Chris Waters: Declining on-field standards lack the wit of Fiery Fred

WHEN I wrote a biography of Fred Trueman a few years ago I had to make a decision on the subject of swearing.

Yorkshire legend, Fred Trueman.
Yorkshire legend, Fred Trueman.

By all accounts, the former Yorkshire and England fast bowler swore like a trooper, and many of the anecdotes and sayings attached to him contained colourful language.

In the end, I decided that it was a part of the story and that to gloss over it would be to misrepresent the facts.

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My decision did not go down well with some – most notably a vicar from Devon, who wrote an admonishing missive to myself querying why I had felt it necessary to include so many f-words in the book (albeit asterisked out) to which I entertained myself with the impish notion – never followed-through – of composing a two-word reply.

South Africas Kagiso Rabada. Picture: AP/Themba Hadebe.

I mention this not by way of a circuitous publicity stunt (although the book is available in fine bookstores everywhere, since you ask), but by way of preface to the unfortunate incident concerning the South African cricketer Kagiso Rabada.

As you are no doubt aware, the pace bowler is suspended for the current Test match at Trent Bridge after telling England’s Ben Stokes to “f*** off” after dismissing him during the first Test at Lord’s.

It was not this isolated outburst, or send-off, that resulted in Rabada’s suspension per se. The 22-year-old had already received three demerit points from the International Cricket Council after a previous disciplinary offence and this one took him over the threshold resulting in suspension. But it brought into the spotlight the time-honoured issue of player behaviour and standards on the field. And in an era of increasing professionalism, it seems that the win-at-all-costs mentality has come at the expense of respect between players and officials, with the likes of football and cricket too often played by those who believe that such a facade is part and parcel of sport.

The reason I bring Trueman into it is that although Fred could probably have taught the Anglo-Saxons something about Anglo-Saxon, he never swore directly at batsmen.

South Africas Kagiso Rabada. Picture: AP/Themba Hadebe.

Speak to any of his former team-mates or opponents, as I did extensively, and they will all tell you that he never crossed the line of personal abuse.

I have no wish to pick on Rabada, a young man who no doubt regrets what he did say, for the fact is that instances of players swearing at each other have become ten-a-penny.

James Anderson, Stokes himself – there are many who have crossed the line, just as there are many who are quick to defend such actions as part of the game. The difference between Trueman and, say, someone like Anderson is that Trueman’s swearing was invariably part of a witty aside.

“Tha’s got more f****** edges than a broken p*** pot”, he used to quip, after a batsman had edged the ball down through the slips. But Fred had too much respect for his opponents – and the game in general – to swear directly at players.

In an effort to escape sanction, Rabada bizarrely claimed that he actually told himself to “f*** off” as opposed to Stokes.

It was a bit like someone protesting that he had actually aimed the classic puerility, “Oi, are you looking at my girlfriend?” at himself as opposed to the object of his jealousy.

No, it will not wash, and nor will declining on-field standards.