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The IPL’s Fair Play League is a splendid idea, if not an original one. There is, believe it or not, a similar tally of chivalrous conduct in the English Premier League, although given that the spirit of sportsmanship in that particular competition is as fragile as a daisy seedling in the middle of a rugby pitch, the threshold for what is considered meritorious conduct in the EPL has understandably been set rather low.
For example, if upon entering the penalty area, a player does not immediately hurl himself to the turf as though he has been tackled by a horde of invisible dwarves, he will earn maximum fair play points. Points are also given to defenders who are able to walk past a fallen fellow professional without stamping on his knee, spitting on his mohican or calling him something unparliamentary in Spanish.
Thankfully, our sport is different. Apart from that unfortunate business in the early 1930s, and a bit of a kerfuffle at Sydney a few years ago, cricket has a spotless reputation. Oh, and there was that thing with the aluminium bat, Michael Holding booting the timber, the underarm debacle, Atherton’s pocket compost, the career of WG Grace, colonialism, match-fixing, ball-tampering, and chucking.
But those isolated incidents aside, cricket has always been a beacon of sporting nobility. So you’d expect the race to be crowned as the IPL’s cuddliest franchise to be a close-fought affair between nine equally well-behaved collectives. Sadly, this is not the case. One team in particular is lowering the tone. Like schoolboys messing about at the back of the bus, Mumbai Indians are spoiling it for everyone.
If Joey Barton* were a cricketer, he’d be playing for the men in blue and gold. At least, he’d be playing for them during those brief interludes of availability between suspensions and custodial sentences. To be fair to Mumbai, there have been relatively few incidences of eye-gouging, and Sachin has yet to resort to elbowing short leg in the face or stamping on the bowler’s foot.
But still, by cricket standards they are very naughty boys. Ambati Rayadu is the latest to bring the spirit of English football to the summer game with an eye-widening tirade of abuse aimed at Bangalore’s Harshal Patel. I’m not sure of the specific points that Ambati was trying to get across, but I think we all understood the general thrust of his remarks.
Then there’s Munaf Patel’s inability to come to terms with the fact that sometimes, life and Twenty20 cricket being what they are, batsmen will score runs from his bowling. Also Rohit’s stump-kicking, and the unseemly kerfuffle in Visakhapatnam. These days Mumbai’s match fees are just paid straight into the ICC confiscated pocket money account and most of the squad are on permanent detention.
So why so angsty chaps? Is Shaun Pollock not giving you enough love? Is Sachin hogging the Playstation again? Is the material used for this year’s official Mumbai Indians underpants too tickly? Or could this outbreak of naughtiness have anything to do with the promotion of everyone’s favourite irascible doosra merchant and disciplinary-hearing veteran, Mr Harbhajan Singh?
Plainly his players are terrified of him, so they work out their anxieties on their opponents, the umpires or the team cat. I don’t blame them. I’m 5000 miles away but when Mumbai’s captain stares wild-eyed into the camera, I have to duck behind the sofa. And when he unleashes that roar at the fall of a wicket, you can almost feel the stadium tremble and the bulbs in the floodlights popping.
Clearly Mr Ambani believed there was nothing to be scared of, since Mount Bhajji had been dormant for months, but these rumblings from Mumbai are ominous and anyone likely to be in close proximity to the Turbanator during the remainder of the tournament is advised to be on the look out for signs of imminent eruption. And to be prepared to duck.
* Readers not familiar with the works of Mr Joseph Barton should think of him as an amalgam of several sportsmen’s notable qualities: Praveen Kumar’s even temper, Glen McGrath’s vocabulary, Ijaz Butt’s rational calm and Mike Tyson’s restraint.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73