February 21, 2008

BCCI move to ban sledging is most welcome

By H Natarajan

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needs to be applauded for mooting a proposal to bring a ban on sledging. Cricket has long lost its tag of being a “gentlemen’s sport” after walking, accepting an erroneous decision with grace, conducting with dignity on the filed etc have all become endangered species of a pristine past.

Loutish behavior and foul language have imbued the fair name of the game and in recent time unrestrained exchange of words between oppositions has brought the game to a near split.

The loudest noise against the BCCI proposal has, not surprisingly, come from Australia, whose players have been the biggest perpetrators of some of the biggest on-field fracas in cricket history. Dennis Lillee’s kicking of Javed Miandad, Steve Waugh’s near-physical confrontation with Curtly Ambrose and Glenn McGrath’s verbal duel with Ramnaresh Sarwan being some of the prominent cases in point.

Mark Taylor, the former Australian captain, says the game would be boring without sledging. Rubbish. Is he saying that the game was a big yawn when the likes of Sir Don Bradman and Sir Garry Sobers were playing? Sir Gary, in fact, is still remembered for his sense of fair play in calling batsmen who were erroneously given out by umpire.

Players are paid for their playing skills and not their verbal skills. And the spectators are paying good money to see a fiery fast bowler, a spin wizard, a gifted batsman or a great contest between bat and ball. Nobody comes to see two players sparring in a language that they themselves would not utter before their children.

Soccer’s increasing influence on cricket is unmistakable - be it Andrew Flintoff’s bare-bodied, celebration or Sourav Ganguly’s retaliation likewise. And images of Harbhajan’s rolling on the ground after dismissing Ricky Ponting and Michael Slater’s eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Rahul Dravid in Mumbai a few years back are straight from the soccer field.

Cricket can take a leaf out of the soccer rule book to discipline erring players. Maybe the time has come for ICC to empower umpires with cards - yellow for warning and red for marching orders – to be used as a tool for slapping exemplary and instantaneous on-field punishment. I dare say that one would find a radical change in player behavior. The captain would ensure that a player like Glenn McGrath keeps his tongue and temper in check as red-carding a key player could cost the match for his team.

The players have a social responsibility as public figures with humungous powers to influence young minds. Any behavior that goes against acceptable norms of a civilized society is unacceptable. There should be no place for poor role models. It’s the duty of the ICC to ensure that players do not cross the line. Clearly, the line has been breached several times in the recent past and leading to heightened feeling of concern and unease.

Too often players have got away with obnoxious, personal remarks. McGrath is one of the infamous offenders in this regard. He got it back in full measure from Sarwan, which almost led to the two players getting physical. In another instance, McGrath asked the portly Eddo Brandes: "Why are you so fat?" The Zimbabwean shut McGrath up by saying: "Because every time I f... your wife she gives me a biscuit."

Mental toughness of the modern age does not have to be verbally foul, devoid of sporting spirit or reduced to a show of naked, ugly aggression. One of the finest examples of mental toughness is Anil Kumble. In a long and distinguished international career, never once has he behaved in a manner that has been questionable. Yet, few can match his mental toughness or even his physical courage – remember his heroics with a broken jaw in the West Indies? Kumble’s stature as a statesman par excellence was exemplified in the dignity and restraint he showed in circumstances that would have provoked even the mildest of men during the Sydney Test and in nailing of Harbhajan Singh. Kumble’s philosophy showed that toughness has to be in the mind and in deeds rather than words or offensive behaviour.

Another avoidable modern ‘arsenal’ is the ‘keeper doubling up as an ostensible instrument for encouraging the bowlers. The non-stop jabber fools nobody as it’s evident to all that the role and the aim of the ‘keeper is only to distract and/or upset the batsmen.

Some of the most dreaded of fast bowlers like Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner did not find the need to behave like delinquent brats as Andre Nel or Sreesanth have done.

The Augean Stables need to be cleaned and the BCCI has taken a step in the right direction.