Cricket justice and soccer justice

THE National Academy was given its official opening recently but if you lived in my country (England) you could have been excused for thinking that the ceremony had been postponed.


THE National Academy was given its official opening recently but if you lived in my country (England) you could have been excused for thinking that the ceremony had been postponed.

Shaun Udal... banned from the Surrey league for a fracas. — Pic. JULIAN HERBERT/GETTY IMAGES-

Only the cricket-orientated newspapers paid any attention and even they hardly did the story justice. Not surprising I suppose.

Most of the correspondents were either watching the early games of the Bangladesh tour or making their way to that interesting country. (I collect art from the countries I visit — with the exception of South Africa where the pictures are not worth carrying through Customs — and two of my favourite pieces were bought in Dhaka during the 1999 one-day tournament).

Besides there were so many other interesting sports stories on the wires.

Unless you have spent the last month circling the earth with Father Christmas and his reindeer or hacking your way through the Brazilian jungle, you will know that England's footballers have been disgracing themselves. Rio Ferdinand, the England and Manchester United centre half — and worth 30 million pounds sterling when he was transferred from cash-free Leeds United last season — forgot to go for a drugs test and has since been arguing with the Football Association about his memory failure.

"Forgot" is his word and some of us might be forgiven for thinking that such an important date is difficult to let slip from the memory bank.

Anyway, Ferdinand says he eventually remembered and wanted to take the test but his mobile phone was switched off when United officials tried to contact him. He managed to remember to take a test two days later and that was without blemish. So what is the problem?

Well, some people are claiming that his mobile was not switched off at all; but we will have to wait for the hearing to get the full story.

A few days later a young lady complained to the police that she was attacked in a hotel bedroom by half a dozen Premiership footballers and another young woman that she was attacked by a player in his car.

Cricket is not able to compete with these stories since most of the poor underpaid youths cannot afford either the sort of drugs footballers seem able to buy by the lorry load and are kept too busy training, netting and playing around the world to have time to attack anyone, male or female.

I suspect the high wages given to footballers — David Beckham earns more in a week than any cricketer draws in a year — are mainly responsible for this outbreak of criminal aggression. There is also their low workload. Most of them play no more than 50 games of 90 minutes a year; English county cricketers play at least 50 full days of cricket each summer and then go abroad each winter.

They must simply be too tired, even if they are young men in the prime of life, to go rampaging around the cities looking in nightclubs for suitable conquests. As they cannot afford the new banned body building substance known as THG either they clearly have some catching up to do in the world of illicit sporting activity.

Yes, it is good to see the bright side for cricket in comparison with any other sport and, to be fair, its players come out pretty well in the social graces, intelligence and good behaviour stakes.

One or two players have been caught by the drug testers — and one made his escape through a toilet window when he realised they were after him — but looking back over a century I can think of only one or two who have been to prison and very few who have not turned out to be decent citizens.

Let's hope this continues when the academy is in full flow and that some emphasis is put on sportsmanship, the responsibility to be a good egg and an even greater need to distance oneself from the demon drugs.

However, there have been a couple of incidents which have not shown up cricket in its brightest light recently.

You will remember that I told you recently about a lady — once on the staff of the Royal family — who murdered her sleeping boy friend with a cricket bat. Now I hear of a man who controlled a burglar he had caught by threatening him with a bat.

Strangest of all is the tale of Shaun Udal, long-serving Hampshire off-spinner who likes to keep in practice even when his county do not need his services. He had his moment of fame nearly 10 years ago when he played in 10 one-day international matches for England in Australia but since he has played a leading role in Hampshire's not too glorious county seasons.

Whenever he is without a game he plays for Camberley, his brother Gary's team, in the second division of the Surrey League.

Last summer he found himself at a loose end so he went to play for Camberley. As a result this mild-mannered bowler has been banned from the Surrey League until 2007; a major case of injustice, it seems.

He is such a quiet guy that those cruel Australians called him Udal the Poodle and over the last 15 years I have heard little other than what a good professional he was.

We will let him tell the story of his fall from grace.

"It takes a lot to get me riled," he says, "but when I was batting one of the opposition players insulted a team-mate who happens to have a disability. A minor fracas took place with a bit of pushing and shoving.

"Sadly, the umpires did not step in, which is rather symptomatic of the weak officiating that can exist in club cricket. The other player and I had a drink in the bar afterwards and made our apologies. I accepted there might be repercussions but I am not going to lose any sleep. The disciplinary committee presumably decided they wanted to make an example of me".

Actually, the decision may reflect on Udal's skill level. He made 106, which won the match and helped his brother's club gain promotion. I wonder if the disciplinary committee members did not enjoy the idea of him coming from mighty Hampshire to win a game and wanted to make the point rather strongly.

They may also have thought that a policy of zero tolerance would have a lasting effect. I just worry what punishment they might have handed down if Udal — like a couple of visiting Australians I remember paying a visit to the lower leagues here about the time he was in their country — had landed a punch or two.

One of them, another likeable, quietly spoken, meek and mild bowler has gone on to haul in Test wickets but at one time he seemed ready to set a record for the number of English leagues who did not want to see him again.

Udal is 33 and the ban — for `physical violence and threats to an opposition player' — effectively ends his career in the Surrey League. Not that he will worry. A glittering career exists for him when his county days are done.

He is not going to appeal but if he did he might be pleased to see the smiling figures of Clive Lloyd and Richie Benaud hearing his case.

Lloyd, a captain who demanded respect and now a match referee determined to see the game's image is maintained, gave Shoaib Akhtar a two-match ban for a shouting match that got out of hand. Akhtar appealed.

Like many a fast bowler before him, this charismatic cricketer hates to be bound by the technicalities. He knows he thrills the crowd, wins matches, produces blistering spells of pace; what if he does step outside the boundaries from time to time?

So he sometimes finds that authority figures come down on him with all the violence of one of his own bouncers.

What I admired about the way Lloyd and then Benaud — the appeal court judge so to speak — went about the dispensing of justice was its simplicity. No lectures on the Spirit of Cricket as defined by MCC, no ranting about the youth of today, nor the need to keep to the letter of the law. Benaud said — and since he is the nearest cricket has to an archbishop no one will disagree — "It seems to me that Mr. Lloyd correctly followed the Code of Conduct rules in every way." If only such simple judgements could be handed down to all miscreants there might be less trouble, fewer infringements and a game we could more often compare favourably with the rest of sport.

We might even find footballers wishing cricket justice was soccer justice.