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The cricket pitch is not a boxing ring
by Sunil Gavaskar
May 05, 2008
What I had been fearing has finally happened. A player getting fed up with provocation from an opposition player has got physical and assaulted him. Fortunately it didn’t happen while play was actually on but after it was over, but that it occurred on the field itself was a blot on the game and has been rightly condemned by all and sundry. The language on the field has been atrocious and the funny one liner is virtually non-existent, as players resort to personal abuse to get rid of their frustrations or simply to try and rile up the opposition. Mental disintegration is the ingenious word used to describe it but like the incident at Mohali showed us the physical disintegration after the mental one is a distinct possibility as pressure to perform and deliver makes players short tempered and humorless.

Make no mistake; there is still place in the game for a funny remark to defuse the tension and which all players enjoy, be it directed at their team or the opposition players. But personal abuse could well find retaliation in a physical manner and which may one day be even more forceful and harmful than the backhander at Mohali which Roger Federer would have been proud of. We have already seen pictures of a batsman being chased all over the ground at a first class game in India many years ago after the bowler was offended by what had been said to him, and how often do we see players squaring up to each other as if they are in the boxing ring or a wrestling pit.

Why, just days after the incident at Mohali, we had the ugly sight of Gautam Gambhir and Jacques Kallis facing off till the umpire intervened to ensure that it stopped right there and did not go any further. It is not yet known if the umpire has made a report of it but if he has not then he has failed in his duty for it is because umpires just shrug these kinds of incidents that they keep recurring. The umpire in the Mohali game spoke to the media about what may have led to the incident and whether he did it deliberately or was led on to it, the fact remains that he should have reported it to the match referee. The unfortunate aspect of this cancer in our beloved sport is that there is a misplaced belief that those who report it, be it umpires or players, are wimps; when in fact the more it is reported and action taken will ensure that it goes from the system forever. The BCCI has been in the forefront of trying to eradicate abuse and offensive language on the field and it will be interesting to see what action they take after the inquiry is completed by their commissioner, Sudhir Nanavati.

It is useless for the protagonists of sledging to argue that what happens on the field should be left on the field, for it is their way of trying to get away from their wrongdoing. If the same language will find a physical retaliation if used in everyday activity then why it should be different in a pressure filled atmosphere like a game of cricket. If anything, we are lucky that what happened at Mohali has not happened earlier. It is easy for anybody to snap and if a player is known to be short tempered it is extremely tough for him to keep his temper and subsequent actions in check. And to those who claim that it has always been part of the game, one can only say that it is not true.

There was never any abuse on the field in Bradman’s time nor Benaud’s time and not in Clive Lloyd's time either and if any one is suggesting that the intensity and pressure was less in those days, then they should have a reality check. These three were captains of champion sides who thrilled countless fans all over the world with their cricket and people came to watch them in droves and went home happy that they had seen a good if not great contest between bat and ball. Not only are they respected and admired all over the cricketing world but their teams too are remembered fondly by cricket lovers. Unfortunately, somewhere later down the road this despicable mental disintegration started and it has flourished simply because of the officials turning a blind eye to it and not nipping it in the bud. What stops an umpire from telling the skipper of the team as soon as he hears or sees the first sign of any and I mean any verbal be it funny or abusive, that if not stopped immediately he will report it. Yes, language is a problem, for there are many nationalities in the game but all it takes is for an umpire to ask to cut it out and there won’t be any. How come under Mark Taylor there were no complaints against the team. So the skipper also has a role to play in ensuring the game is between bat and ball and not lips or fists.

It was good to read that the Indian skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni thinks that sledging is a waste of time and energy and if he can convey that message to his team then it will be a big step in backing his board as it takes the lead in trying to eradicate the verbal offensive disease from the game.

Better late than never.

More Views by Sunil Gavaskar
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  Dhoni bears the fury of the media
  Spirit of Cricket
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