Harsh punishment needed for erring players

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 07, 2013 09:47 hrs

Sunday's disgraceful exhibition involving Shane Warne and Marlon Samuels during the Big Bash League encounter at Melbourne only confirmed my worst fears that player behavior in the game has spun out of control. 

The cricketers have crossed the line of decency a long time ago and if proper steps are not taken the game could well resemble the WWF. It appears that the participants have taken the name of the tournament literally.   

For those of us who saw it the whole thing was a shocker and made the connoisseur of the game wince with pain and embarrassment. And for those who missed it YouTube has innumerable versions of it. The administrators and those who make the rules constantly remind us that cricket is not a contact sport and it is a game of skill between bat and ball. 

But going by what happened on Sunday the game of skill has now degenerated into a war of words and worse, a battle of blows. Very soon cricket could be more like boxing and wrestling and the aesthetic nuances of the sport will be a thing of the past.  

As it is thanks to the behavior of cricketers like Warne, Merv Hughes, Dennis Lillee, Andre Nel, Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh - to name but a few - cricket's traditional qualities of sportsmanship have taken a severe hiding over the years. In the past the adage ''it's not cricket'' stood for anything unfair and unsporting. 

That was the noble image the sport inspired. But these days ''cricket is a gentleman's game'' only evokes derisive laughter. The phrase belonged to an earlier era when fieldsmen applauded a batsman who reached his century, when a batsman said ''well bowled'' to a bowler who had dismissed him and when fast bowlers refrained from bowling bouncers at tailenders.

These noble qualities associated with the game had more or less disappeared by the time of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. But there is little doubt that the behaviour of the players became more boorish as a result of their direct involvement in WSC. Today, much that is attractive or innovative about the game - night cricket, coloured clothing, stump vision camera, white balls, black sight screen along with all the latest innovations - can be traced to WSC.

Unfortunately bad behaviour can also be traced to this turbulent two-year period. With the tantrums becoming increasingly unendurable and with the image of the game suffering as a result, the International Cricket Council had to take urgent steps to curb the cancerous growth and so in the early 90s, innovations like the TV umpire (to help solve dissatisfaction with umpiring decisions), neutral officials (to quell charges of biased umpiring) and the match referee (to take action against erring players) were introduced.

It was hoped that these steps would act as a deterrent to the players. But based on the experiences of the last two decades, it can safely be stated that these measures have not had the desired effect. Officials have not been consistent - even adopting double standards - despite the benefit of certain yardsticks. 

Frankly, too much is left to their interpretations, leading to charges of incompetency and bias. Also punishments are too light and those responsible laughingly pay the fine or miss a match. Umpires and match referees have to take a tougher line in disciplining players who transgress the game's Code of Conduct and violently rip apart the spirit of cricket.

Every time there is a little confrontation on the field or a banter that is not exactly friendly players just shrug it off when questioned by the media saying, ''Oh it was nothing. It's all part of the game.'' 

I have always felt that things should be nipped in the bud so that they don't fly out of control. But by just shrugging things off, shoving them under the carpet and putting on a pretence that the problem didn't exist things were clearly getting out of hand over the years and increasing misbehaviour is but a culmination of what negligence and not tackling problems head on could lead to.

I always cite the example of arguably the most shameful scene in the game - Rashid Patel chasing after Raman Lamba with a stump during the 1990-91 Duleep Trophy final at Jameshpur - and remind my audience that it all started with both players taunting each other with chaste abuse words. Look how it ended just because things were not nipped in the bud.

It's great to talk about passion in the game. There is nothing wrong about passion per se. But when one accepts passion as part of the game it could also lead to gestures that have no place on the cricketing field. Expressions can still be registered within the realms of decency. Passion brings in more excitement say the protagonists but then it also leads to seamy incidents. 

I know of numerous people who were fanatical cricket fans but who have turned their backs on the game or at least do not follow it as keenly as they used to in the past because they can't stand the appalling behavior of players. 

Old timers in particular who over the years were brought up on the image of cricket being a gentleman's game are aghast at the tantrums thrown by the prima donnas and the obscene gestures displayed openly even by junior players. 

Lindsay Hassett for one left the commentary box in 1981 after a long and distinguished career saying that he could stand modern players' behavior no more.

As far as I am concerned the time has come for harsher punishment to be meted out to erring players - perhaps even football style yellow and red cards. Cricket has suffered enough as a result of various scandals and controversies. The image of the once noble game should not be allowed to be damaged further by the loutish behavior of players. 

Cricketers must learn - yes, even the hard way - that the game is bigger than the individual. 

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