Rein them young!

Vijay Zol, the India under-19 captain, was pulled up for intemperate behaviour.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The on-field behaviour of many a young cricketer leaves a lot to be desired these days. J. R. Shridharan takes a look at the malady and suggests corrective measures.

England’s Ben Duckett did nothing wrong to get a mouthful in an alien language (Hindi) from India under-19 skipper Vijay Zol at the Dubai International Stadium during the ICC U-19 World Cup. In fact he had done India a favour by throwing away his wicket to an indiscreet stroke.

Zol, who took a brilliant catch in the mid-wicket region, forgot his stature as skipper, and abused Duckett much to the disgust of millions of viewers all over the world. His sordid act led to a one-match ban by the match referee.

Aamir Gani, India’s off-spinner, emulated his skipper in uttering words that were in bad taste, thus bringing to the fore the importance of mentoring the youngsters by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and its affiliated units.

Zol breached Article 2.2.8 of the ICC Code of Conduct which relates to “using language or gesture(s) that is seriously obscene, seriously offensive or of a seriously insulting nature to another player, player support personnel, umpire, match referee or any other third person.”

Gani breached Article 2.1.4 of the Code, which relates to “using language or a gesture that is obscene, offensive or insulting during an international match.”

The tournament was touted as a contest to identify future champions and the misconduct of the duo did not go down well with many who still fondly recollect Gundappa Viswanath’s gesture in recalling England’s Bob Taylor when the latter was wrongly declared out in 1980.

West Indies speedster Courtney Walsh refusing to ‘Mankad’ Pakistan’s Saleem Jaffar in a prestigious World Cup match in 1987 will always remain green in memory and the magnanimous act of Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni calling back England’s Ian Bell in 2011 is a much talked about in cricketing circles.

Says Venkatapathy Raju, former India spinner and Asian Cricket Council Development Officer, “Agreed, players are under tremendous pressure while playing premier tournaments. Aggression is the concomitant of modern cricket. But they should never cross the ‘Lakshman Rekha.’ Zol, being the captain, was supposed to set an example. It is sad to see his appalling behaviour live.”

Raju also recollects the antics of Ambati Rayudu, a precocious talent, who fell by the wayside for a while for his on-field misdemeanour. The on-field scuffle involving Rayudu and the stump-wielding Hyderabad cricketer Arjun Yadav in a Ranji Trophy matcg at the Rural Development Trust Stadium Anantapur in 2005 stunned cricket enthusiasts.

“These boys should remember that lakhs of kids watch them play and dream of emulating them. They can’t let down these kids with their bad behaviour,” Raju says.

Dilip Vengasarkar, the ace batsman of yesteryear, known for his impeccable conduct, says that players of late are showing aggression outwardly. “Modern-day cricket is witnessing excessive appealing and also exuberant gestures. Sometimes the acts go overboard. What Vijay Zol did in Dubai was one such act and that could have been avoided.”

Vengsarkar feels that the onus lies on the coaches and managers of the respective associations in shaping players into disciplined lads right from the formative years. “The modern game is throwing many challenges to players. Maintaining balance is paramount, for the rules of the International Cricket Council are stringent.”

He feels players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and V. V. S. Laxman, who epitomise clean behaviour, should lead a campaign with the help of the BCCI to enhance the image of the country.

“These players achieved so many milestones and laurels but they seldom went overboard. That is the reason the cricketing world talks about them in awe,” says former India wicket-keeper M. S. K. Prasad.

Legendary leggie Anil Kumble reckons that the youngsters often get the perception of aggression wrong. “Aggression is not making faces and humiliating others. The malice is not only in cricket but in all games the world over.”

Kumble, known for his flawless on-field conduct, feels that the attitudinal change among players is also owing to peer pressure.

“Unfortunately, the acts are getting more pronounced of late. As expectations are high from various stakeholders, the players sometimes go haywire. Players right from the formative years should be educated on their conduct and the associations, its coaches, managers and administrators should highlight the penalties they get for their misbehaviour and the flak from the society.”

He also highlights the role of the seniors in the dressing rooms in guiding the youngsters in proper behaviour.

Jumbo’s demonstration of aggression is still vivid in the minds of many when he, with a broken jaw, bowled 14 consecutive overs to rattle the West Indies in Antigua in 2002. “He is always calm during crisis situations and is a fine example of dignity and humility. He will show his fighting spirit with his cricketing acts and seldom relied on histrionics,” says M. S. K. Prasad, a big fan of Kumble.

Former India skipper Ajit Wadekar reckons that aggression was the order of the day and that the malaise begins from the coaching arena. “Timidity is an anathema in modern cricket. Even coaches emphasise and promote aggression among players. They (the players) are made to think that it (aggression) is important and a pre-requisite.”

Wadekar finds fault with some of the iconic players like Virat Kohli who make faces and gestures when the chips are down. “Popular players should manifest proper on-field behaviour so that their actions will gain acceptance from kids, who watch cricket in billions of homes thanks to the reach of television.”

He also feels players, as they reach the higher grades of cricket should be made to realise the implications of the rules and regulations of the ICC. “By staring and yelling at the umpires and abusing rivals one can’t win games. It is a fact that the Indian Premier League has enhanced the complexities of the game.”