An under-twelve match in Sussex recently highlighted what may well be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issue of verbals on the cricket field.
If the tweet from Mark Whittington is to believed, a junior match had to be abandoned after sledging on the field led to a brawl. How depressing is that?
It has been my view for a while that international cricket doesn’t do nearly enough to project a better image of how cricket should be played. The spirit of cricket, as the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) is laudably keen to promote, clearly doesn’t extend to professional cricket.
Perhaps that’s why Lord’s are advertising for a Laws of Cricket Advisor until late August. Presumably they aren’t themselves in need of advice about the laws – an un-nerving thought when the gatekeepers don’t have a clue – but interpretation of bad behaviour on the cricket field is what allows ample wriggle room.
Now, I know what you’re about to protest: we can’t have it both ways by heaping pressure on the England team when they don’t perform but demanding they’re whiter than whiter when straining for that elusive wicket on a track that’s about as responsive as the M25.
But here’s the thing: I don’t expect England cricketers to be angelic models of decency. I want our fast bowlers to growl, come tearing into bowl like they’re apocalyptic dogs of war and leave no stone unturned in dominating the opposition.
Just leave off the entirely pointless gesturing to the pavilion or the rocket in the batsman’s direction as he trudges off, already disconsolate because his batting average can now only measured if you’re a dab hand with decimal places.
Like it or not, our national game has a responsibility; one that sits a little uncomfortably with the daily grind of trying to knock the batsman’s head off with leg theory. Even so, the same England stars front the campaigns aimed at grassroots cricket and in doing so, spawn more fans who will sit glued to the telly watching – and then copying – their every move.
The point here is how the planets of grassroots and professional cricket collide. A legion of sports teachers were doubtless aghast at such blatent sportsmanship in the mankad mayhem earlier this summer. A challenge no doubt trying to explain to juniors at the next match that standing your ground petulantly isn’t the done thing. Nor trying to get a wicket in that fashion.
You might not think these things filter down. But they do. And quickly. In the following weeks post-Mankad – including in my own local League – bowlers who’d never even thought to do anything but bowl were sneakily trying their luck and keeping an eagle eye on the no-striker’s end.
There are lessons to learn from other sports; themselves admittedly not perfect but perhaps offering an insight into how cricket might grasp the nettle.
Take rugby union; a game where the referee oversees a group of massive, monolithic blokes who (within earshot at least) listen and respect the referee or find themselves marched back towards their own try line or sinbinned. Somehow, it works and the main reason is that the referee is clear and unequivocal boss.
David Hopps, writing for Cricinfo, described Anderson as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and there’s certainly something to that. Would Anderson be half the Test bowler he is, if he dialled down the lip on the field?
Who knows – there’s no reason why not – but his remarkable acumen in controlling a cricket ball comes with the baggage of needing to rile, comment and needle.
There’s not nearly enough action taken by umpires to nip this in the bud across all countries and formats because there tend to be flashpoints that then simmer away. The umpires are experienced; will pick up on the nuances and are best placed to cut out any nonsense.
Before this Test series, when was an international cricketer at risk of facing a ban because of bad behaviour? How often does it happen? It’s not about being draconian but the threat needs to be there or what’s likely to change?
The irony should not be lost on England that precious few people saw the alleged incident when there’s been all sorts kicking off out in the middle being beamed out across the world by broadcasters.
For far too long, international cricketers have got away with behaviour that crosses the line.
A stricter code of conduct; more decisiveness from umpires and a clear agenda from administrators all sounds sensible enough but it needs to be spearheaded by a governing body that saw fit to intervene with Moeen Ali’s wristbands, ahead of a litany of more pressing issues within the game. Hmmm…
The county cricket system of penalty points appears to work well as a vehicle for consistency even when it throws up quirks. In May, Andrew Gale fell foul when looking like he was sucking a lemon sherbet after a caught behind appeal hit his thigh pad but was given out.
Despite the fact umpire Peter Willey sensationally changed his mind and overruled his initial decision in the Roses match, Gale was fined for having repeatedly gesturing to the umpire to illustrate the point.
Roses games can certainly be spicy. After Yorkshire’s captain was supposed to have been quoted as saying Lancashire were favourites to be relegated in 2011, the subsequent match at Liverpool got out of hand.
It might not surprise you to hear James Anderson was the lead in giving White Rose batsmen Joe Sayers and Andrew Gale an almighty rocket out in the middle that was sustained and ferocious.
It was Sayers’ first season back from the post-vital fatigue syndrome illness that had floored him and on the final day at Liverpool, Anderson was warned by the umpire for his behaviour.
Andrew Gale – no shrinking violet himself – clearly felt a line had been crossed and was not shy in returning the Lancastrian’s volley with interest out in the middle. Do we categorise these incidents as isolated and ‘part of the roses rivalry’ – or worthy of clamping down on?
Ultimately, Lancashire triumphed by winning both the feisty Liverpool encounter and the County Championship for the first time in 77 years. That Yorkshire were relegated that year only made it all the more painful – or sweet – depending on which side of the Pennines your loyalties lie.
This isn’t an Anderson character assassination though I think it’s sad that one of the country’s best Test bowlers ever has to regularly rankle to seemingly get the best out of himself.
It goes way beyond one bowler; it’s a culture that has seeped into the international arena and now it’s become an acceptable face of the game. It’s a puerile argument to simply put it down to the intensity of Test cricket. Thousands up and down the country go hammer and tongs at each other every weekend without the need to turn the air blue.
It’s an unfortunate state of affairs that sledging is part of a wider problem regarding behaviour, exasperated by technology. The confines of the laws of cricket and its on-field custodian, the umpire, are now challenged regularly.
It’s often because players are well within their rights to rather than because they actually believe the decision will or should be reversed.
With DRS absent, it’s been fascinating to watch how both England and India cope with perceived injustices from the umpires in this series without technology on hand to rescue them. They’re robbed of their ability to question; the umpire’s decision, for a time, is back to being law.
They just have to get on with their cricket and grumble under their breath which is no bad thing. If anything there’s a better chance of getting the 90 overs in during a day’s play with no time lost for Stuart Broad to ask for inevitable reviews when both batting or bowling.
It seems well timed in a week when Broad and Anderson have reinforced the stats as one of England’s all-time bowling partnerships to dink the halo of the golden couple. The headlines and commentary are rightly full of praise as India have just been routed for 152 on the first day of the Old Trafford Test.
But both in their own way tend to do things that leave a bitter taste, for me at least. Stuart Broad’s refusal to ‘walk’ when hitting the cover off the ball to slip in an Ashes Test in 2013 is old news but was another sad reflection of this sportsmanship. Or cheating as I like to call it, that is now entrenched.
He knew he hit it, you didn’t need hotspot, snicko or any other gizmo to confirm the glaringly obvious but as with DRS, he was desperately hoping for that glimmer of a chance that something might get him out of jail.
‘Everyone does it’ was the cry on social media and in the press. Which is just my point and about time umpires were tougher. You only have to see how the Anderson-Jadeja incident panned out to see how unlikely this might be.
It is extraordinary that global politics was allowed to dominate something that could have been handled with decency and common sense. Or by knocking their two heads together.
It didn’t need epic column inches, claim and counter-claim and a six-hour hearing with the world and his friend all present, before dismissing all charges.
That all charges were dropped will have suited England better than India, who through their captain MS Dhoni, was keen to escape any blame but punish what he sees as another in a line of transgressions.
Claiming catches remains another contentious area of the game where even slow-motion and all the angles in the world can’t emphatically prove a point. I’m in favour of using technology elsewhere but trusting the players on whether a catch was legitimate can only get us moving in the right direction.
Sometimes it’ll prove they got it wrong – and the option to refer to the cameras if they’re not sure themselves should still stand – but on this point, trust the players.
So, what do you think? Are we going soft merely by talking about behaviour and discipline or is there a case for being tougher on histrionics in the middle? Tweet @cricketyorks or leave a comment on our Facebook page.