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targeting and sledging

I like doing crossword puzzles: nothing too taxing but hard enough to while away an hour. There are usually one or two words to add to my vocabulary – like demesne in the Telegraph today. I thought it was from the same root as “demean” and was struggling to find an answer to the clue. Then my daughter put me straight: she suggested it meant a matter of property or ownership with the correct answer turning out to be “estate”.
But the other “demean” stuck in my head and it suddenly became relevant when I read a pre Ashes interview with the Australian fast bowler, Mitchell Johnson. He is a well mannered player on the field and wholehearted in what he does, so when he comes out with the intention of “targeting” the England Captain it all seemed out of character and – yes – thoroughly demeaning.
It is puerile nonsense to suggest that one batsman should be targeted more than another. Can you imagine any of the great fast bowlers of the past having to stoop to such clumsy psychology in an attempt to unsettle a Steve Waugh or a Sunil Gavaskar before the start of a Test series? If I were in Strauss's shoes, far from being concerned, I would be treating such petty posturing as a major sign of weakness in the opposing camp.
It is much the same with the current fashion for “bonding” exercises, presumably with the intention of artificially creating situations where players are forced to rely on each other and to trust one another. I can see the point with raw recruits from different backgrounds like basic training in the army but to make out that a Test player is more likely to hold a catch at slip because he has “bonded” well with the bowler is – yes – thoroughly demeaning.
For all that people make out that cricket is a team game, any player will tell you that most of the time you are on your own and it is up to you and nobody else to perform. There is a pleasant camaraderie in the dressing room and off the field but it is no good looking around for a shoulder to cry on when the chips are down in an Ashes series. It is up to the individual to show he has what it takes.
I never thought who the bowler was if a catch was coming my way. My first priority was to prove to all and sundry that I was quick enough, alert enough and with good enough hands to succeed. The only person I might have had in the back of my mind was the Captain. Nor did it matter who the batsman happened to be. That could be a matter of satisfaction after the event if it happened to be one of the opposition top order, but not in the split seconds when you have only your instincts to rely on.
I suppose this “targeting” business comes from the same school as “sledging” and neither one is worth a damn in the long run. A few words here or there on the field are fair enough. Nobody should expect to play in a monastic silence. But it is best kept to a minimum and even then contained within acceptable bounds by common agreement between the players. And it should stay on the field and nowhere else.
When Mr Johnson sees fit to publicise his aggressive aspirations before a game, he does the game a disfavour and certainly does his own image more harm than good. If he spent more time trying to improve his low arm, slinging bowling action and less time “targeting” other people, I am sure the Australian team would reap the greater benefit.


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