SLEDGING is a simple-minded practice at the best of times and none more so than when Andrew Flintoff engaged in it during a World T20 game against India at Durban in 2007.
The Lancashire and England all-rounder aimed a verbal volley at Yuvraj Singh, the former Yorkshire batsman, who responded by hitting six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad.
“I’d bowled the over before but my ankle had gone again and it was the last game I was going to play before more surgery,” explained Flintoff in an interview in 2011.
“It was all just bubbling over.
“I needed to vent it at someone and Yuvraj was there.
“I thought: ‘You’re having this, mate’, and I had a right pop at him.
“I can’t repeat what I said.
“Then he hit Broady for six sixes.
“The first one, he looked straight at me, then the second, then the third, then the fourth.
“In the end, I just put my head down.”
Anyone minded to discover the exact details of what Flintoff said can find it soon enough on the internet.
Suffice to say that in Yuvraj’s own version, it involved several f-words and even a threat to slash part of his anatomy.
Classy stuff, as I am sure you would agree, and a reminder that the world of professional sport is not always what it might seem away from the ears of innocent spectators.
For Flintoff and England, far from causing “mental disintegration”, as sledging is so often justified by its apologists, the upshot was their own disintegration before Yuvraj’s swashbuckling bat.
“It got me really worked up,” he admitted.
“I was really angry and I just wanted to hit every ball out of the ground, just give it back.
“Sometimes, it (sledging) backfires.
“On that day, I think it backfired on them.”
Ten years on from that famous game, with the two sides currently involved in a T20 series in India, Yuvraj’s achievement remains fresh in the mind.
Thanks to YouTube, it is proudly preserved in all its finery and readily re-lived at the click of a mouse.
The drama happened like this:
Going into the penultimate over of India’s innings, the total was 171-3.
Yuvraj had hit 14 runs from six balls.
Fired up by Flintoff, the batsman cracked Broad’s first delivery of the 19th over high into the night sky over mid-wicket.
Up in the commentary box, Ravi Shastri, the former India player, and one of just three other men to have hit six sixes in an over in professional cricket, cried out: “That’s huge, that is a biggie, it’s out of here.
“I think those few words with Flintoff just charged him up a bit.”
The next ball was contemptuously dismissed by Yuvraj high over deep backward-square.
“Just a flick, nothing more,” admired Shastri’s co-commentator, David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd.
“He’s not even got his eye in yet.”
Broad, a fresh-faced 21-year-old looking shell-shocked beneath the Kingsmead floodlights, then served up a half-volley outside off-stump, which Yuvraj sent sailing over extra-cover.
“Six, six, six, and it’s balle, balle, balle in the crowd,” enthused an enraptured Shastri, with ‘balle’ translating to ‘hooray’.
Broad changed tack for the fourth ball, going round the wicket, only to serve up a wide full toss that Yuvraj carved over backward-point.
“Four sixes in a row,” declared an amazed Lloyd.
“England are having a conference meeting, they’re in bits.”
Broad went back over-the-wicket for the fifth delivery, a length ball which Yuvraj mis-hit for six over mid-wicket.
Two weeks earlier, Yuvraj himself had been hit for five straight sixes by Dimitri Mascarenhas in a T20 match against England at The Oval.
On that occasion, Yuvraj had been left decidedly grateful for the dot-ball he bowled at the start of the over.
But there was no such luck for poor old Broad, whose sixth ball was right in the slot and hammered over mid-wicket.
“I don’t believe it,” exclaimed Lloyd. “I’ve seen hitting – not like this.
“Massive, absolutely massive.
“Yuvraj Singh – 50, twelve deliveries. You’re kidding me.”
For a parting shot, Yuvraj slapped a full toss from Flintoff over extra cover for six in the final over before Flintoff had him caught at long-on by Paul Collingwood from the penultimate ball of the innings.
“He goes for 58,” said Shastri as Yuvraj walked off.
“He came in like thunder, he goes like lightning.”
After Yuvraj’s salvo, which helped raise a final score of 218-4, England did well to lose by only 18 runs.
Collingwood’s men were already unable to win the competition, but India went on to do just that, beating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final at Johannesburg by five runs.
Yuvraj’s extraordinary feat in Durban was the second time in six months that a player had hit six sixes in an over in an international match.
Herschelle Gibbs, who later went on to play for Yorkshire as well, did it for South Africa against the Netherlands in the 50-Over World Cup in St Kitts, tearing into leg-spinner Daan van Bunge.
It is a lonely place for the unfortunate bowler, and after Yuvraj dished out his thunderous treatment to Broad, he graciously spared a thought for him after the game.
“I was one who got hit for five sixes in the Oval game (by Mascarenhas),” he said.
“It’s a horrible feeling, and Stuart is one of their main bowlers, so I feel sorry for him.
“He had a horrible day.
“It can happen to anyone.”
Yuvraj said that it was only as the over neared its climax that he sensed the prospect of history in the making.
“After the fourth six, I thought that if I use the crease well, I’m sure I can hit one more,” he said.
“Then, after the fifth six, I thought that obviously I have to go for the sixth.
“It’s a great feeling.”
Yuvraj might have had sympathy for Broad, but there was little sportsmanship shown to Yuvraj.
As David Hopps lamented in The Guardian: “Half the England side ran to Broad to offer sympathy but not one fielder congratulated Yuvraj.
“Why is it when history is made that players cannot break out of their team ethic even for a moment?
“Is Yuvraj so unpopular with this England side, or were they somehow clinging to some misguided notion of rigid professionalism?”