It's just not cricket, fumes Indian legend Sunil Gavaskar as he continues his campaign to weed out the game's trash talkers. Alvin Sallay reports Like most middle-aged men, Sunil Gavaskar yearns for the good old days. But his passionate ache is not mere nostalgia and does not stem from a desire to relive his former glory. Rather, the legendary Indian is saddened that the sport he has devoted a lifetime to is no more a gentleman's pursuit. Gavaskar, one of the greatest opening batsmen of all times, is sad about sledging. A practice which most Test teams have turned into an art form today. He hankers for the days when cricket was played without an outburst, and if there was any talk on the field, it was just limited to good-natured banter and razor-sharp witticisms. 'Sadly those days are no more. Today it is a macho thing and players think they are doing something great when they sledge their opponents,' sighs the 54-year-old Gavaskar regretfully. 'Winning at all costs is okay as long as it is within the rules. The sad thing is all that personal abuse which is dished out these days.' In town earlier this week to attend the draw for November's Cathay Pacific/Standard Chartered Hong Kong Sixes, the former 'little' maestro (former as Sachin Tendulkar has taken over the mantle now) spoke to the Sunday Morning Post on everything from the proposed increase in the number of teams for the next World Cup to the impending loss of his world record for the most number of Test hundreds. But it was the topic of sledging that was dearest to his heart. An avowed critic of sledging, Gavaskar, who is chairman of the ICC's playing committee, has stridently called for Test teams to return to the habit of winning without showing disrespect to opponents. In July, Gavaskar took his opportunity when asked to deliver a speech at the Colin Cowdrey lecture at the MCC, and spoke on the marked decline in the behaviour of players on the field - which he says was epitomised so starkly in the bitter verbal clash between Glenn McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan during the recent Test series between Australia and the West Indies. Gavaskar asked the rapt audience why it had come to a stage where the MCC, the custodians of the laws of the game, had put down in writing the Spirit of Cricket. And why it was that cricketers had to abide by a Code of Conduct these days. 'What does it tell us to have to put the Spirit of Cricket in black and white. It tells us that the old adage 'It's not cricket', which applied to just about everything in life, is no longer valid. And that's a real pity,' said Gavaskar. He blamed it all on the commercialisation of the game, saying the advent of satellite television (ironically he is a commentator for one of the cricket channels) and the motto of winning at all costs has seen the ideal of sportsmanship being hit for a six. 'With the game being marketed aggressively by TV, the rewards have become high, and rightly so, but it has to a great extent taken away from the spirit of the game where bowlers applaud a good shot and batsmen acknowledge with a nod a good delivery. Today, in order not to give any psychological advantage to the opposition, there's hardly any applause from the fielding side when a batsman reaches a 50 or a century,' Gavaskar said. 'In my first series in the West Indies, I sat with the greats like Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai at the end of a day's play and asked them about batting and how to improve. They were more than happy to give good, sound advice, even though it was to an opponent and could be used against them the next day. 'Rohan Kanhai occasionally grunted his disapproval from first slip if I played a loose shot. It wasn't that these great cricketers did not want their team to win. It was just the fact that they had supreme confidence in their own ability and believed that helping an opponent only produced good cricket and was good for the game,' related Gavaskar. Gavaskar, who played 125 Tests for India from 1970 to 1987 and scored 10,122 runs, said it was mainly through personal experience that he knew sledging was a modern phenomenon. 'I played more than one Test match for my country with and against bowlers who took hundreds of wickets and there was hardly a word uttered in anger. 'But towards the end of my career I did get referred to a couple of times as a part of the female anatomy, and more than anger, it saddened me to hear that. In the last 15 years the decline in the behaviour on the field has been marked.' In his speech at the MCC, Gavaskar's most barbed comment came late in his innings. 'Out of a possible 150 cricketers from 10 Test-playing countries, there are perhaps not even 15 who indulge in this verbal abuse and intimidation, and unfortunately most of these belong to a champion side and it makes others believe that it's the only way to play winning cricket,' said Gavaskar. Asked to elaborate and say if he was accusing the Australians, Gavaskar concurred. 'Most of the recent incidents have involved Australians who have been more in the news than others. But I can't say only one team is doing it although I believe only Bangladesh and Sri Lanka don't have players indulging in sledging. 'Did Bradman's all-conquering side of 1948 practise these tactics? I don't know, though I know for certain that Clive Lloyd's champions of the 1970s and 1980s never uttered a word on the field to an opponent. A glare and a raised eyebrow were enough to put the scare in to you.'' Gavaskar revealed that the ICC had taken steps to try and stop unsavoury sledging incidents. 'The chief executive, Malcolm Speed, can now take action within five days of a Test match ending. In the past it was 24 hours, but now if it is brought to his notice, he can take action. 'The spat between McGrath and Sarwan in that series between Australia and the West Indies exposed the lacuna in the system. This was the trigger which added this to the ICC's Code of Conduct,' added Gavaskar. Whether it will stop players from conveying a message to their opponents as subtly as a sledgehammer - sledging - only time will tell.