Oval sledging by Australia features added layer of menace as hard-fought Ashes series heats up
It has been a long summer. For some, it seems, too long. In what started out as one of the better-natured Ashes contests, by day three of the final Test it had deteriorated into a flurry of bitter verbal volleys between players.
This is not the first time this summer that sledges have been exchanged, but in a series of heated remarks at the Oval there was an added layer of menace.
Steve Smith, perhaps the one man who really does need look no further than let his bat to do the talking, was the first to be heard showing his frustration. On a rare day of English domination with the bat, the leading run scorer was heard on the stump microphones telling Joe Denly, who is currently the top run-scorer in this match: “It’s an easy game when there’s no pressure on, eh?”
Matthew Wade, a familiar voice to those watching the series on the television, then appeared to have a few sharp words to say to Joe Root, but these were inaudible on the broadcast feed. Only Root’s response – “You can’t have it all your own way” – came through before the on-field umpires were seen warning Wade about his comments.
It was not just the stump microphones which provided some added entertainment beyond just the players’ athletic skills alone. As Ben Stokes walked off the field at lunch, having faced five balls without scoring, he stopped in his path back to the changing room and, with a few feet between them, let David Warner know what he thought of him.Credit: getty mages
After lunch and back in the middle the Australian captain, who had previously warned both Wade and Warner about excessive sledging earlier in the series, also then had a few words to say to Stokes. “Aww yeh, Bristol,” taunted Tim Paine from behind the stumps in what is not thought to have been a reference to the football match between Stoke City and Bristol City which was being played at the time. Instead, it was more likely a reminder to Stokes of the incident outside a Bristol nightclub two years ago after which the all-rounder was charged with, and later acquitted of, affray.
Australia may have retained the urn, but it is now evident quite how much this final Test means to both sides. For England, it is the prospect of avoiding a humiliating 1-3 home series scoreline, whereas for Australia, a first win away in England since 2001 is a far more dominant statement than falling to a draw, especially when they have had so many chances to win the series outright.
In an international summer which started more than five months ago, there is also an element of emotional, not just physical, fatigue settling in.