An appeal for cricketing decorum

ROHIT BRIJNATH

Brett Lee... appealing himself hoarse and questioning the umpires too.-AP

ALL summer in Australia, cricket umpires have been interrogated rudely and pressured with incessant appeals and not enough eyebrows have been raised. Evidently this is part of modern sports' `whatever it takes to win' attitude, where mental disintegration as a tactic is not restricted to the rival team. Whatever, it is an unedifying sight.

Bowlers producing desperate petitions and players pleading in tandem is part of the drama of cricket. But a line exists in the sand, and it has been breached too often as Australia played South Africa. Too often it seems players are intentionally intimidating umpires. Some would call it bullying.

Already umpires are being shown up by technology and further pressure makes their job untenable. Respect for authority figures in sport is anyway in decline, now 12-year-olds in schoolyards have a new act to follow.

It has also become painfully fashionable for players these days to cross-examine umpires after an appeal has been turned down, and every potential dismissal has become a disagreeable drama. This is not so much theatre as cheap theatrics, a shameless flexing of power by players.

Shane Warne has been quizzing umpires all summer and Brett Lee, normally an amiable figure, has been reprimanded for demanding of Aleem Dar: "I want to know why it wasn't out. Why?" Forget an answer, he is not entitled to ask the question. Anyway, no explanation given by an umpire will suffice for the player has already decided he has been victim of an injustice.

Match referees have shown weakness in this regard and umpires must be instructed not to engage and players to bite their tongues. Captains must do their bit but Ricky Ponting, a fine leader otherwise, has suggested through his constant arguing that he has an alternative career as a lawyer.

Not that he is the only captain whose behaviour is occasionally tiresome. From before a ball was bowled this series, Graeme Smith has been jawing away at the opposition. Much like Hansie Cronje once informed this writer, he appears to believe that taking the initiative and verbally attacking the Australians is a sound tactic. Perhaps it emboldens his players; certainly it is distasteful, worse it is predictable and boring.

Players will fence and search hard to identify weaknesses in technique but also in mind. Sport is skill but also psychology. But when Smith mocks Ponting's captaincy and Warne reportedly refers to Smith as a fool it is a descent into boorishness.

Challenging the opposition is one thing, contempt is another, and to believe a beer later douses all animosity is disingenuous. Astoundingly it seems that a show of respect to opponents before a ball is bowled is somehow interpreted as a sign of frailty.

Some believe this verbal sparring is good business and that it fills stadiums but that is absurd. If players are unable to show restraint, then how can we expect it of fans? Anyway, surely the game's finest advertisement is skill and with Ponting batting with breathtaking confidence and Lee bowling with masterful menace, there is enough attraction as it is.

After initial chatter, Australia stayed quiet during the Ashes, a series celebrated for its spirit, but some contend that was the problem. Australia's team is apparently at its best when it is uninhibited, when its aggression slips all shackles, and perhaps they see their subdued stance as an error.

Certainly a team must express itself, but neither must it believe that winning makes any behaviour acceptable. For a decade, Australia's team has personified cricketing excellence, their play a triumph of discipline, desire, talent and courage. But leadership in sport is more than swinging a bat and hurling a ball.