IPL sends a poor message
The IPL has once again missed an opportunity to establish itself as an organisation that advocates transparency and accountability - for cricket that is, and not crass entertainment. On Tuesday night at the Wankhede Stadium, Kieron Pollard and Mitchell Starc taunted each other, mocked each other and threw balls and bats at each other, and carried on baiting each other through the game. Their confrontation in the 17th over of Mumbai Indians' innings was perhaps the ugliest on-field incident in the IPL since Harbhajan Singh slapped Sreesanth in 2008.
There is no point blaming one player - both Starc and Pollard were guilty. They had reacted emotionally and set a dreadful example. So why did the match referee Andy Pycroft punish them so leniently? Pollard got away with a fine of 75% of his match fee (an unknown amount because the salary Mumbai Indians pay him is not known) and Starc was asked to pay 50% of his. Both men dutifully accepted the sanctions for actions the IPL statement said were contrary to the spirit of the game
The IPL will now treat the matter as closed and the players involved will get on with their lives, leaving behind unanswered questions. On what basis did Pycroft decide that Starc and Pollard's behavior was not serious enough to warrant a one-match ban or heftier fines at the least? Both men could have caused injury to the other. That it did not happen should be a reason for relief, and not a reason to view their actions with leniency. Did Pycroft make his decisions independently?
According to the sections of the code of conduct they were charged under, Pollard and Starc could have been fined up to 100% of their match fee and/or banned for up to two matches. The actual punishments meted out will set a wrong precedent - the bar is set very high now - and will not act as a deterrent for disgraceful behaviour. Will the IPL continue to slap inconsequential monetary penalties on players who earn massive pay cheques?
There had been a similar incident between Melbourne Stars captain Shane Warne and Melbourne Renegades batsman Marlon Samuels in the 2012-13 Big Bash League. Warne relentlessly sledged Samuels - even tugged his shirt - and the flashpoint occurred when he flicked the ball at the batsman, hitting Samuels on the arm. Samuels responded by hurling his bat on the field, though not at Warne.
Warne was suspended for one match a while after the incident and fined AUD 4500 for breaching four clauses in the tournament's code of conduct. Samuels was found guilty of two breaches but was lying in hospital after being hit in the face by a Lasith Malinga bouncer.
The most telling remark after the Warne-Samuels incident was from Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland, who said the fierce rivalry between players was only good for the game. Administrators know such incidents fuel the spectator interest that drives up the commercial value of their tournaments. So we are left with these words, as far from the spirit of the game as one could imagine.
"Players are entertainers, they're putting on a show, but first and foremost they're also sportsmen who are competing for big prizes," Sutherland had said, "And I think whilst we can stand here and say we don't condone anything that happened last night, this sort of thing is probably something that only inspires a greater rivalry between the Renegades and the Stars and creates greater interest for the Big Bash League."
During the innings break of the game between Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore, Pycroft's former Zimbabwean team-mate Alistair Campbell, now an IPL commentator, asked Starc if it was good to be part of such "great theatre and healthy competition." Starc smiled, and he would have smiled again at having got off so easy.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo