The Aussies do need to work on the behavioural front

Cricketers have a responsibility towards the fans, especially the young ones. They not only have to perform well, but also need to be sending across the right message.

K. SRIKKANTH

Cricketers have a responsibility towards the fans, especially the young ones. They not only have to perform well, but also need to be sending across the right message.

Winning is important, but is not the only ingredient that makes a team lovable.

The Australians won the Frank Worrell Trophy rather convincingly with a 3-1 margin, however, this might have been one of the series where they lost more than they gained.

There is an overwhelming feeling now that the Aussies are carrying their aggression too far. And the International Cricket Council (ICC) is doing too little.

There were some glorious cricketing moments in the Antigua Test. There were also some sights I would like to forget in a hurry.

Take for instance the spectacle of Glenn McGrath walking up in a menacing manner to Ramnaresh Sarwan and pointing a finger at the young West Indian. Being far away from action we will never really know what the actual provocation was.

That can be revealed only by McGrath and Sarwan, and they might not be willing to tell the whole story. Whatever be the cause, McGrath did himself and his team a great disservice behaving in the manner he did.

In the end, it looked more like a scene from WWF wrestling where the protagonists often indulge in much finger pointing and glaring. McGrath has rescued the situation somewhat by publicly expressing remorse over the incident.

McGrath has been through a testing period emotionally in the last few months, tending to his wife who is recovering from cancer. In fact, McGrath joined his side in the Caribbean only from the third Test onwards, and the fact that he was made to work hard for his wickets by a determined bunch of West Indians could have added to his mental strain.

Like the other Australians, McGrath is not a very good loser. We have seen this trait in the Aussies time and again. If things do not go well for their team, they lose their cool, and start to sledge.

Exchanging a few words here and there is understandable in the heat of the battle, and this may also fall under the area of gamesmanship. However, if the confrontation between players becomes as blatant as we saw in Antigua, then it becomes a different issue altogether.

The Aussies do need to work on the behavioural front. In fact, under Allan Border, the Australians had quite a few foul-mouthed cricketers, and I remember a conscious effort was made by then coach Bob Simpson to improve the side's on-field behaviour.

And we did witness a noticeable change when Mark Taylor, not only an intelligent captain, but also a gentleman cricketer, was at the helm. The Australians won a lot, apart from winning over a lot of admirers. Returning to McGrath, he must have been taken aback by the reaction in the Aussie press and public back home. Thankfully, for once, the Aussie media was not protective about its own players,

In the past there have been instances when the Australian media has almost become a part of the team, especially on away campaigns. We saw that during Australia's tour of India in 2001. In other words, there is a definite tendency to back the side through thick and thin, the rights and the wrongs.

However, the Australian media came down heavily on McGrath, and this was indeed a refreshing change.

The McGrath-Sarwan scrap was not the only incident in the Antigua Test. We saw the face-off between rival skipper Steve Waugh and Brian Lara, again a needless confrontation that did present international cricket in poor light.

It was sad that Waugh, in the evening of a glorious career, did not display the maturity to stay cool and calm. He is a much-respected player, a modern day cricketing legend, however, even Waugh let the madness get to his head.

If the on-field behaviour of some cricketers was shocking, then the fact that the match referee Mike Procter allowed the players in question to get away scot-free was even more depressing.

Procter's explanation that this was all a part of Test cricket was not very convincing. In that case, we do not need match referees at all! Every show of dissent can be considered a part and parcel of international cricket. It must also be said that the umpires could have been firmer.

What is even more disheartening is that there are different yardsticks for different people. Here, I feel, and not without reason, that the sub-continental players have been at the receiving end.

It was not too long ago that one Mike Denness punished a host of Indian cricketers for nothing more than an expression of dissatisfaction over the negation of an appeal in South Africa.

Compared to the ugly happenings during the Antigua Test, the Indians would almost seem as angels. The point is if different match referees have different rules for different teams, then the game would suffer.

If the Indian cricketers feel peeved at the decisions taken by some of the match referees, then they have every reason to do so. I remember well that Indian captain Sourav Ganguly was slapped a one-match ban by Cammie Smith for just pointing to his bat after being adjudged leg-before during the triangular ODI tournament in Sri Lanka a couple of years ago. I wonder what must be going through Ganguly's mind now, after seeing the offending players walk away unpunished in Antigua. It is up to the ICC to put an end to this kind of differential treatment.

Going further back, one can count so many instances. Take for instance Allan Donald's verbal barrage after Rahul Dravid had struck him for a six during an ODI in South Africa several years ago.

Just about everyone expected the match referee to take some kind of action against Donald. The South African pace spearhead escaped without a spot on his shirt. Put an Indian cricketer in Donld's place and I am sure he would have been penalised.

The match referees should be given powers to take immediate action for an offence. If he is convinced that a cricketer has done something he shouldn't have done, then the match referee must be vested with enough authority to pull him out of a contest with immediate effect. Only that way justice will be done. However, let there be, first, some uniformity in decision making by match referees. This is utterly crucial.