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Howzat?
by Partab Ramchand
Jun 22, 2007
As one who saw his first Test match in January 1961 I think I qualify to be an old timer. Fortunately for me I have seen cricket when it was truly a gentleman’s game, when the bowler applauded if a batsman made a superb stroke, when fielders generously applauded if a batsman crossed a significant landmark, when the batsman walked away on being given out without a glare at the umpire or a murmur of protest and when the bowler’s appeal was not rude or arrogant but a quiet, almost unobtrusive, `howzat’.

Over the years I have unfortunately been witness to the falling standards in players’ behaviour. Cricketers openly questioning the umpire’s decisions, players virtually coming to blows on the field, bowlers and fielders pointing the batsman to the pavilion after he has been given out, bowlers kicking at the stumps or barging into umpires during their run up, sledging, excessive appealing and wild celebrations on getting a wicket and open squabbles on the field of play have taken much of the old charm associated with the game. I know of many cricket fans who have given up following the game because they find players’ behaviour intolerable. Former Australian captain Lindsay Hassett for whom the game was never a matter of life and death left the commentary box in 1981 after a long and distinguished career saying that he could not stand modern players’ behaviour any more. These thoughts come to mind in the wake of the issue regarding Monty Panesar’s excessive appealing that saw him being pulled up by umpire Aleem Dar during the third Test between England and West Indies at Manchester. The left arm spinner is reckoned to be one of the characters in the game and he displays his exuberance rather openly – too openly for some. Whenever he takes a wicket he is quite a sight with his wide eyes, jaw open almost in a war cry, leaping all over the place, running all over the ground. All this certainly wasn’t there in the good old days but as an old timer let me say we didn’t miss it a bit. Give me anytime the scene where the bowler dismisses a batsman, behaves with quiet dignity and perhaps gets a pat on his back from his captain and teammates.

Panesar’s theatricals as I said may be unacceptable to old timers. But then excessive appealing and out of sync behaviour is something that is unacceptable even to today’s spectators and TV audience – and certainly to the umpires. That is why Panesar was spoken to by Dar who told him to observe cricket etiquette by appealing to him first before charging down the pitch to celebrate a wicket. The spirit of the game must always prevail.

Under the ICC’s Code of Conduct, players risk being fined or even suspended for excessive appealing. Under the Code it is considered unsportsmanlike to appeal excessively, appeal in an intimidating manner towards an umpire, or appeal under the knowledge that the batsman is not out.

Panesar of course is not the only bowler guilty of all this but he certainly is the latest. Over the last three decades and more many players have been guilty of displaying over exuberance or appeals exaggerated for effect. Perhaps Dar was also trying to rein in Panesar’s high spirited approach but it was commendable that the experienced umpire had a word with him for he certainly can cross the line at times. But then so do many other players in the game today and this is where the umpires and the match referees have a key role in curbing player misbehaviour and upholding the game’s dignity and old world charm. Under the circumstances the officials would not be in the wrong if they are a bit strict in adopting the guidelines. Unedifyingly excessive appealing to the point of being intimidation needs to be curbed. Such players should also realize that unacceptable behaviour will only alienate the umpires.

With all this it was not exactly amusing to read that England captain Michael Vaughan has told his star spin bowler to carry on appealing, saying that any attempt to curb Panesar’s enthusiasm risked diminishing one of modern cricket’s leading characters. Since when does rude and excessive appealing, wild celebrations, leaping all over the field and running all around the ground constitute a ``cricketing character’’? Is not Virender Sehwag, as imperturbable as ever even as he is hitting bowlers for fours and sixes, a character? One does not have to be over demonstrative to acquire the image or reputation of being a leading ``character’’ in the game.

 
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