On-field maladies

We should expect all international sportsmen to set good behavioural standards and bring in laws full of common sense to remedy falling standards and maintain the spirit of cricket, writes Bob Simpson.

An element of tension is still evident between the players, especially in the India-Australia context; Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka’s fiery ex-captain, is now in charge of cricket in his country and is stirring the pot and one new member of India’s Board is happy to make threats as to what may happen if India doesn’t get its way. Surely, the time has come in cricket for all involved, from the controlling boards, players and administrators to the ICC, to se ttle down and concede that all have had a role in the decline of behaviour in cricket.

It seems to me that memories are short and there are very few countries whose behaviour has been impeccable on and off the field.

All countries have been too quick to defend their own faults and criticise others without checking the facts or completely understanding the problem. While it is laudable to be loyal to your own men, it is often wiser to understand the full story and the implications involved.

Nothing illustrates this better than the illegal bowling action problem. When Australia had a clutch of this type of bowlers in the middle to late 1950s, we all supported our own whether at state or international level.

We continued to do this until we realised the more support they received the quicker they were growing at all levels of our game. In the early 1960s, Australia agreed with England that they would both tackle the problem and no bowler with doubtful action were taken on Australia’s 1961 tour of England.

In return, we were asked to quietly report any bowlers we saw with doubtful action. In all we thought seven were suspect. Action was quietly taken against all these bowlers.

In the late 1990s I was appointed as an ICC match referee. Before I had even officiated in a series, all the match referees assembled in Mumbai for a meeting. On the agenda, reluctantly I might add, was the problem of throwing.

Prior to the meeting I was sitting at a table opposite the representative from Sri Lanka.

There were only the two of us there at that time and I quietly flipped over a photo of an Indian bowler. Immediately, my Sri Lankan mate bent his elbow in a throwing action. We smiled in agreement and then, I flipped over an action shot of a well known Sri Lankan trundler with a similar action.

There was no smile this time, only a shake of the head.

Later that night we sipped coffee together and discussed the throwing problem and how it almost destroyed Australia’s bowlers in the 1950s.

Illegal actions have been a major problem ever since.

Not long after this discussion Arjuna Ranatunga took his team to the boundary of the Adelaide Oval after Muralitharan was no balled by umpire Ross Emerson, who questioned his action. The game was held up for 14 minutes while Ranatunga made phone calls to his bosses in Colombo.

The Sri Lankans had before arriving in Australia appointed lawyers and PR consultants. More and more the game is being swamped by highly paid lawyers defending players who have been cited by Match Referees.

Bowlers with illegal action have continued to cause discontent and this discontent has grown since the ICC’s cricket committee introduced a law allowing bowlers, whether slow or quick, to bend their elbow to a certain degree.

This has only led to confusion and controversy, for it is the only law I know of which has okayed bowlers whose action would not pass the old law. It is also the only law I know of which can’t be judged on the field.

Even the bio-mechanists who played a major role in framing the law agree that the approved level of bend can’t be judged by umpires on the field or indeed by live television replays.

The only way it can be accurately measured is in a laboratory with special cameras and with bowlers being hooked up to technical equipment. There is also no way of assessing whether under these conditions bowlers would use the same action they normally use in the heat of battle. The temptation surely would be for these bowlers to use a purer action than they might use in a game.

The ICC cricket committee has also introduced two other laws, which I find both crazy and confusing. The first is suggesting that if a ball hits a batsman on the full in front of the stumps he can be adjudged LBW no matter how far down the wicket his front foot is. This has to be a doubtful guess at the best of times, for no umpire can possibly assess what the ball would do once it hits the pitch.

The second rule change that has left me gasping is that, now the batsman at the non-striker’s end can begin backing up as soon as the bowler’s backfoot touches the ground in his final action stride.

Under this rule, I reckon, Bill Lawry and I, who are both in our 70s, can still steal singles.

Surely the people who framed this law know that bowlers bowl off their frontfoot, not their backfoot. By my estimate a batsman backing up properly can be at least two yards down the wicket before the ball leaves the bowler’s hand.

A quick look through the contentious issues in the past is enlightening and unfortunately still capable of producing anger, even though laws have been introduced to try and sort them out.

I have covered some of them, including to walk or not to walk in a previous column, so I would like to mention a few others.

Sledging is still high on the list and I am not about to defend it here.

It all began to go wrong in the early 1970s and while there have been some good periods since it is now too aggressive.

However, it should be appreciated that Australia is not alone in this and almost, if not all, of the top line teams do not mind a “quiet chat or two”.

South Africa have always been very vocal since they came back into the fold from the wilderness of apartheid and their captain Graeme Smith never walks away from a chat on or off the field.

It is well documented that a very prominent West Indies batsman called Australian fast bowler Craig McDermott ‘white coward’ as he stood under Craig’s nose at short mid off in the fifth Test in 1991.

Craig’s reaction was marvellous. He took off his helmet, blew a kiss at the offender and said, “I love you when you talk dirty”.

The offender’s only response was to invite Craig to settle the issue behind the grand stand after the match.

Craig wisely declined the invitation.

On that tour a continuous stream of advice was being given to the Aussie batsmen by short leg fielders, who were hiding under their helmets.

Under Ranatunga, the Sri Lankans were just about the most unpopular team going around and they certainly weren’t shy with the verbals.

Miandad and the Pakistanis, too, were not shy of a chat and the New Zealanders didn’t take a backward step.

Most of the chat used to stay on the field, but these days with so many players writing or having columns ghosted for them, they are only too happy to give their views on the opposition. But they ignore the goings-on in their own team.

Slow over rates are still prevalent and Ricky Ponting and his team continually drop behind the required rate.

The first obvious tactical use of slowing down over rates to frustrate the opposition into error was probably done in the 1954/55 season when England toured Australia under Len Hutton.

On that tour Hutton had his team bowling only 55 eight-ball overs a day, that is 72 six- ball overs, about the same as the West Indies aimed for under both Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards when they had their great fast bowling line-up.

I have no doubt that this was a deliberate ploy and Clive Lloyd dismissed any criticism of short-changing the public and the opposition by declaring, “If we bowled our overs quicker the matches would be over sooner”. He might have a point here for he had perhaps the greatest fast bowling attack of all time.

Probably, more likely though was the fact that by bowling fewer overs he reduced his bowlers’ workload to approximately 18 overs per day each. No wonder they were so fresh and dangerous all day.

Fortunately, over limits became law and the West Indies had to complete their 90 overs.

Unfortunately, they still bowled slowly and batsmen had to spend an hour or more at the crease as the Windies finished their overs.

Slow over-rates are still a bane and in my view the only way to stop them is to penalise the offending team 10 runs an over.

While there has been an outcry over non-walking, excessive appealing continues to prosper. Every country in the world appeals aggressively and their main objective is to hustle the umpires into making decisions in their favour.

Much of the appealing is over the top and vulgar and stronger action must be taken to eradicate it. It is not as bad though as when the wicketkeeper, close-in fielders and the bowler run towards the umpire screaming their demands.

I am sorry to say that the main offenders are the teams from the sub-continent.

Fiddling with the ball or scuffing it, which was made an art form by some Pakistani players, has largely gone out of the game, though umpires must remain vigilant as reverse swing, which is achieved when the ball is roughened up on one side, hopefully by legal means, has come into play.

One of the practices that really gets up my nose is players leaving the field to have a break when they have finished a long bowling spell or are about to open the batting.

Gordon Greenidge was a regular at this and often sought the sanctuary of the dressing room before he was due to bat. Arjuna Ranatunga was a master in seeking a runner if he batted for any length of time on a hot day.

On one infamous occasion in the final series of an ODI event in Australia he infuriated the Australians and Ian Healy when for the umpteenth time he requested a runner.

Healy was livid and reminded Ranatunga in no uncertain manner that he couldn’t have a runner simply because he was too fat and not fit enough for first class cricket. Healy was probably right though he was a little indiscreet.

The point is valid, however, and too many players are taking advantage of laws and situations which are not in the interest of the game.

Unfortunately today society has changed and players are much more brash than we were in our times. In saying this I am not suggesting that we should accept this changing society lying down.

We should expect all international sportsmen to set good behavioural standards and bring in laws full of common sense to remedy falling standards and maintain the spirit of cricket. This plea is not only to players, but also to managers, cricket boards, umpires, match referees, cricket associations and indeed anyone who has an official position in the game.