During India's third test match last week, for the Border-Gavaskar trophy, Australian cricket team captain Tim Paine decided to employ what Steve Waugh had referred to famously as mental disintegration or sledging. He proceeded to ask India's wicketkeeper-batsman, Rishabh Pant, to stay behind in Australia since MS Dhoni was scheduled to return to the Indian team: "Can you babysit? I'll take the wife to the movies one night and you'll look after the kids." Pant, in a refreshing departure from the display of masculinity that gives regular sport the testosterone touch of a medieval brawl, did exactly that: Bonnie Paine, Tim's wife, recently posted a photograph of Pant with her babies, titled "Best Babysitter".
Paine and Pant are unaware of the disruption they may be causing to a tradition that can be traced to ancient Rome. The contours of contemporary cricket, especially when it involves Australia, demand that players pepper their actual performance (or lack of it) with invectives, meant to "distract" the opposition. "Invective", with roots in Latin, was a rhetorical device for senators of the ancient Roman Republic. Cicero, distinctly prescient to this form of "sledging", is recorded to have used invective rather well against his political opponents, including accusing one, Clodius, of incest. Modern cricket has amplified the rhetoric since. Harbhajan Singh, in a 2008 Sydney Test, had allegedly racially abused Australia's Andrew Symonds, calling him a "monkey".
In Antigua, 2003, Australia's Glenn McGrath had some exceptionally lewd remark to offer West Indies' Ramnaresh Sarwan who, in response, alluded to McGrath's wife. It was an ugly spat, but both players apologised eventually after the incident. In the context of such sledging that has often vitiated the sporting atmosphere, it is heartening to see Pant tackle "on-field banter" so well. It is equally sporting of Paine to be appreciative of Pant's gesture right away. The ability, between two opponents, to maintain civil exchange of views is something that many beyond the grounds can learn from.