On the surface you mightn’t see this as anything particularly significant, but at this point we’ll just take a diversion into something you mightn’t have considered if you’re not playing sport at a reasonably high level. My thinking on these matters is largely influenced by the transcript of a talk by Greg Chappell that fell into my hands around twenty-five years back.
He was talking to some sort of elite squad about batting, and his key point was that, as a batsman in a Test or Shield match, you should be looking to bat all day. Bat all day and you should have made a big hundred and big hundreds are what you should be aiming for.
But there’s a problem. Batting requires immense, focussed concentration and a whole day’s cricket lasts six hours. You don’t have six hours’ worth of concentration, so you have to learn to work up and down your levels of concentration to get you through the day.
There are times when you can switch off almost totally, there are various levels that are appropriate at different times depending on what’s going on around you. There is, however, a very short time from when the bowler nears his delivery stride until you’ve finished playing your shot where you need to be totally focussed, preferably with your eye fixed intently on the ball in the bowler’s hand.
That means most batsmen have a little succession of rituals, a sort of ball by ball checklist that they work through on their way to that total focus and this is what much of the chirp that goes on in the middle is meant to disrupt.
If you’re mentally tough enough, or sufficiently combative, you can either ignore the chirp or give a bit back, but if you’re going to give it back, the return of serve needs to be a squelch.
No, better to ignore it if you can.
There's the rub. If you’re batting on the subcontinent and you can hear the blokes standing behind you prattling away in their own language (which, of course, is unintelligible to you). Your name pops up from time to time during the conversation, and there are frequent bursts of laughter.
Most people are eventually going to start to wonder what’s going on, and what’s so funny.
And that, folks, is the standard version of The Niggle in the Middle.
You can also, of course, indulge in a bit of The Niggle off the paddock, in press conferences and the like.
Extend that principle, however, to the crowd and things become very interesting indeed.