FORMER England cricket captain Michael Atherton once famously described the game of cricket as “a game of skill and gentlemanly conduct where everyone hates the Australians equally”.
The next Ashes series between England and Australia starts towards the end of 2017 but already the MCC lawmakers at the home of cricket at Lords are looking to swing the odds against the Aussies. They are proposing to introduce penalties for players and teams who engage in ungentlemanly conduct… in other words, anyone playing for Australia!
As guardian of the Laws of Cricket, the MCC plays a vital role in upholding standards from the village green to Test cricket. “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,” states the MCC.
“Whilst the majority of cricket is played in a competitive but fair spirit, there are some players, or even teams, whose behaviour is below what is expected for cricket. Indeed, five matches in the UK had to be abandoned in 2015, following outbreaks of violence.”
The on field sanctions to be trialled this year include yellow cards which could remove a player to the sin bin for a period of time, red cards which would dismiss the player from the match, and the reduction of runs from a team score.
The penalties would be for behaviour such as assaulting or threatening umpires or players or “using language or gesture that seriously offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies another person on the basis of that person’s race, religion or belief, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation or background”.
If those sort of sanctions were employed in an Ashes series, then England would win easily because there would be no Australians left on the field!
Take this week’s test match in New Zealand when an Australian bowler was heard in the live broadcast to swear vociferously about the third umpire’s decision. That’s unacceptable, said the commentator. Just not cricket, old boy.
There’s a fine line between verbal abuse and the art of sledging which is now an accepted part of the game. Sledging is designed to put the opponent off his game and the Australian cricketers are past masters. But it’s not always one way.
Aussie wicket keeper Rod Marsh once greeted English batsman Ian Botham with the quip: ‘How’s your wife and my kids?’ The reply came: ‘The wife’s fine but the kids are retarded.’
There are many others which are unprintable.
The phrase ‘It’s just not cricket’ has come into general usage as meaning it’s unfair or it’s not sportsmanlike simply because of the long tradition of cricket being the game of gentlemen.
Robert Mugabe, who is hardly the epitome of courtesy and graciousness, once said that cricket civilises people and creates good gentlemen, adding that he wanted everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe so that it could be a nation of gentlemen.
English playwright Harold Pinter suggested that ‘cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth, certainly greater than sex… although sex isn’t too bad either.’
Oscar Wilde wasn’t quite so keen on the game. ‘It requires one to assume such indecent postures,’ he said.
Now there’s a thought. Maybe the MCC lawmakers should forget the sledging and do something about those indecent postures?