By Sunil Gavaskar
Three former skippers in their recent columns have commented on the happenings in the series in Australia and in South Africa and in doing so have sent a strong message not just to individuals concerned but also the ICC that much needs to be tightened in the application of the code of conduct. While Michael Vaughn and Nasser Hussain in their articles have brought out the petulance of Stuart Broad, Anil Kumble in his column has asked that those players who instigate others to break the code of conduct should also be held equally culpable in the offence committed.
These three have been thinking cricketers and captains during their careers and much admired for the manner in which they conducted themselves on the field. They were extremely tough cricketers who played the game without giving an inch nor asking or expecting an inch themselves and not backing away from a contest. That is what is playing hard and not as some would have the world believe that swearing and abusing the opposition when things are not going your way is tough cricket. That in fact is cowardly cricket for the practitioners of this approach would not have the courage to use the same language off the field to their opponents or anyone for that matter and hope to get away with it.
Both Vaughn and Hussain observed in their columns the petulance that Stuart Broad has been showing at umpires decisons ever since he came in the England team. Every time he has been called for overstepping or for a wide especially in limited overs cricket has stood hands on hips or looking skywards and generally conveying to the whole world what an injustice has been done to him. Till now he has not even been reported or called before the match referee and has got away scot free for offences that would make others lose a substantial portion of their match fees.
The reason is simple. Stuart's father Chris is one of ICC's match referees and so the umpires are reluctant to make a complaint against the youngster. Remember the umpires and match referees are used to hanging out together in the evenings since they are in a foreign country and so forge a good relationship and obviously the umpires are not looking to spoil that by citing the young Broad for a violation of the code of conduct. The latest instance in South Africa where Broad questioned the umpires when the South African asked for a referral to the third umpire was exactly as he usually does with hands on hips and looking for a confrontation. He knows he can get away with it and indeed he has but not in the books of Vaughn and Hussain who have taken him to task for it. Broad has been quoted as saying he didn’t think he had done anything wrong in questioning the umpires decision to refer the appeal to the third umpire since he thought that it hadn’t come in the expected time but a bit later than is normally the case and therein has confirmed again that he thinks he is a special case and not on par with the rest of the cricketing world.
The critical observations of Vaughn and Hussain will hopefully be an eye opener for him for like both the former England skippers I too feel that he is an exceptional cricketer in the making and querying umpires’ decisions all the time is not setting a great example to all the other youngsters who watch him and want to be like him.
Anil Kumble’s column takes up the suspension of Suleiman Benn who got into a verbal and physical confrontation with Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson in the Perth Test match. A bowler and the non-striker getting entangled as the bowler tries to stop a ball going past him is a regular occurrence in cricket and what started as a playful incident became a serious one when Haddin having taken a single came to the non-strikers end and said something to Benn and pointed his bat at him. Benn is not one to take a backward step. Guess if you are six and half feet tall and well built you would take a backward step either so they exchanged words. Then at the end of the over when Haddin hit the ball back to Benn he threw it back at the batsman’s end and went down the pitch to give him a piece of his mind. It was at this stage that Johnson accidentally came into contact with him and a shove and a push occurred. So Benn was summoned along with Haddin and Johnson by the match referee and Benn ended up being suspended while Haddin and Johnson got a minor pay cut for the Test match. Kumble brought out the disparity in the punishment by bringing out the instance of the Gambhir - Watson situation in the Delhi Test a year ago where again the match referee was Chris Broad where too Gambhir was banned for the next Test match and Watson got away with a tap on the wrist. Australia managed to get the heavy scoring Gambhir out of the Indian line-up though it did not prove costly. Like in that case where Gambhir had been constantly verbalised by the Australians and Watson in particular, at Perth Benn too fell a victim to what seems an Aussie tactic. If you can get a dangerous player banned by provoking him and making him break the code of conduct while you get away with just a minor fine then its a small price to pay. That’s why Kumble is asking that instigators also should be given the same punishment for without their provocation there would be no offence committed in the first place. Here again the problem is that referees especially from England and South Africa will not take action against the Australians because they don’t want to look soft. The Aussies have managed to bring this tough guy image on the field and seem to deride those who don’t look at it from the same eyes.
The South Africans who also like to think they are as tough as the Aussies would therefore not take action against the Australians and the English have this massive complex and don’t want to be called wimps by the Aussies and so will not do anything either. So the Australian players get away and then proudly state that since they are hardly if ever booked by the match referee they are not guilty of anything. Fact is that the whole world is aware that everytime the Aussies are under pressure out come the verbals and that too done cleverly away from the stump microphones and so don’t get caught or pulled up. The umpires too do not want to show they are soft by asking the verbals to stop the moment they begin and in doing so actually encourage it to go on. If the umpires only had the conviction to nip any talk in the bud there would be no problems and the world would still get to see some great contests but they too are to blame as much as the protagonists.
Those who say that without needle there would be no excitement in the game are doing the game a disservice for there could be needle in the fact that a batsman doesn’t think much of the bowler and wants to show who is the boss and a bowler who may want to show that the batsman is overrated and get him early. Cricket is at its best when players show their skills with bat and ball and not with their distasteful limited vocabulary.