Send-off law to target poor behaviour in lower-level cricket
Behaviour at lower levels of cricket has "got completely out of hand," according to former Australia captain Ricky Ponting.
Ponting is a member of the MCC world cricket committee that recommended the introduction of an in-game disciplinary sanction, which aims to combat poor behaviour by allowing umpires to send players off if they are guilty of violent or threatening actions.
Under guidelines suggested by the committee, umpires will - for the first time in the game's history - be able to send off any player in a match if they are deemed to have threatened an umpire, physically assaulted another player, umpire, official or spectator, or committed any other act of violence on the field of play.
Under the change to the Laws recommended, a player sent off would not be allowed any further involvement in the game.
"The reason we are talking about making significant changes to lower level cricket is because it has got completely out of hand down there," Ponting said. "We have got to the stage that something had to be done to prevent these things happening."
While the initiative is designed primarily to deal with cases of poor behaviour at the grass-roots levels of the game, it is likely to come into effect at all levels from October 1, 2017 if, as expected, it is ratified by the main MCC committee at their meeting in February.
"A recent survey by Portsmouth University showed that 40% of British umpires were considering giving up because of verbal abuse," Mike Brearley, the chairman of the MCC world cricket committee and a former England captain, said. "And anecdotal evidence from people familiar with leagues in part of England suggests that on-field behaviour is much worse than it was. The umpires have to be respected."
The MCC said in a release: "Cricket is one of few sports in which there is no in-match punishment for poor behaviour. A captain may ask his player to leave the field, but the umpires have no such jurisdiction. Taking an extreme example, a batsman could wilfully hit a member of the fielding side with their bat, before carrying on to score a century to win the match for their team."
The MCC discussed sanctions for lesser offences - incorporating a 'yellow card' or 'sin bin' system into the Laws - but concluded that it might prove hard to apply consistently across the world. They will, however, look to add an appendix to the Laws, which governing bodies or individual leagues could incorporate within their own playing regulations as they saw fit.
This means that national governing bodies, or the ICC, could adopt the use of such sanctions as sin-bins and yellow cards from October 2017. As things stand, the ICC accepts all Laws into the international playing conditions unless stated otherwise in their Playing Handbook. Items in the appendix are not automatically accepted.
"Our expectation is that ICC support all of the decisions made here in Mumbai," an MCC spokesman told ESPNcricinfo. "John Stephenson, the MCC's head of cricket, sits on the ICC cricket committee and there has been full collaboration between the two organisations."
The main aim of this suggested change, however, is not to tackle standards of behaviour in international cricket.
"There is difference between the behaviour at the higher level and further down the food chain," Stephenson said. "There has been a lot of evidence to suggest there has been a lot of violence on the pitch in lower-grade cricket. We had an extensive playe- behaviour trial over the last year or so and three leagues adopted these different codes of conduct; the red and yellow cards."
While Brearley and Ponting could think of only one example of such behaviour in international cricket - the notorious altercation between Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad in Perth in 1981 - other episodes that could have resulted in a player being sent off include Colin Croft barging umpire Fred Goodall in New Zealand in 1980 - Croft said the contact was accidental - and Inzamam-ul-Haq jumping into the crowd in Toronto in 1997 to remonstrate with a spectator.
"I think that, with the amount of cameras and microphones on modern players, things have been toned down in international cricket," Ponting said. "And I think the modern player understands their role in society: being a role-model and playing the game the right way."
"This is a pretty drastic change to the Laws," Ramiz Raja, another member of the committee, said. "It is the second or third tier of the game that is causing a lot of stress: the club matches. So it was felt that something had to be done. It is a deterrent more than anything and provides more power against unruly behaviour."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo