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Shut up, you **^*^* player!
Sunny Gavaskar launches into a tirade against the Aussies for sledging; Dennis Lillee takes up the cudgels on behalf of his country and hits back?
No reason to be -- in politics and sports, this has become pretty much the norm. Any time an issue comes up, it is accompanied by finger pointing, obfuscation, and all round confusion. And at the end, we are exactly where we were before.
Look at what happens for instance in our famous parliamentary debates. The Opposition of the day accuses the ruling party of corruption. Humph, goes the ruling party, you guys have no right to talk, look what you did 20 years ago. Opposition says never mind what we did 20 years ago, look what you guys did 40 years back.
And so it goes on, like a Mad Hatter's Tea Party where we, the public, are left with the dirty dishes.
Same difference here -- Sunny brings up sportsmanship; Lillee goes, duh, Sunny is a fine one to talk, look what he did when he was playing. Soon enough some other former great will go, Lillee who? Lillee who raised a bat, an aluminium bat at that, at a member of the opposition and threatened to knock his head off is who.
As debates go, the standards on this one, between two of the finest cricketers of their era, had all the usefulness of a schoolyard squabble.
Why is that? Because Sunny confined the problem to one team, one country (rather like the cricketing world, in the pre-Cronje era, confined the problem of match fixing to the sub-continent and thought the rest of the world was immune), when the fact is every single international team is guilty of it, to a greater or lesser degree.
The debate, therefore, got side-tracked into whether or not the Aussies were solely responsible -- as opposed to whether or not it was time to do something about sledging.
What, in essence, is the problem? Sledging -- a term that once meant rooting for your side, but now encompasses insult and atrocious abuse, in the name of 'gamesmanship'.
No one denies it exists. No one denies that in its most horrible manifestations, it is bad for the players (a Sarwan goes out there to demonstrate his batting skills, not listen to threats of decapitation); it is bad for the spectators (do we pay to watch McGrath bowl to Lara, or to watch the two of them standing eyeball to eyeball in mid-pitch, yelling abuse?)
And finally, it is bad for the game – all you have to do is stand by and watch pre-teen kids playing a game of cricket on a Mumbai street to know what I mean; these days, they don't appeal without throwing in graphic expletives the real meanings of which they are not even old enough to understand. Imagine one of them growing up into an international cricketer of tomorrow?
If you then admit that it exists, and that it is bad, then it shouldn't matter who is doing it now, or who has done it in the past -- looking for solutions accomplishes far more than looking for culprits.
Before looking at the solution, look at a couple of arguments used to defend the practice. The first is gamesmanship; the second is 'heat of the moment, no ill will born, the concerned parties shook hands and apologized to each other after'.
Big deal. Maybe they did – but consider this. Assume a bowler says something nasty in the 'heat of the moment'. Something like 'You (expletives deleted), I'll (expletive) your wife/sister/mother'. (Which, incidentally, is the kind of crap supposedly grown up and responsible individuals are throwing at each other).
How do you guarantee that one of these days, the 'heat' of that same moment does not infect the recipient of this abuse? How can you be sure that a hot-headed batsman, under even more than normal pressure at the time, gets a earful, decides he has had enough, hauls off, and clocks the sledger one?
If someone slung words like that at you in the street, isn't that what you would do? Does putting on cricket whites automatically thicken your skin and make you impervious to insult?
Incidentally, side-tracking the issue for a second, how fair is it that 11 guys on the fielding team get to go at this one guy at the batting crease? If nattering at a batsman preparing to receive a fast bowler is 'fair play', then how about if the non-striker were to join in on behalf of his beleaguered colleague? What if tomorrow, just as a Glenn McGrath, say, eases into his delivery stride, the non-striker went 'You (expletives deleted), I'll (expletive) your wife/sister/mother'?
Would that be excused, too, in the name of gamesmanship?
Or would you say that enough is enough, this crap has to stop?
If yes, there are two ways of stopping it. One is the self-discipline route -- boards make it clear to their players that such behavior is unacceptable; players for their part determine not to fling unacceptable abuse at their opponents. And that is that.
Or it would be -- only, there is no evidence that the modern-day cricketer is any good at disciplining himself; in fact, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.
So then officialdom -- and in cricket, that means the ICC -- has to act. Question being, how?
I was glancing through the latest issue (August 2003) of the ICC's own cricket quarterly, a slim pamphlet that body distributes to various boards and members of the media, and which contains a capsule review of decisions, initiatives, etc either taken or planned.
This one has, on page two, under the banner headline 'ICC Chief Executive addresses player behavior concerns', a few thoughts on the issue culled from Malcolm Speed's address to the Cricket Business Forum.
Here's what it says, verbatim:
"Regrettably, a number of serious and well-publicised incidents have not been the subject of charges under the ICC Code of Conduct. Several steps have been taken in relation to this:
"First, the umpires, including third umpires, have been instructed to lay charges where they believe the code of conduct has been breached.
"Second, we have further explained the code by setting out in very clear, every day language, descriptions of the type of behavior that is unacceptable.
"Third, we have extended the period in which an umpire can lay a charge from two, to 18, hours.
"Finally, the ICC Chief Executive has had the power to lay a charge within 24 hours of close of play extended to five days."
First, do note that the ICC chief executive, presumably speaking on behalf of the body, says the incidents are serious – so it is not as if Sunny was raising a non-issue. Second, he says, charges have not been laid – implicit in that statement is the fact that charges should have been laid.
So what steps does the body take? It extends the time given to umpires from two, to 18 hours; and for the ICC CEO, from 24 hours to five days.
How nice. Till I read this, I hadn't realized that the reason no charges were laid in (and this is just a recent example, not an exercise at blaming the Aussies alone for any of this) the famous face off involving McGrath and Sarwan was because two hours was not enough for the umpires to do it in, and 24 hours was not enough for the CEO to ditto.
In passing, here is an amusing bit – the CEO's time limit for framing charges has been extended from 24 hours to five days, right? Right – which means that in the august opinion of this body, 24 hours is not enough, maybe, to review the evidence and say okay, this is unacceptable, it needs to be investigated and action taken?
So how come the umpire is, even with upward revision, given a mere 18 hours?
Anyways, that is a mere quibble, and easily answered. The real point is, no one is naïve enough to assume that charges were not laid in the McGrath-Sarwan incident, or in the dozens of similar incidents in recent memory, because there wasn't enough time to do it in. Phooey!
Now look at the first two 'solutions' as per that statement.
Apparently, the umpires and third umpires have 'again been instructed' to lay charges where they believe a breach of the code has occurred.
Duh! You mean when they were first told to lay charges it wasn't clear enough? What language was that first injunction given in, Swahili? You mean when the CEO, and other honchos, made similar statements last year, that wasn't clear either? What on earth is this 'again instructed'?
Do you, before each game, instruct umpires to give batsmen out LBW when applicable, or no ball bowlers as applicable? No? Well, the code of conduct is as much a part of the governing laws of the game, today, as is the LBW rule -- so why do international umpires need to be 'again instructed'?
Item two on that list is even more ridiculous. 'We have further explained the code by setting out in very clear every day language descriptions of the type of behavior that is unacceptable'.
I knew it -- they must have been speaking Swahili that first time! 'Clear, every day language', indeed!
You've got to be naïve to imagine umpires have refrained from laying charges because they didn't understand the instructions.
And while on this, 'laying of charges' is not much of a solution anyway -- invariably, in the past, such 'charges' have been followed up by a meeting of the errant players with the match referee, who then comes out and pompously announces that the truant has apologized and the apology has been accepted.
That is not action -- that is whitewash.
The real core of the problem is that all these are guidelines, not hard laws. And a 'guideline' is as good as the person interpreting it.
A Barry Jarman, for instance, can -- and did -- interpret an Allan Donald spouting the 'eff' word like a fountain as a mere demonstration of high spirits, not even worth a slap on the wrists; the same Jarman will -- and did -- on another day, interpret an over-enthusiastic appeal as dissent and an attempt to intimidate an umpire (by the way, what kind of men are these who get intimidated by someone yelling howzat from silly point, no matter how loudly?)
Consider this: 'Thou shalt not kill', say the commandments. That is a guideline -- and if there was nothing beyond that, then heck, I'd kill if I felt the need to because what are you going to do if I do, tell me that in plainer English?
Instead, if it had read: 'Thou shalt not kill, and if thou dost, then we'll taketh you and strappest you on a metal chair and filleth you full of enough electricity to lighteth an entire city', then hey, I'm going to think ten times about the consequences before I contemplate mayhem.
So, if the ICC wants to get rid of the problem, then Speed and company can stop extending deadlines. I mean, what if tomorrow, there is another 'serious and well-publicized incident' that results in no action -- will you extend the time for umpires to file charges to a week and for the CEO to a month?
What they can do, instead, is say enough is enough -- if the umpire hears one out of place word on the field of play, or even witnesses a confrontation other than the normal cricketing one of bowler bowling to batsman, he blows the whistle. Immediately. And orders the erring player, or players, off the field of play.
If five guys are involved in yelling at a batsman, then fine, pack off all five; do that once, and cricketers will learn the manners of choirboys.
And that brings me to the one final, indefensible, argument I've heard on the subject. Whenever there has been talk of harsh regulatory measures, I've heard some twit or other go, hey, these are grown ups, you can't police them, they are adults and should be treated as such.
Really? Fine, then, act like adults and you will be treated as such.
So, how about giving the umpires teeth -- not time -- and telling them that if they don't use their dentures, then they, in turn, will be booked for having helped bring the game into disrepute?
What do you think?
Here, while I wait for your thoughts, is a selection of your earlier mails on a variety of subjects. There's more to come than I have had the time to put up today (there are also mails relating to the general blog, Around the World, and to the Books segment, but they too will need to wait till next week).
It's the long Labor Day weekend in this part of the world, I'm off the map for the duration, see you guys Tuesday – meanwhile, have a good weekend, all.
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