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Sledgers and Pranksters! Ain't misbehaving?
by Partab Ramchand
Aug 02, 2007
As an old timer who saw his first Test match in January 1961 I am appalled by increasing player misbehaviour. The most disturbing aspect of this blot on the game is that everyone associated with it – the guilty players, those at the receiving end, umpires, match referees, administrators – condone such behaviour or just shrug it off as ``part of the game.’’ It certainly was not part of the game in the past as I can vouch for and cricket was much the better for it.

It was once a contest between bat and ball. This is now secondary. It is now a contest between sledgers and pranksters.

Jelly beans, ugh! What next? Chewing gum so that the batsmen cannot move his feet to play a shot? Anything is now possible in this once noble game that was synonymous with everything fair and correct and proper.

Former England captain Geoff Boycott, never one to mince words, has squarely blamed the ICC for this menace that is increasingly sullying the image of the game. ``The ICC are to blame for not telling umpires to be firmer with the players,’’ he said in a recent interview. I have always shared his view. Insolent behaviour, indecent gestures, sledging, bad language, appalling appealing all this should have been nipped in the bud. It is because the lead has not been given by the ICC which in turn has led to lenient match referees and umpires that things have come to such a sorry pass and seamy incidents have become cancerous.

Indian seam bowler Shantakumaran Sreesanth was fined fifty percent of his match fees for shoulder charging England captain Michael Vaughan. In giving this verdict match referee Ranjan Madugalle said: "Cricket is a non-contact sport and any deviation from that is unacceptable. I have no problem with players being combative but there is a line they cannot cross and Sreesanth crossed it."

Ah yes, crossing the line. That is exactly what loutish behaviour is all about. Shoulder charging is coming into contact and that is crossing the line. But what about the continuous flow of sledging, bad language and banter that is not exactly good humoured? What about aggressive and indecent gestures? What about chucking jelly beans on the pitch? Perhaps the authorities are waiting for someone to put bubble gum on the surface. It is this lenient attitude that has seen players’ conduct go from bad to worse.

So many players have over the years have got away with murder – of the game that is. Every time they come up with their unseemly behaviour – to put it mildly – I look forward to some action being taken against them by way of a warning, a talking to or cut in match fees. But nothing happens.

That’s because unfortunately even those at the receiving end take it in their stride. Just look at what Sourav Ganguly had to say at the end of the Trent Bridge Test. Queried about the latest episode the former Indian captain reckoned that nothing unpleasant had happened and he described it as a part of international sport. ``It does get intense in Test cricket and happens when both the teams are competing to win. I have not seen anything that will sour the series. It’s happened in the past and I’m sure it is going to happen in the future as well. It has become part and parcel of the game,’’ he said. Yes, it is because of such Nelson Eye attitudes that sledging, insolent behaviour, bad language and appalling appealing have become part and parcel of the game.

And now for a view from the camp perpetrating the `crime.’ Defending the unsavoury events in which he was a major player, Matt Prior said ``that comes with the territory. It's Test cricket, it's a hard game, we all want to win, so you are going to have your banter, but no one overstepped the mark," he said. I am sure I am not the only one who disagrees with this naive view.

And perhaps not unexpectedly Michael Vaughan threw his weight behind his wicketkeeper. "We are trying to play our cricket with a real intensity about it and that involves being a little bit aggressive. It's nothing that we haven't done in the past, it's just something we are doing well at the minute," he added. One wonders what chucking jelly beans on the pitch has to do with intensity.

The ICC has empowered match referees for clamping down on various offences with fines and suspensions. Obviously this is not enough and more stringent punishment is in order. It’s great to talk about passion in the game. There’s nothing wrong with passion per se. But then when one accepts passion as part of the game it could also lead to gestures and incidents that have no place on the cricketing field.

Expressions can still be registered within the realms of decency. A line has to be drawn somewhere and it is now obvious that the line drawn by the ICC should be even more taut and without loopholes. Law 42 governs fair and unfair play and the interpretation should be stricter. Otherwise the day is not far off I am afraid when there will be a free for all on the field.

 
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