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Umpires need to be consistent when dealing with sledging
by Suresh Menon
Jun 27, 2010

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By Suresh Menon


The football World Cup might have pushed the Asia Cup into the background, but one still wonders how the Indian and Pakistani players were allowed to get away with their behaviour when players have been hauled up for far less in the past? Have match referees decided to allow adults to let off steam once in a while (Andy Pycroft, the official in Dambulla has been quoted as saying that such things happen in the heat of the moment)?

In these days of multiple cameras, it is impossible to miss the action beyond the action. When Gautam Gambhir and Kamran Akmal decided to tell each other a few things during the India-Pakistan match, the drinks break was on, and there was no live telecast. But Big Brother was watching, and as soon as the game resumed, everything was revealed. It looked pretty nasty, and on another occasion might have got the players into trouble. Neither has a squeaky clean record in these matters.

Likewise the Harbhajan-Shoaib Akhtar drama. The Indian was charged up after hitting the fast bowler for a six and the pleasantries that followed had at least one commentator’s ears turn read. “I wish I could translate for you,” said Rameez Raja, “But I can’t.” Not on a family channel, he seemed to say. Fair enough. At the end of the game, however, when Harbhajan pointedly preened himself for Akhtar, the bowler’s two-fingered gesture did not need any translation.

What happens on the field must be left on the field, said the Indian captain M S Dhoni echoing one of the oldest clichés in the book. Except that now there are specific rules that state such things cannot be left on the field. Most sports have a code against bringing the game into disrepute, and cricket is no exception. It does not have specific punishments depending on the number of fingers involved or the language used, but not respecting your opponent is pretty high on the list of no-no’s.

You can’t get away saying that India-Pakistan matches are tense affairs anyway. In fact, if anything, players should be extra careful. The need for nipping poor behaviour in the bud is greater when the stakes are higher.

Having said that, the fact that Pycroft decided to ignore the fracas might just suggest a new maturity in the ICC’s approach which has often been accused of being unnecessarily namby-pamby. Cricket is a hard game played with a hard ball by grown men, and if grown men occasionally let off steam, then that is natural. The intervention by the umpires, and by Dhoni in the first instance, ensured that things didn’t get out of hand. Players know that the best riposte to any provocation is to be given with the bat or ball, so Harbhajan whose list of Christmas card senders has diminished further, can expect to be at the receiving end of Akhtar specials when they play each other next.

Gambhir, in his relatively short career has already picked up a reputation for jumping into a fight feet, if not mouth, first. To be known as someone who gives as good as he gets is not such a bad thing, but to be labeled as a trouble-maker cannot be good. Over the years, Indian players have learnt to look after themselves, and no one is likely to burst into tears the way Mohammad Azharuddin did when he was sledged in Australia.

When your opponents know they can get a rise out of you, they will try to rattle you. This is human tendency. There is a reason why the likes of Harbhajan and Gambhir and Akmal and Akhtar are on the watchlist of teams.

Pycroft might have acknowledged that all players cannot be of the same temperament, and some need to be allowed a certain margin of irresponsibility. Which is fine so long as the umpires  do not allow things to degenerate on the field. But what about consistency?

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