determine what Jimmy himself said to Ravi Jadeja this summer, but we can be fairly confident it wasn’t a playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks.

We once played a much higher league side in a knockout cup, where they spent our whole innings telling each of our batsmen in turn what effing c-words we were. We found it rather baffling. Seven leagues above us, yet the manifest superiority of their cricket was apparently insufficient.

If you strip the Andrew Gale / Ashwell Prince exchange of anything that might be considered racist (ie where they were telling each other to go) it amounts simply to this: Prince: “F*** off.” Gale: “You f*** off, you f***er.” Top bants indeed. Devastating repartee. Like having Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain out there.

It’s not racist, it’s just abuse. It’s pathetic, the kind of playground name-calling that gets 15-year-olds detention. It’s embarrassing not because it’s racist but because it’s just so base, so charmless, so utterly devoid of wit or imagination.

In my view the ECB is wrong to pursue Gale for racism. But if its intention is to draw attention to and stamp out such indefensible, boorish, sub-prison-yard ‘banter’, then for once the ECB has my full-throated support.

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