The Ashes: Why Sledging No Longer Matters  

International rivals are frequently team-mates in the age of global competition
16:18, 30 Aug 2019

It’s bouncers, not bile, that have defined the Ashes so far. 

If Steve Smith thought the hostility of the English crowds at Edgbaston and Lord’s were hard to contend with, that was nothing compared to the astonishing power and pace with which Jofra Archer knocked him to the floor. 

For some of the criticism that England’s new quick faced over the incident, he is far from the only player to antagonise with the ball in recent weeks. 

The hope, even before that very first toss, was that cricket would be the major talking point, not what has gone before. That had been difficult when Cameron Bancroft, David Warner, and Smith were all lining up in the top order. 

None of the Baggy Green’s ‘sandpaper trio’ can have had many complaints. They gave the Barmy Army the ammunition themselves, while others such as Nathan Lyon’s previous comments have come back to bite them. 

Yet on the field, gone are the days when sledging was a central part of the enmity that encompasses any Ashes series. 

The divide that once existed was insurmountable in an era when opposing players were almost completely alien to one another. 

Now, in large part thanks to the IPL, there are friendships to be found across enemy lines. 

The two heroes of the series so far for their respective sides, Ben Stokes and Smith, are among the most prominent allies, playing together at Rajasthan Royals, a team also featuring Archer and Jos Buttler.  

In his 2014 biography, Kevin Pietersen recalled how the powers that be were never quite comfortable with the idea that he and his opponents could engage in a sense of mutual respect. As such, the mentoring and camaraderie the England batsman had enjoyed with Shane Warne was buried from November 2006 onwards, for the course of the next couple of months anyway. 

Instead, Warne spent an innings throwing the ball at him. Pietersen wasn’t proud of his response, either: “Stand in my way and I’ll f***ing run you.” 

Andrew Flintoff was another exponent of the "art" famously winding up opponents with his cheeky Lancastrian wit.

Naturally, it is harder for Australia bowler A to conjure up that kind of vitriol to England batsman B, when the latter is a man they freely eat, drink and socialise with at other times of the year.  

Sledging, like so many things, isn’t what it used to be. The venom will continue to be spewed from the stands - make no mistake about that - but the cricket itself will be left to do the talking.