Cricket is too kind

Cricket is the kindest game. Mistakes are forgiven, cross words put aside after the slightest apology, umpiring mistakes laughed off, while rivals like Fred Trueman and Gary Sobers and Keith Miller and Denis Compton and Darren Gough and Shane Warne form friendships lasting a lifetime.

TED CORBETTTed Corbett

Cricket is the kindest game. Mistakes are forgiven, cross words put aside after the slightest apology, umpiring mistakes laughed off, while rivals like Fred Trueman and Gary Sobers and Keith Miller and Denis Compton and Darren Gough and Shane Warne form friendships lasting a lifetime.

If Donald has his way there will be statues to Cronje and, like the code enshrined in the acts of reconciliation that have followed the apartheid era, the man would be remembered with affection, as a great captain, as a fine South African and an all-round good egg. — Pic. REUTERS-

Loyalties move easily from the dressing room to the committee room or the commentary box, favours are repaid years later.

The game born in the English countryside, developed by the aristocracy with technical help from their gardeners, their butlers and their footmen, still abides by the saying that if you cannot think of something good to say about someone you should keep quiet.

The old school tie may no longer dominate this demi-world but its conventions rule its thinking. Beware the connections formed in the classroom for they sometimes influence events late in adulthood.

It is this determination to be polite, to pretend that there is no bad in the world unless it occurs by accident, that has brought about the present South African campaign to remember the good moments in the life of their late captain Hansie Cronje and forget his criminal misuse of his power, his allegiance with bookmakers, his money-grabbing and the black stain he left across a game that used to be known for fair play and even-handed dealing.

In many ways it is admirable that Allan Donald should wish to see the reputation of his friend and mentor restored.

It demonstrates Donald's continued faith in Cronje, his wish to think well of his fellow man and his powers of forgiveness. Go on Allan, it's a credit to you.

If Donald has his way there will be statues to Cronje and, like the code enshrined in the acts of reconciliation that have followed the apartheid era, the man would be remembered with affection, as a great captain, as a fine South African and an all-round good egg.

I am sorry to step outside the circle but it must not be allowed to happen. Whether you are South African, English, Australian or Namibian, Cronje soiled cricket for his own gain. He is no more a hero than Dick Turpin, the highwayman who may have been kind to his horse but who never cared about the fate of his victims, rich and poor.

So too with Mohammed Azharuddin, Salim Malik, Ajay Jadeja and the rest of the sub-continent's bookmaker-friendly cricketers. The full extent of the damage they did to the game has not yet become apparent but, as other sportsmen sneer each time a game produces a result that goes against form, there is a stain on its face that may never be removed.

Sometimes it appears to me that cricket is too kind.

Darren Lehmann did not receive the full punishment for his offensive words but at least he apologised in writing and in person to the Sri Lankans and wrote to their management regretting his words. Because he admitted what he had done to the match referee Clive Lloyd he deserved a smaller suspension; in fact Lloyd almost let him off.

At least Lehmann realised that he had been in the wrong and tried to atone and judges in the High Court are still liable to hand out smaller jail terms if they see you recognise the gravity of your criminality.

So what are we to make of the one-year suspension of Shane Warne?

Warne's strongest supporters had advised him to take the sentence on the chin, for fear that he would have his ban doubled.

On the surface there is no question about the facts of the case. Warne tested positive for a forbidden diuretic. It is an offence that brooks no excuses and, so we thought, had a mandatory sentence of a two-year ban. The pundits began to talk about the end of his career. His friends used lots of expressions beginning: ''Hopefully the B test will prove negative and he can rejoin the World Cup party . . .'' but their tone of voice reflected another view.

No B test in history has ever been different from the first test. The hard-liners who saw another chance to rub in the need for ``clean'' sport crowed happily.

Warne then produced what I will call the tabloid excuse. He said it was a pill given to him by his mum - ah, bless him, 33 and still close to his mother! - to keep his bulging figure in check. It was her blood pressure tablet yet she was willing to sacrifice one dose for the sake of the idol of her maternal eyes. All together now - aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

The Australian Cricket Board had a different version of events. They said that Warne had been warned like all their other contracted players, that every one of them was told every year that they must be careful, check with the medical staff before they swallowed even the simplest cold cure and avoid any dodgy pills, tablets or quack's medicine. Each player was given a booklet detailing what was permissible and what was not.

If in doubt ask the physio or the doctor was the advice.

Instead Warne simply swallowed his mum's pill, went to the ground for a match against England and was, by chance, tested. The verdict: Guilty.

If he had been an Olympic athlete his feet would not have touched the ground. He would have been banned for a long time - possibly life - and his name would have been mud.

But not in cricket. The authorities know that our Shane, blond, Australian and full of life, is one of the great drawcards. A bit of a larrikin - an Australian expression which seems to cover a good many sins - but a big favourite with the crowds.

What would you rather see: an over from Shane Warne or a meeting of the tribunal investigating his drug habit, if any? Don't all answer at once?

The argument now being put forward in Australia is that in a game that lacks characters, our Shane is the most charismatic man on Planet Cricket. We will miss a pulse beat if he is absent for 12 months, Hampshire, his English county will be back on the lowest shelf and Australian cricket will be less than its usual, triumphalist self.

They have also attempted to steal the moral high ground by claiming to be one of only two countries with drug-testing for cricketers. "If he had been from Zimbabwe or Bangladesh he would never have been in this trouble,'' says one argument.

Besides, so his friends say, he is not a bad lad. A bit misguided. Muddle headed. Doesn't think before he fires off a risque email to a nurse or sends a weather forecast to a bookmaker or takes a tablet. Didn't she ever receive a cheeky message from a lad before? And the bookie. Wasn't he an Indian? Bets, sex and rock 'n' roll? What was all the fuss about?

A larrikin, yes, a throwback to the days of the bushranger, a species just as nasty as Dick Turpin. A victim of the paranoia over drugs. Besides, his mum still loves him and look at those lovely pictures of him and the kids walking down the street near his house.

Just a normal Australian family man going about his daily life. An icon, our hero, our Shane.

In the same way that Hansie was a typical South African cricketer, macho, brave and determined to live his life to the full. Nothing wrong with that. Is there? Just as Azhar was a boy from Hyderabad, naive about the ways of the world. Look at the runs he scored. Let's forgive them all. Let's not forget that other sportsmen have taken drugs, mingled with the wrong people, got things mixed up.

Come on, they are all part of the cricket family. Let's keep it in the family, just as we have always done. Why do we need to bother about Olympic standards, any more than Queensbury rules. We can rule our own roost.

Or can we?