Photo Credit: Saeed Khan / AFP
Cricket is often called the “gentleman’s game” but the reality is sometimes rather different. If the game conjured up romantic images of idyllic village greens and players clad in pristine white upholding the “spirit of the game” (whatever that means), it has metamorphosed into a multi-billion dollar global sport. Like many other sports, the number of ugly incidents on the field has only increased over time.
So it isn’t surprising that the Marylebone Cricket Club in Lord’s, London, has finally woken up to this disquieting trend. The club, considered the spiritual home of cricket, is mandated to uphold the Laws of Cricket. Earlier this week, the MCC borrowed from football, rugby and hockey to come up with a unique new feature for cricket. From next season, umpires in English league games can temporarily or permanently send off players during a game for indulging in unseemly behaviour. The officials will also have the option of adding or subtracting penalty runs.
This new move is a result of an ongoing review of the Laws of Cricket by the MCC, which is looking to publish a new Code of the Laws in 2017. As part of a consultation in 2015, umpires pointed out that they would be better equipped to handle unsporting behaviour on the field if they had the power to mete out punishment there and then, rather than retrospectively.
It is clear from the tone of the MCC’s report that they were worried about the rising levels of boorishness on the field. “There is clear evidence, both anecdotally and through increased reports via leagues, that the standards of player behaviour on the cricket field are declining worldwide,” it warned and pointed out that five matches in the United Kingdom had to be abandoned in 2015 following outbreaks of violence.
When cricket turns violent
These five matches all took place in the lower leagues of England. Last June in Basildon, a 60-year old man was taken to hospital after an altercation with a player turned ugly. In the same month, a 51-year old man fell unconscious after receiving a punch when an argument between the two teams escalated.
But this problem is not restricted to the United Kingdom alone. A club game in Bermuda turned into something that would not have been out of place in the World Wrestling Entertainment arena. One player swung his bat at the other, who then rushed at him and tackled him to the ground. Both players were suspended – one for life.
International cricket has witnessed several incidents of physical assault as well, but it’s the atmosphere on the field itself has become quite nasty. What earlier passed off as banter has become ugly and vicious. Players do not miss the chance to have a go at the opposition. New Zealand, which drew universal praise for playing hard but fair during its run in last year’s World Cup, were sledged throughout the final by the Australians. Brad Haddin, the Australian wicket-keeper in that final, justified the sledging by saying that New Zealand deserved the treatment they got because they were “too nice”.
The International Cricket Council, world cricket’s governing body, has adopted a relatively lenient approach, resorting to short-term bans and similar mild punishment. The argument is that the players do not want cricket to become a sterile sport, with no place for emotion. But there is a vast difference between banter on the field and vicious personal abuse. That line has been crossed long ago and as the situation in domestic cricket shows us, the next line to be crossed may well be a full-fledged physical brawl on the field of play.
Which is why the MCC, often accused of remaining wedded to past glories, must be lauded for waking up to the realities of cricket. No sport should have room for abuse or physical assaults and if the authorities have to curb this dangerous trend, they need to start devising out-of-the-box solutions. Empowering the umpires could make players think twice before losing their cool. And as Ravi Shastri would say, the real winner would be cricket.