16 July 2013 You are here:

Just not cricket!

The first Test – the expression used for an international five-day cricket match involving any two of the top cricketing nations – has ended in victory for England against the old enemy, Australia. Now, I am aware that, sadly, a number who may be interested in reading my blogs are not interested in cricket, that several more do not understand the game and that, indeed, some have an extremely disparaging view of the game. I ask you to indulge me. This blog is intended to be more about principles than players, although I do get caught up in the details!

It was an exciting Test – neutral connoisseurs of the game were able to appreciate the ebb and flow of fortunes over the five days, as first one and then the other team gained the ascendency. The game was not without its controversy and the discussion continues – in chat forums on the internet, in talk shows on the radio, in pubs and in the media.

The controversy centres on alleged cheating. In short, the umpire made the wrong decision in favour of the player when he should have made the decision against him. The player knew that he had made a mistake, warranting his dismissal, and many feel that he should have admitted to his mistake and left the field of play. He chose to remain silent.

There has been much discussion – some of it rather heated – about whether he should have declared his mistake and thereby caused his own dismissal. There has been very little discussion as to whether two Australians – who were placed in similar situations during the match – should have been as “honest” (apparently, their dismissals were not so patently obvious). Besides, their team lost!

Sadly, duplicitous actions such as these have become commonplace in sport, particularly at the highest levels. There is the – now ubiquitous – “diving” in football to name but one of the subterfuges employed by cheating footballers. This is matched by the deliberate breaking of rules in rugby, e.g. playing the ball on the ground, if a player believes he can get away with it. We hear of motor-racing teams receiving censure for flouting the rules, the deep corruption and cheating with performance-enhancing drugs in cycling. (The headlines for today announced that Chris Froome, the current leader of the Tour de France is saddened by continuous questions about doping.) As I write this piece, news has just been released that two of the fastest athletes in the world are facing investigation after their respective initial drug tests gave positive results. (As an aside, I sincerely hope that the popular, effervescent and gifted Usain Bolt is never found to be a drugs cheat – what a blow that would be to athletics!) Sadly, the officials – managers, especially – often defend such cheating.

The cricket match in question ended with an Australia player, Brad Haddin, standing his ground when he knew he had hit the ball, which was subsequently caught. It took a television review to have him dismissed when, again, the umpire made the wrong call – a judgement that ended the match in victory for England!

International sportsmen and women are role models and should behave in a manner befitting that status. It is not unlikely that youngsters all over the country will emulate these cricketers, and we should bemoan a society where such behaviour occurs in children’s sport. In addition, and more importantly, the cheating in sport makes it easier to transfer dishonesty and deceit to other aspects of life and, I believe, this contributes to the desensitising of society to corruption and dishonesty in politics, business, home life, etc., et. al.

I contend that defence of such duplicity is wrong and it should concern us deeply that a great sporting hero can cheat or act deceitfully and have it defended, let alone applauded, and even affirmed as something positive! How can a father who defends such actions distinguish between that and his own son who has copied in an exam? Winning has been used to defend the cricketers’ actions – “It’s the Ashes (the long-standing traditional cricket competition between England and Australia) and we want to win” is the gist of what other top cricketers have said. It is a sentiment echoed in dressing rooms across the sporting world – “Cheating, subterfuge, deceit is acceptable because we have to win!” Winning a trophy next season is not as important as moulding character and a sense of decency into millions of young people!

There is no agreement as to whether remaining silent when you know you have made a mistake that warrants your dismissal in cricket is cheating. Technically, it is not – the player is acting within the laws of the game since it is the umpire’s responsibility to make those decisions. The player at the centre of the latest controversy has a father who is a former English Test cricketer. The father has defended his son’s action, even applauding his ability to maintain a deadpan face to fool the umpire. The question is not whether this is allowed or not – it is allowed within the rules of the game. The question is whether this is in the spirit of the game or not. And, there’s the rub!

A month ago, a West Indian cricketer, Denesh Ramdin, dropped the ball when his teammates and the umpire thought he had caught it. Television replays showed that the ball had touched the ground. I watched a video-recording of the incident and saw that at no stage does Ramdin claim to have caught the ball, nor does he appeal to the umpire to dismiss the batsman. But, he does celebrate with his teammates as if he had caught the ball and does not correct them for appealing, nor the umpire for dismissing the batsman. A former England player, Alec Stewart, said: "Denesh Ramdin has got to take a good look at himself… for Ramdin not to say he’s dropped that ball is wrong. It’s obvious he’s dropped it, and that’s poor sportsmanship."

In the space of four short days, the International Cricket Council (ICC) had had a disciplinary hearing, fined the player and banned him for two games. Ramdin was found guilty of “conduct contrary to the spirit of the game”. The person who represented the ICC in imposing the punishment is one Chris Broad. Broad was reported as saying: "This is regarded as a serious offence as it is the responsibility of all players to act in the spirit of the game". Indeed! Ramdin kept quiet when he should have spoken up to correct a mistake by the umpire! The ultimate paradox is that Chris Broad is the father of the player in the middle of last weekend’s controversy! He condemns the West Indian and compliments his son for the same action. The mind boggles and the hackles rise!

But, calming down, I respectfully ask: Is failure to admit that you’ve dropped a catch in a cricket game any different to failure to admit that you’ve hit a ball that was subsequently caught? If remaining silent in the first instance is “conduct contrary to the spirit of the game” surely it must be so in the second instance also? The fourth day has come and gone since the Broad incident, and there is yet no sign of a disciplinary hearing, fine or banishment. Methinks, it stinks!

Unless you regard these incidents as being different in principle, such failure by the ICC to deal with Broad and, arguably, Haddin, in identical manner to the way they dealt with Ramdin is inconsistent and unjust, and such bumbling officialdom engenders confusion and therefore perpetuates bad behaviour. The inconsistent application of alleged standards by officials in sport makes it easier to transfer unfairness and injustice into other aspects of life and, I believe, contributes to the desensitising of society to social injustice.

Many of these top sports personalities in high-profile sports receive indecently high salaries – paid, in part, by their adoring fan-base - in addition to the prestige and popularity that goes with their position in society. It is time they gave us our money’s worth – also in regard to the way they play the game.

And it would help if sporting officials, trainers, coaches, managers and the like started acting consistently honest too – by refusing to defend cheating and, indeed, disciplining those who play their sport before millions of impressionable youngsters in a way that sets a bad example.

Too much to ask? I don’t think so, but I doubt whether we’ll ever bring decency and honesty back into sport – there’re too many trophies and too much cash at stake! Pity, really, because sport can be such a wonderfully positive agent for social interaction – just ask Nelson Mandela!