The Ashes unspun – why sledging and slights add to the spectacle

It’s fair to say that there’s little love lost between England and Australia when it comes to The Ashes.

Whether it’s down to historical, cultural animosity, the Bodyline series of the 1930s or just the importance of that little urn, no cricketing contest matters more to either nation.

There’s an irony in the fact that cricket has always regarded itself as a noble sport.

“It’s simply not cricket” has become common parlance for anything where the lines of moral fortitude have not been strictly adhered to.

The MCC, custodians of Lord’s and fathers of the game, chastised former England Test bowler and BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew, for entering the Long Room without a tie.

But all that pomp and circumstance goes out the window when the sides meet – and that’s great for sport and the game.

As PR consultants, we remind clients of the importance of sticking to official messaging and remembering how their conduct and comments can have a detrimental effect on sports communications.

In cricketing terms, though, this would make for a sterile spectacle, lacking the intrigue which makes Ashes Tests in particular such a fascinating contest.

There are also times where honest, thought-through opinion can serve as a reminder of the unscripted drama sport creates.

Incidences of sledging between English cricketers and their counterparts are the stuff of legend and certainly sometimes go beyond what may be considered fair comment.

But even in the last day, the mischievous comments by Australian batsman Steve Smith, who could well have played for England instead of the Aussies, add to the spice of the game.

Smith, who scored a century during a dominant opening day at Lord’s, was quick to question the fielding decisions made by England captain Alastair Cook and his new coach, suggesting that the hosts had been rattled and defensive too quickly when things weren't going their way.

Smith’s comments were perceived not just as an observation of the game but also to undermine Cook, whose captaincy has been questioned in recent months, as well as drive a wedge between him and his new coach. Whether it worked remains to be seen. 

The media have also been briefed that England’s offer of a drink with their Australian counterparts, after a comprehensive home win in the First Test, was nothing more than gamesmanship. It’s subtle but a fascinating insight into what may well have been another attempt to demean their defeated opponents.

No doubt as the Second Test and this Ashes series goes on, the rivalry and the tension will heighten, the measured but calculated remarks and put-downs will continue.

So far at least, this Ashes series seems to have got the perfect blend of mischief and competition and any attempt to pare down the controversy or competition would spoil what is undoubtedly one of sport’s great rivalries.