Time to act tough

The decision by the ICC to outlaw sledging is commendable, but just how is it going to enforce it?

Who is running the International Cricket Council these days? Is it the ICC’s Cricket Committee led by Sunil Gavaskar, or its Executive Committee consisting of delegates from the member countries, or have the politicians taken over its administration completely?

This is the question I have to ask following the announcement that the ICC wants sledging outlawed. In principle I agree that sledging is detrimental to the game and has a profound effect on the behaviour of all players, young and experienced, throughout the world. Unfortunately, with so much of TV and media coverage these days, the poor behaviour of the top players is being copied by youngsters even at the school level.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but what is not being recognised is the huge damage that the players’ misdemeanour is doing to the youngsters and the spirit of the game.

While sledging has been in existence probably since the game began in most countries, it was generally more of gamesmanship than the brutal and unnecessary aggression that we see today.

Peter Philpott, the former Australian leg-spinner and a great ambassador of cricket, is still coaching. He loves working with youngsters, particularly those under 16 years, at his club Manly in the Sydney Grade Cricket competition. The Green Shield, as it is called, is the first rung up the ladder leading to Australian selection. Most of the Test cricketers who have represented Australia, with the possible exception of those from New South Wales, have come through these ranks. It has always been a spirited and competitive tournament played at a high level.

However, all seems to be changing as reported by Philpott himself recently. In a match against Fairfield Liverpool, as Manly’s last batsman prepared to make his way to the crease, one of the Liverpool players ran over to the gate to meet him. Philpott describes it thus:

“As the batsman walked out, this other kid walked along with him all the way from the gate to the wicket. The batsman was a 12-year-old kid and the player verbalising him was a big, strong 15 or 16-year-old. The boy tried to avoid him, but the big bloke kept walking around him so he could keep hammering into his ears.”

Philpott thought he had seen everything, but this incident broke new ground.

While I imagine some of my readers, who have been following the Indian press, would say that such a thing can happen only in Australia, I can assure you that sledging is not confined to Australia alone.

I have spent a lot of time in India and one of my rituals in Mumbai on all my visits was to watch the numerous cricket matches taking place there. I have always enjoyed the quality of cricket played there. In recent years, though, I was shocked to witness the obvious dissent shown by the batsmen adjudged out by the officials in charge. With dissent comes sledging and it is flourishing in Mumbai.

This is just an example, but is very common in all countries.

The decision by the ICC to outlaw sledging is commendable, but just how is it going to enforce it?

Chucking is still a concern and the ICC’s decision to allow 15-degree flexion is a disaster. It is an unenforceable law and has virtually taken away the umpires’ ability to rule on dubious bowling action, which should be done on the field.

In Australia the officials haven’t backed the umpires who wanted to implement the throwing laws and this has been repeated all over the world.

The ICC is just as bad and has refused to back the umpires who have tried to enforce the laws of the game. The Darrell Hair incident was a classic example.

Hair, in agreement with his fellow umpire, Billy Doctrove, decided in that Oval Test that Pakistan were fiddling with the ball to make it swing. The Pakistan players took umbrage at this and after the break refused to re-enter the field. Hair and his fellow umpire were left with no other option than follow the laws of the game and award the match to England.

The Pakistan captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, was suspended for a few matches. While Doctrove was adjudged okay, Hair was virtually sent out of cricket.

To me this was a very political decision. So was the introduction of the stupid throwing law, for it has given carte blanche to the bowlers to chuck and thereby gain unfair advantage.

How the ICC is going to enforce the sledging law is a mystery.

The cricket world is multi-cultured with different countries speaking different languages. While English is widely spoken in most of the cricket-playing nations, most of the Asian countries use their own language on the field. In this context, the ICC’s policy of not using local umpires at home causes concern.

For instance, say India play Australia and the umpires posted for the match are from South Africa, England or the West Indies. How on earth can they rule on sledging if they cannot understand what is said by the players on the field. This is advantageous to the foreign countries, I think.

To me this is going to be a can of worms which will probably involve lawyers and civil laws rather than cricketing people and cricket laws. We saw this happen in the Andrew Symonds-Harbhajan Singh incident in Australia and because of this the matter was allowed to fester and drag on.

At present the captains are supposed to be responsible for what happens on the field and can be fined for slow over rates etc. It is my belief that he should be responsible for bad behaviour which is not in the best interest of the game and should be sternly punished for it.

The umpires should also be involved and if they are concerned they should quickly go to the captain and voice their concern. If the matter is not attended to, it should be reported to the Match Referee.

The ICC should get serious about the players’ bad behaviour