I have spent more time umpiring than coaching this season. Not a conscious decision, but it seems to have worked out that way. And it has to be said that you do get a different view of the game when you are wearing the white coat.
I stood recently in a U16 Colts’ game. There was some niggle between one of the opposition bowlers and one of our batters. When the bowler’s turn to bat came, he received a fair few comments, from the batters team-mates – nothing abusive, certainly no swearing, no disparaging remarks, beyond the odd “can’t get it off the square”, and out-loud questions about when he was going to start hitting the ball. And, inevitably, the bowler-turned-batter tried to hit a ball that he would have been better off blocking, and soon was on his way back to the pavilion – to silence for the fielding team.
Classic “mental disintegration”, as I believe the Aussies used to call it (when they were winning).
I raised the question with the other coaches and senior members of the Club – as umpire, I saw nothing wrong (nor did my colleague in the white coat, standing “for” the opposition), but was sledging something we should be coaching and encouraging, or actively discouraging?
As our Club Chairman reminded me, the ECB’s Code of Conduct, which incorporates the Spirit of Cricket, specifically states that:
Players and team officials shall not intimidate . . . . an umpire, another player or a spectator. . . . shall not use crude and/or abusive language (known as “sledging”) nor make offensive gestures or hand signals nor deliberately distract an opponent.
I tend to the view that some form of sledging is inevitable in the game – there will always be (and always was) a certain level of chatter, and, so long as it stays broadly respectful of the opposition I think there is a place for it, even in the amateur club game. And if it is done with a sense of humour, it can be even more devastating, I find.
However – the coaching point from the U16 match might be to get the lads to ponder how they would deal with the situation if they were on the receiving end of concerted sledging. Control and concentration at the top of the list.