Sledging is out but din is in

2012-05-05 00:00

IT is ironic that one of the most influential committees in world cricket does not fall under the aegis of the ICC. Apart from ex-officio members attached to the world body, it does not contain a single name familiar to the average follower of the game.

I am referring to the MCC sub-committee on the laws of the game. Comprised of serious, thoughtful men and women, this committee looks after one of the MCC’s most valuable assets, which is its copyright over the laws of cricket.

The committee’s brief includes not only the laws but also the spirit of cricket. The latter is a fairly recent addition to its responsibilities, having been added when the club became concerned about the widespread deterioration of on-field behaviour wherever the game is played.

From my perspective the MCC is fighting a losing battle on some counts. From prep school to Test matches the game now resembles baseball in the amount of noise generated by teams on the field.

Ostensibly this racket is designed to encourage and liven up the fielding side but mostly its aim is to unsettle the batsmen, who no longer seem entitled to a bit of peace and quiet at the crease.

There is a moot difference between this constant row and sledging, which is directly designed to disturb the mental equilibrium of batsmen.

Personally, I believe sledging to be one of the more amusing and less offensive aspects of the gamesmanship that has always been part of cricket, but it is sledging that has attracted most of the attention of the MCC. Umpires have been requested to crack down on sledging but appear to be more relaxed about the general din that has affected cricket’s image as a peaceful game.

Last year the laws of cricket and its spirit collided in an Anglo-Indian Test match at Trent Bridge when Ian Bell was, correctly, given run out off the last ball before tea when he left for the pavilion in the mistaken belief that the ball had touched the boundary rope. The crowd was incensed, the BSkyB commentators went into hyperbolic overdrive and during the tea interval the England coach saw fit to plead with the Indian team in their own dressing room.

MS Dhoni was eventually prevailed upon to withdraw his appeal “in the spirit of the game” and Bell resumed his innings after tea in complete contradiction of the laws of the game.

To my astonishment the sensible men and women of the MCC sub-committee voiced their approval of this particular outcome in the club’s annual report.

In my opinion, Bell made a silly mistake and should have been punished accordingly. Strangely, many years ago, I made a similar mistake in a Hilton-Michaelhouse two-day match and was rightly required to return to the pavilion where I remained in sulky discontent. There were no reprieves for carelessness in those days.

Another collision could be imminent following the extraordinary decision by the ICC to ban the use of runners in all international cricket. The MCC feels that this decision, which forbids an incapacitated batsman from having a runner, is not in the spirit of the game and is in contrast to the allowing of a substitute fielder in even the dodgiest of circumstances.

The consequence of this awful decision is that an injured batsman will almost certainly try and soldier on in pressing circumstances thus rendering the probability of aggravating the injury. There is no doubt that some batsmen have abused the availability of a runner and there has been debate about the use of a runner when a batsman is afflicted with cramp. The use of a substitute fielder, however, has been the subject of much more widespread abuse, which is easily solved by not allowing a substitute for the first 20 minutes of an absence.

If a circumstance arises during the forthcoming series between England and South Africa when a batsman is denied a runner and this has an impact on the match, expect an almighty uproar, particularly if England are adversely affected. This silly ban, however, will be removed by the ICC as soon as a senior batsman from the subcontinent is its victim.

More pleasing was the clarification by the ICC, after consultation with the MCC, of a point that has long been troubling cricket lovers. This concerns batsmen who deliberately alter their running course to block a throw at the stumps. The ICC’s new regulation confirms that this habit, which was on the increase, does indeed fall within the definition of obstructing the field.

A foreseeable problem is that the ICC, long jealous of the MCC’s hold over the laws of cricket, appears to be circumventing the laws by altering the playing conditions of international cricket. It seems only a matter of time before a major row develops over this issue. This would be a pity because a serious dispute would not end in favour of the MCC. The consequence would be an end to the club’s thoughtful contributions as far as international cricket is concerned.

The MCC’s annual report relieved me of an erroneous belief in respect of a dismissal for obstructing the field.

Readers may remember that during the last world cup final, a former England captain had shown total disregard for the spirit of the game by saying that the non-striking batsman should have impeded Tillakaratne Dilshan as he dived across to make a brilliant caught and bowled.

What I did not know is that had Dilshan been deliberately impeded it would have been the batsman and not the non-striker who would have been given out “for obstructing the field”. This is an oddity in that the offending culprit remains at the crease but it makes complete sense as it prevents any thought of sharp practice.

I wonder how long it will be before the MCC turns its attention to switch hitting, which is unfair and surely contrary to the spirit of the game?

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