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That’s not cricket

vijay lokapally | Updated on August 15, 2014

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The gentleman’s game is one in which the players mouth obscenities, and glower and fume at each other, all in the full glare of TV cameras

Many cricketers and cricket writers believe that cricket is a reflection of the times we live in. If that were true, then the times have always been rough and controversial for cricket. The recent Ravindra Jadeja-James Anderson ‘clash’ was but another instance. At one stage, it had the potential to escalate and strain the relationship between the cricket boards of India and England. Quite on the lines of the Bodyline controversy in 1932-33, when Australia and England nearly severed their cricketing ties due to the unfair tactics adopted by the English bowlers.

However, sanity was restored after Anderson, guilty of pushing Jadeja (if the Indian team management is to be believed), was let off. But Jadeja was let off too, the English camp could have very well countered. Strangely, the India captain MS Dhoni chose to pursue the case merely because it involved his favourite player in the team. In the process, India lost focus and drifted from its main task of playing good cricket. The crushing innings loss at Old Trafford not only caused acute embarrassment but also meant India will not win the series. At best, it can look for a 2-2 verdict if it triumphs in the fifth and final Test at The Oval.

For long, cricket has been touted as a gentleman’s game. Nothing can be farther from reality, as incidents of players mouthing obscenities, and glaring and fuming at each other have been captured on television often enough. Some term it ‘aggression’, while others say it’s ‘venting frustration’. Sadly, it has come to be accepted as part of the game, and minor fines are imposed to discipline players. It certainly doesn’t deter young players like Jadeja and Virat Kohli from antics that show them in poor light. Can they be ideal ambassadors for this so-called gentleman’s game?

Jadeja and his ilk seem to believe that expletives are the best show of aggression on the field. Now that’s a misconception, as the West Indies fast bowlers amply showed in the 1970s. They let fly not a word, only some gobsmacking deliveries. In stark contrast to Jadeja is the much-talented and appreciated Cheteshwar Pujara. Both play for the same Ranji team, but have nothing in common when it comes to their game and demeanour. While Jadeja’s behaviour clearly shows lack of cricket etiquette, it is also true that competitors today rarely applaud each other in the spirit in which the ‘aggressive’ Australians paid spontaneous compliments every time VVS Laxman excelled on the pitch. The likes of Jadeja are not accorded such gestures even on the domestic circuit.

However, refusing to rationalise bad on-field behaviour, an umpire says, “One gets put off by their behaviour because they think they are above the game. In Jadeja’s case, and others like him, playing for the Indian Premier League becomes a ticket to boorish behaviour. People refrain from speaking or taking action because the Board [BCCI] does not back them in cases involving top players.”

To guard against bad behaviour on the field, former India captain Anil Kumble had offered to mentor youngsters. “Cricket education is a must,” he had asserted. His cricket education included teaching youngsters how to handle their finances and how to conduct themselves in public. This is not to suggest that past cricketers were exemplary in their manners. Players have been known to stir up controversy since the time of WG Grace. But in the modern era, minor arguments have degenerated into physical aggression. Who can forget the staggering sight of Australian legend Dennis Lillee, bat raised, threatening to pound the Pakistan great Javed Miandad? The Pakistani was saved by the umpire’s intervention.

Closer home, Baroda seamer Rashid Patel, stump in hand, chased Delhi opener Raman Lamba on the field. It is another matter that they buried the hatchet later by playing as partners in a double-wicket tournament.

In yet another incident, Haryana wicketkeeper Salim Ahmed held Bihar batsman Hari Gidwani by the collar at the crease during a Ranji Trophy quarterfinal match at Faridabad in 1987. “It was frightening,” recalls Gidwani. Ahmed was later dropped from the team for the misdeed.

Even earlier, in 1984, I remember how during a Ranji match at Ferozeshah Kotla the Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman Surender Khanna confronted Bengal spinner Dilip Doshi on the boundary line, again by holding him by the collar, and with the latter screaming “police, police”. And there was the disturbing incident in which Delhi’s Madan Lal and Maharashtra’s Pandurang Salgaoncar pulled off a stump each during a match at Kotla in 1980. But these incidents were quickly forgotten and the players maintained a cordial atmosphere during the rest of the contest.

Surprisingly and, as a former international cricketer observed, even shockingly, the Indians pursued their case against Anderson without an iota of evidence. It was one man’s word against another. Jadeja is known to irritate opponents with his antics and, according to some past players, it is now imperative that the Board introduces for youngsters a course in good behaviour.

Players adopt aggressive tactics, sometimes bordering on violence, in body-contact sport like football, hockey, ice-hockey, basketball. But that’s not cricket!

“Cricket demands dignified behaviour,” as the New Zealand great Richard Hadlee would advocate. Players like Kumble and Laxman brought grace to the middle and left a rich legacy that someone like Jadeja, Kohli or Gautam Gambhir should not be allowed to devalue. As the former great Mohinder Amarnath once told me, if a young cricketer today considers himself to be a role model, then he should learn to behave like one.

Vijay Lokapally is Deputy Editor, Sports, The Hindu

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Published on August 15, 2014
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