This has its benefits, of course, and those are one of the charms of the sport. Kids can clamber down around the boundary and ask for autographs of the stars, who are meandering around right in front of them. Any cricket fan can remember seeing someone you thought larger than life up so close. They might even give you a wave if you ask 1000 times. Which you will.
But that intimacy between player and fan also exposes the athlete to the extended attention of individuals or groups who believe they are there simply to be the target of their sledges or tawdry ballads. Sometimes, those interactions can be genuinely funny, like the famous scenes of Merv Hughes warming up Bay 13.
Most of the time, it’s a parade of tired jokes we’ve all heard before, and as the blood alcohol percentage increases lines inevitably get crossed. I’m not sure what was said at the SCG during the Test, but I doubt there was a single person surprised given the crowd culture we have built at out Test venues.
Twenty-four Test veteran Kerry O’Keeffe unleashed when asked about the incident on Fox, saying it had become a rite of passage for some Australian fans to spend their time lambasting opposition players. That, he said, was juvenile, boorish and well past its use-by date.
“When you come to Test cricket, you come to watch the best of one nation play the best of another nation. It’s elite sport, not stand-up comedy, where you feel like you have the right to heckle the entertainer,” O’Keeffe said.
“Sledging is the most overrated aspect of Australian sport. Young fathers bring their children to the game. If they see anti-social behaviour in the stands, they feel that’s the way to conduct themselves. It’s wrong.
“I have never seen a more overrated aspect of cricket than sledging. As a nation, we are consumed by it. I played 24 Tests for Australia. One of the very first questions I get from people is ‘what is the best sledge you heard’? Grow up.
“When guys get together at a cricket match, it’s a game of one-upmanship in the stands, who can come up with the most stinging one-liner. It’s boorish and you cross the line, as may have been crossed yesterday.
“Ninety-nine per cent of sledging is unfunny. A huge percentage of it is personal abuse dressed up. Get over it . . . we are better than that and we’ve got to start now.”
Sledging persists in cricket and, even though Australia have tempered their mannerisms in the post-sandpaper era, much of it can still be heard on the stump microphones. Tim Paine, the Australian captain, went to the lowest common denominator when his attempted takedown of Ravi Ashwin backfired late in the day.
That’s hardly a hanging offence from Paine, but it comes across as petty and a touch desperate. It also doesn’t help the cause when everyone is trying to ensure the Indians, who have been brilliant opponents this summer and travelled in a restrictive biosecurity bubble, are treated with the respect they deserve.
Here’s hoping the Gabba crowd can navigate the line between humour and offence with more agility than those few in attendance at the SCG, because O’Keeffe is right: We all must do better.