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It takes snow to go sledging!
by Partab Ramchand
Jan 15, 2008
To overcome a problem one has to admit that there is one in the first place. Acknowledging it is the first step towards taking steps to redeeming the situation and it is gratifying to note that various steps are being taken as a damage control exercise following the acrimony caused by events during the Sydney Test.

For starters the ICC deserves credit for realizing the gravity of the situation and replacing Steve Bucknor with Billy Bowden for the Test at Perth. Yes, I know there have been protests against the decision and there has been talk of the BCCI holding the ICC to ransom by its money power. More to the point the move could set off a dangerous precedent for in future other teams too could object to an appointed umpire and want him removed. But that’s for the future. For the present the ICC under rather extraordinary circumstances has taken the right decision. The ICC chief executive officer Malcolm Speed also deserves credit for calling in chief match referee Ranjan Madugalle to oversee the proceedings at Perth. Madugalle is a highly respected official and it may be recalled that he was asked to give a ruling on the controversial Oval Test in 2006 between Pakistan and England.

Madugalle lost no time in arranging a meeting between the two captains and the picture of Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble smiling and chatting with Madugalle came as such a relief following the nasty tantrums witnessed at Sydney. Madugalle is confident that the Perth Test will be played in the best possible spirit between the two teams. According to him both captains agreed that the interest of the game was paramount and that it should always be played in the correct spirit and with mutual respect between opponents.

Even the abrasive Ponting seemed to be a changed match following the meeting. Echoing Madugalle’s statement, he said he was convinced that both the teams could move into the next Test clearly understanding the parameters under which the game should be played and acknowledging that the game must be played in its true spirit. Kumble too added his support saying that the meeting was in the best interests of the teams and strengthened his belief that the game was of paramount importance.

Kumble then went one step further by withdrawing the charges against Brad Hogg who it was alleged had made derogatory remarks against the Indian captain during the Sydney Test. It was a gesture that was appreciated by everyone and went a long way towards making the atmosphere on the eve of the Perth Test that much more congenial. Hogg himself acknowledged that it was ``a kind gesture, a lovely gesture by the Indian team and one that is much appreciated by myself and the Australian team. Hopefully the future contests between India and Australia will be good viewing for the spectators and enjoyable for the teams."

The ICC seeing that steps were moving in the right direction shrewdly announced that the hearing on the Harbhajan Singh case would be held after the final Test at Adelaide. Speed obviously wants the two remaining Tests to be played in an amiable atmosphere and seems determined not to do anything that could ruffle feathers again.

Indeed from the time he took over as CEO Speed has been an open votary of the Spirit of Cricket and has particularly appealed to captains to set the example. On the eve of the 2006 Champions Trophy in India he in fact led a pledge taken by many leading players that they would abide by the Spirit of Cricket. On the occasion Speed said that he was not advocating a sanitization of the game. ``Everyone wants to see passion from players as well as a sense of enjoyment that often comes from harmless banter between them. What I am advocating is for players and officials to adhere to the ideals that this great game has been built upon for over 300 years. How can they do that? Well, the Spirit of Cricket refers to the need to show respect. Respect for your opponents, respect for your own captain and team, respect for the role of the umpires and respect for the game’s traditional values which embody that sense of fair play. At the same time, it is against the Spirit of the Game to dispute an umpire’s decision, to abuse an opponent or umpire, to appeal knowing a batsman is not out, to appeal aggressively or to distract a batsman. Adhering to the Spirit of Cricket at this tournament, in the full gaze of the public, will be the best way to safeguard the game’s long-term future by showing everyone that cricket is a sport that is worth encouraging our children to play because it fosters not only competition but also fairness.’’

The Spirit of Cricket is a noble concept but in the heat of the moment – and these moments occur too often these days - it is easy to forget its principles. That is why the time has come for everyone – administrators, umpires, referees – to be given greater powers to deal with errant players. The very fact that the ICC has urged Cricket Australia to reign in Ponting's men in the light of all-round criticism of their recent on-field behaviour underscores how much the `Ugly Aussies’ have crossed the line. To a bit of an old timer like me cricketers – and I don’t just mean the Aussies though I suppose they have carried behaviour to a new low – have long since crossed the line of decency. Every time there is a little confrontation on the field or a banter that is not exactly friendly players just shrug it off when questioned by the media saying ``Oh it was nothing. It is all part of the game.’’

I have always felt that things should be nipped in the bud so that they don’t fly out of control. But by just shrugging things off, shoving things under the carpet and putting on a pretence that the problem didn’t exist things were clearly getting out of hand over the years and events at Sydney were but a culmination of what negligence and not tackling problems head on could lead to. I always cite the example of arguably the most disgraceful scene in the game – Rashid Patel chasing after Raman Lamba with a stump during the 1990-91 Duleep Trophy final at Jamshedpur – and remind my audience that it all started with both players taunting each other with chaste abuse words in Hindi. Look how it ended just because things were not nipped in the bud.

In this respect hats of to Tim de Lisle, former editor of Wisden who in a thought provoking article recently has put his finger on the problem and offered a solution too. Ban sledging is his call. He argues that deep down cricketers know that sledging is wrong. ``You can tell by the fact that they use euphemisms to denote it. Steve Waugh called it mental disintegration; others prefer a bit of banter or a bit of chirp. Rare is the player who will call a sledge a sledge while he is still playing. But they know it's not cricket. If somebody seizes this moment and takes a stand, the whole cricket world, sooner or later, will thank them.’’

In fact de Lisle goes further and says that if the ICC does not ban sledging the captains should take the lead. ``The game of cricket belongs to the players. It is they who set the standard to which they play and they who decide the spirit in which they play. Verbal abuse, sledging, mental disintegration - call it what you will - is an ugly, modern phenomenon far removed from the feisty banter associated with many a competitive former player. The players routinely say that sledging is "part and parcel of the game". Well, it isn't. It’s something that has evolved during the increasingly confrontational, cocky, and commercial age in which we live. The further the players push this, and by heaven they have been at the limit for a while now, the more dangerous it becomes.’’

What is needed is a big, simple, magnanimous response. The problem has now spread all over the cricketing world and the only solution is to get to the root of cause. The cynics might say that the fans wouldn’t enjoy watching a game conducted largely in silence. I wonder how much they are enjoying the vulgarity that is being enacted out in the field in the guise of passion.

It is ultimately a matter of ethics. Players have the power to clear up the dispute. Let them start something now, something that leaves cricket in a better state and spirit than they found it. God knows that the once great game is in need of a healing touch and who better to provide it than the cricketers themselves!

More Views by Partab Ramchand
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