It hasn’t been a great week for Australian cricketer David Warner. But he does deserve a bit of credit for trying to reframe his ‘speak English’ insult as a mere request for clarification. Creative, and theoretically possible, but most won’t buy it, and the ICC didn’t. It may have been just enough to avoid a suspension, though.

Don’t know the story? Read up on it here.

However, more interesting (for me at least) has been the way the players embroiled in these sledging incidents and their coaches have responded to them publicly.

Here is a collection of press conference quotes given by players and coaches in the wake of recent sledging incidents.

We’ve just got to keep trying not to cross that line, because we’re all about playing cricket the right way.
We’re always going to teeter pretty close to it [the line] – that’s the way that we play – we’ve just got to make sure that we don’t cross it.
We’ll make sure we play hard and fair, but make sure we don’t cross the line.
It’s not sledging, it’s banter.
Noticeable in many of the responses is the idea of a line, or a contrasting form of conversation style (in the case of banter versus sledging). On one level we can interpret comments like these as just sound bites designed to take the sting out of the issue in the media, or muddy the waters a bit in the case of the sledging versus banter example. Yet, on another (perhaps conceptual) level they potentially offer clues as to why there are always going to be conflicts and issues when cricketers sledge each other.

What does it mean to play cricket in the right way? What’s the definition of hard and fair? What does it mean to get close to the line? Where is the line? How thick is the line? Is it more of a continuum than a line? What’s the difference between banter and sledging, and can the two be easily confused?

The (sometimes convenient) ambiguity of language.

Additionally, thinking about the actual linguistic act of sledging, is it the shouting and gesticulating that is problematic? Or is it the content and focus of what you say? Is it a combination of the two, and, if so, what combinations are considered breaches, and by whom?

I doubt there are any wholly accepted answers to questions like these, and there may never be. There will be varying interpretations, and these may even reflect cultural tendencies surrounding the use of insults or the type and choice of insults that are appropriate. The answers to these questions may also change over time, as the game undergoes major changes itself, also making answers harder to pin down.

But, if the powers that be decide something does need to be done about sledging, then questions like these are going to need some attention. There might need to be some attempt to write the ‘unwritten rules’, to define the ‘spirit of the game’ and to develop a clearer idea of where the line is.

The red and yellow cards idea is gaining support as a possible solution. But this will mean that the umpires will need to be armed with clear ideas and answers to questions like the ones mentioned above, if they’re going to officiate in ways that don’t bring even more scrutiny to their role.

To answer these questions well research might be required. If anyone is going to have answers to these questions, it is going to be the current crop of players and asking them to reflect on their experiences would be informative in identifying where the current line is and what divergences exist.