It Takes More Than Mind Games To Win

25/03/2015 8:51 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
India's Rohit Sharma speaks to the media during a pre match press conference at the Cricket World Cup in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. India will play Australia in the World Cup semifinal on Thursday to gain a place in the final against New Zealand.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

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One issue that seems to have dominated the debate about tomorrow's semi-final between Australia and India is sledging. But whatever the compunctions expressed, never-mind what players from either side may have said, I don't think it should affect the outcome of the match.

Mitchell Johnson, Australia's pace ace, has said that apart from the swinging grenades that he will hurl, the Indian batsmen will also have to cope with his verbal volleys. Not to be outdone, Virat Kohli who wears his aggression on his sleeve, had said that it won't be a one-way traffic where this contest is concerned.

But players from both sides know that sledging can, at best, be a sideshow, not the main course. This is because in new-age cricket, there is no shock value remaining in the tactic. The globalization of the sport and the great detail in which sport is covered by television today has robbed it of its edge, in my opinion.

The tactic is simple: distract the opponent through insult and often abuse - to make him angry and vulnerable.

For the record, sledging, or 'banter' if you prefer, is a part of Australian cricket culture. Over time, it got a more refined description when Steve Waugh called it 'mental disintegration' of the opposition.

The tactic is simple: distract the opponent through insult and often abuse - to make him angry and vulnerable.

Go through cricket history, there has hardly been a time when there was an Australian team which didn't sledge. But this tactic has had diminishing marginal utility once it acquires inevitability. Tackling it becomes that much easier.

Indeed, players from other countries also worked out their own methods of giving it back. Former India batsman Vinod Kambli related the advice given to him by master batsman Sunil Gavaskar: don't respond when you are batting, because that will dilute your concentration, but give it back when you are fielding.

Different players work out what suits them best. Sometimes the team tactic could be a mix of different approaches. So, while Virat Kohli likes to give it back, M S Dhoni prefers to ignore sledging completely. But in his silence too is a tactic, for nothing riles a sledger more than being ignored.

My own belief is that as long as it does not get downright abusive or violent, some pow-wow in the middle adds to the drama of the game. True, some players tend to fly off the handle in which case the game's authorities now move in swiftly to reprimand or fine them.

In my opinion therefore, unless some players sully Thursday's match by grossly poor behavior, sledging, even if it happens, will be inconsequential to the result.

This a battle of skills, nerve and ambition between the two fine teams. To put the semi-final of a World Cup at stake by getting sucked into a different battle would be foolhardy.

While they may be passionate and emotional, perhaps even high strung, I don't think players from either team are idiotic enough to jeopardise the prospects of becoming World Cup winners.

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