So the next Test starts in Manchester, as much with the fragrance of wonderful talents on display as with the stench of ugly confrontation and the disagreeable odour of verbal abuse in the air. In England, in the last home of Test cricket, where reside the guardians of the laws and the spirit of the game, there are few voices condemning abuse and possible violence. But it is not in England alone. All over the world, the administrators and the referees given the honour of upholding all that is good about the game, have two eyes but none for the kind of behaviour we see on the field of play.
Instead, players and personalities of repute are asking people to “man up”, they are asking if anyone got hurt, are ridiculing people for going running to their parents to complain. I do not hear these guardians of the game saying “Jimmy, what you said was wrong. You have set a terrible standard for another generation. You must face the consequences.” It turns out there are no consequences.
I am intrigued by the expression “man up”. Presumably it means accept the filthiest abuse, be called “you f***ing fat c**t” and turn a blind eye to it. What next then? Such language in a pub can be accompanied by a brawl, a tussle, fisticuffs. You “man up” to that? Already in the IPL we have seen a bowler hurl a ball at the batsman and the batsman retaliate with the bat. Nobody was banned there either, presumably Kieron Pollard had “manned up” to Mitchell Starc. Cricket let itself down that day and it let itself down when nobody from the game’s governing body spoke a word in public castigating Jimmy Anderson for using the language Umpire Oxenford said he did.
All teams guilty
And before people, worried more about tiny constituencies, start going off about an Indian speaking out against the behaviour of a player from another country, my stand on this is consistent. I was appalled by Shikhar Dhawan’s imitation of Shane Watson, by Andrew Symonds’ verbal tirade against Manish Pandey some years ago and by one of the worst of them all, the McGrath-Sarwan face off. My point is simple. The moment we allow the kind of language Anderson used against an opponent, we clear the deck for the next stage.
What nonsense this “manning up” is! Apart from everything else, it also suggests we are the shallower half of the world. People have differences. Earlier this year, Novak Djokovic played Roger Federer in one of the most glorious chapters of all sport, not just tennis. Neither felt the need to call each other a “f##%%+** fat c#**#” Would the chair umpire at Wimbledon say “man up Roger!” Can Woods mouth off at McIlroy in a Ryder Cup game? Why then should cricket allow it?
Is this what we, as caretakers of the game in our generation, are going to hand over to the next? “Here son, look after this game carefully, as your many forefathers did. Play it with skill and intensity. And don’t forget to abuse.” We have many referees, many umpires, many debates on the spirit of the game. And we have people throwing balls and bats at each other and hurling expletives in all directions and the worst they get is a little fine? Sometimes not even that!
No role model
As commentators we often say “If there are any youngsters around, watch that seam position and see how the ball is perfectly released. That is how you do it.” And what if the kids turn around and say “And if we can’t get the batsman out, do we go up to him and say “***##@@**%” because that is also what we see and read from our heroes?”
I am not asking for the game to be made sterile, for emotion to be quarantined. No, not at all. I am not asking for the “finger on the lips” that primary school teachers demand of young boys and girls. I don’t mind a word spoken in anger or jest or even contempt. But filth and abuse must stop, references to families and parentage must stop for it is inevitable that it will lead to a punch thrown. We are not far away.
I have often been told that this adds to the spice in the game. Fisticuffs do, brawls do, wouldn’t that be fun too? Kohli in the red corner, Broad in the blue over 3 rounds? It would be really spicy but it wouldn’t be cricket. Every game has its own traditions, its own ethos. Golf does, tennis does. That is what makes each game unique. The challenges are different, the time-frames are different, some require great physical prowess, some a calm, inner resolve.
Gordon Lewis, who heard the Anderson-Jadeja affair has asked for an immediate look at the code of conduct. I would similarly urge a strict implementation of it so that we don’t waste our time with such judicial hearings and their ability to divide. Currently those empowered to protect our game are letting it down. If players were banished for behaviour, if teams had to play with a player short, our game would be fine again.
Bat vs ball with the wonderful uncertainty of the weather and the surface is alluring enough.