Dennis ‘The Menace’ Lillee once beat the bat of an England batsman thrice consecutively. The bowler, frustrated, is said to have walked over to the batting end and said, “There’s shit at the end of your bat.” When the batsman checked the bottom of his bat, Lillee said: “Wrong end, mate!” Similarly, playing in a County match once, a batsman kept edging Fred Trueman through the slips. With his typical swagger and hands on his hips, ‘Fiery’ Fred is said to have pointed to the batsman’s willow and said, “Your bat has more bloody edges than a broken piss-pot!”
Characters like Lillee and Trueman make the game of cricket interesting. If fast bowlers were to run up, bowl, turn around and walk back to bowl again, delivery after delivery, cricket would be such a boring game! The stares, a few words exchanged — in good jest — between the bowler and the batsman, and the battles for supremacy between ball and bat are what keep spectators involved.
The ICC, while enforcing ethics, must deal firmly with racism and insensitivity. At the same time, it shouldn’t take the fun out of the sport.
In the recent past, international cricket has seen a few incidents that smacked of boorish behaviour by players; one off the field, two on it. Let’s take a look:
In an on-field fracas, during an intense session in the third Test between England and West Indies, Shannon Gabriel told English skipper Joe Root, “Why are you smiling at me? Do you like boys?” Root responded: “Don’t use it as an insult. There’s nothing wrong in being gay.”
Gabriel was promptly banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) from playing the first four one-day internationals against England, beginning 20 February, after he accepted having breached cricket’s code of conduct.
Root is among the finest batsmen of the modern era, while in Gabriel lies the hope that the Windies will still make it back as one of the great Test match squads. The latter — who can bowl consistently at around 150 kph — reminds me of the big Caribbean fast bowlers of yesteryears like Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith and Wayne Daniel.
Coming back to the incident, Root’s response to Gabriel’s ‘impolite’ inquiry was heard on the stump mic. However, Gabriel’s remark wasn’t (he specified what he had said in a statement issued after the ban). Was it appropriate for ICC to punish him for what wasn’t heard, perhaps, even by the umpire? Meanwhile, Gabriel has publicly apologised for what he agreed was an inappropriate sledge.
Closer home, fast bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya was censured for his misogynistic and insensitive statements on a celebrity chat show Koffee With Karan. He also got his teammate, KL Rahul into trouble; the latter has been fighting his own battles against lack of form in recent times. The show was telecast while the two were a part of the Indian team on its tour of Australia and New Zealand. With public ire rising, the duo had to return to India purportedly to face an inquiry.
The ICC apparently washed its hands off the controversy. This was followed by a squabble between the powers-that-be in BCCI and ultimately, Pandya found himself on the flight back to New Zealand, possibly a bit disillusioned. Was the issue dealt with sensitively? Personally, I do not think so and believe that the lack of professionalism displayed in the matter by the BCCI and the Committee of Administrators may adversely affect India in the matches to come, including the World Cup of 2019.
In another incident, in a Pakistan-South Africa one-day international in Durban in January this year, Sarfraz Ahmed — the Pakistani skipper and wicket-keeper — was caught on the stump mic calling the Proteas’ Andile Phehlukwayo “black”, in Urdu. He was banned for four matches after he admitted to breaching ICC’s anti-racism code. He apologised to Phehlukwayo for the slur.
However, in a move that showed maturity and clarity of thought, Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani assured Sarfraz that he would be captain of the Pakistani team in the World Cup of 2019, despite the action by ICC. Similarly, Pandya needed to be reprimanded for his behaviour, but BCCI could have assured him of his place in the side in the matches to come — provided he mended his ways. India can’t afford to have a demoralised Pandya in the World Cup squad.
Finally, the place where all the problems stem from — domestic cricket! Last week, a former India cricketer and Delhi’s junior selector was beaten up by some cricketing goons, probably over a matter of selections. In Mumbai, the skipper of the state under-16 team was banned from playing cricket for three years. He was accused of acute misbehavior by a fact-finding committee during inter-state matches. Some members of the Mumbai cricketing fraternity, including the player’s father, believe that the decision was arbitrary and unjust.
The BCCI has to take a call in these matters. Misbehaviour at the junior level should not be condoned under any circumstances. It is the lack of proper nurturing at this level that then festers into problematic behaviour in international matches.
The ICC and BCCI also need to understand that Tests and T20 cricket are two different ball games altogether. The former is still the gentleman’s game and the latter is more like football; an intense, high-octane, three-hour sport. The fouls, the head-butts and fisticuffs of football may be missing in T20 cricket but they manifest in different ways on the ground; in the end the nervous energy has to be spent somewhere.
What’s more, the football type behaviour is threatening to permeate into Test cricket too. That’s why cricket’s administrators will need to handle players — and their misconduct — with a lot of sensitivity in the coming years.
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, he has groomed many first-class cricketers and state-level footballers.
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