As the nature of, and need for, on-field 'banter' became a focus for discussion in the lead-up to the second Magellan Ashes Test, former Australia captain Ricky Ponting claims there is a valid place for verbal aggression as a tactical weapon.
In an interview conducted with cricket.com.au prior to the start of the current Ashes series, Ponting revealed that well-targeted chat can affect the concentration of some opposition players and has the potential to put them off their game.
But the former skipper, who admits he was never one to shy away from an on-field confrontation, said there were some players such as his former teammate Steve Waugh and West Indies champion Brian Lara who thrived on getting involved in a verbal stoush.
Ponting included himself among that group and claimed that he sometimes needed to restrain himself from getting too immersed in exchanges with on-field rivals lest he lose focus on the task immediately at hand.
The role of 'sledging' as the verbal battles are generically known has again been questioned in the wake of Australia’s 10-wicket win in the opening Test at the Gabba, when captain Steve Smith confirmed his team had used the tactics "to get Jonny (Bairstow, England’s keeper) off his game".
That included making reference to a previously unreported incident that had taken place earlier in the tour when Bairstow greeted Australia opener Cameron Bancroft with a headbutt in a Perth bar, with Smith claiming chat about that clash was a contributing factor in Bairstow’s dismissal at a crucial stage of the Brisbane Test.
While not referring directly to that matter, Ponting claimed that 'banter' did have a place and purpose at the top levels of cricket.
"I think it actually can get to people because, even myself, when I got into a real one-on-one battle with the bowler, one of my keys and triggers that I had was just to not get too much into the contest and get out of control," Ponting told cricket.com.au last month.
"I think a few words here and there to certain players can actually get them out of control and you take them out of their comfort zone and out of their bubble, that’s when they start making mistakes.
"So it was a conscious thing for me, as much as I loved being in that one-on-one battle, I had to make sure that I wasn’t out of control, and we knew all the people that we could have a word to and try and unsettle.
"And we knew the ones we shouldn’t talk to.
"I’d like to think the guys that played against me would say 'he (Ponting) was one of those guys you shouldn’t talk to', and Steve Waugh was one you shouldn’t talk to.
"Brian Lara was one you shouldn’t talk to."
While Ponting believes that words can be used to unsettle or distract some players at Test level, he maintains the prevalence of hard-core "sledging" on the field is significantly less than the public and media perceive.
During his two decades in first-class cricket, Ponting played with and against some of the most vocal exponents of ‘banter’ at state and international level and claims the incidence of ‘sledging’ is probably more noticeable at lower levels of the game.
"There's a lot made of sledging and it’s nowhere near as bad as what the average person would think,” Ponting said.
"You hear some funny things (but) a lot of it’s just a lot of rubbish that’s said in the heat of battle.
"When you’ve got two teams going at it like we’re going to have in the next few months (during the Ashes), there’s inevitably going to be a few words said, and I think the players are really wising up as well to the stump mics and what they can and can’t do.
"I’m sure it’s worse at grade cricket than it is in a Test (match), but unfortunately the Test boys are the ones that are scrutinised the most."
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21