August 27, 2008

Men behaving badly

The standards of player conduct have slipped in the county game, and umpires and captains are content to turn a blind eye

Model citizen no more: Ramprakash keeps his altercation with Goodwin going as the teams leave the field at The Oval © PA Photos

Australians are honouring the centenary of the birth of the best and most famous of all modern cricketers this week. Of the multi thousands of words written about Don Bradman, plenty were critical - as Raymond Robertson-Glasgow once wrote, he was too colossal a figure not to attract envy - but not one person ever accused him of a failure of sportsmanship or even a show of temper on the field of play. What a dismal contrast with too many modern players.

One in particular was in the news for the wrong reasons last week, lucky to be so, perhaps, in the middle of the Olympics when headline writers were otherwise occupied. While Aussies celebrate an icon, Englishmen are wondering what the most prolific homegrown batsman of the present generation might have achieved had he possessed some of Bradman's coolness of temperament.

During only his fourth innings since becoming the 25th and perhaps last batsman to reach a hundred first-class hundreds, Mark Ramprakash, sadly, blew his top in the course of making another painstaking century in last week's LV County Championship match for Surrey against Sussex. By unaccountably extending a tirade of fury to one of the umpires during a very public display of the red mist that sometimes characterised his pre-Surrey career, he made it certain that he would be reported and punished.

Extra maturity in the normally composed and admirable Ramprakash has not, alas, amounted to full maturity. My theory is that being captain exaggerates that pressure-cooker intensity that has been part both of his success and of his failure to make the most of rich ability and comfortably the best technique of any recent player.

Lest anyone think, incidentally that it is heresy to see him mentioned in the same paragraph as Bradman, let it be recorded that the immortal Don reached a hundred hundreds in his 295th innings, the more human Ramprakash in his 675th. Graeme Hick, the only other hundred-hundreds man still playing, was the third fastest to do so, in 574 innings. All had extraordinary ability and rare powers of concentration, but their relative merits as batsmen are not the purpose of this piece, which is to regret the falling standards of behaviour in cricket.

In this case the fact that he was captain of Surrey when he turned furiously on Murray Goodwin, who had spoken to him - provocatively, Ramprakash will claim; politely, according to the fielder - was doubly significant. The first paragraph in the long and detailed laws of cricket makes it absolutely clear: "The major responsbibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains."

The essential point, of course, is that when captains in professional cricket set a bad example, and players follow their lead, it will spread to the rest of the game.

A club cricketer of my acquaintance was recently barged into deliberately by a bowler many times his size in a match in a minor division of the Sussex league, then verbally abused, apparently for having the temerity to score runs off him at a Bradmanesque rate. When the batsman drew the attention of the foulness of the bowler's language to the umpire, the official, in this case a member of the home club, said that he had heard nothing. When umpires and captains turn a blind eye, the game is in serious trouble.

Instances of disciplinary points being lost by county cricketers are increasing, and the national side has not always set a good example. Although England won the ICC award for good behaviour during the five-year reign of Michael Vaughan, they let themselves down badly during the Nottingham Test against India last year when the jellybeans were scattered and puerile remarks designed to goad the batsmen were picked up by the stump microphones. It represented a policy of deliberate aggression that had started under the Duncan Fletcher-Nasser Hussain partnership.

There is always a place for genuine humour in the game but none for calculated gamesmanship of any kind. It is too often forgotten that an attempt to "distract" the batsman while he is preparing to receive a delivery is a breach of Law 42 every bit as much as the equally topical question of whether it is legitimate for players to suck sweets with the ulterior motive of sugar-coating the ball with saliva to help maintain its shine on one side. The line between this means of encouraging swing and the physical roughing up of one side of the ball to enhance reverse movement is blurred, but "artificial substances" are expressly forbidden by Law 42, just as much as interference with the seams or the surface.

Respect for umpires used to be fundamental to the county game, but many of those who have fallen foul of the new procedures learned their cricket, significantly, in the southern hemipshere

England, of course, are not the only culprits. The Australians got some idea of what a fair proportion of their own public thought of their hostility towards opponents, during the Sydney Test match early this year. India, themselves no saints, had proved as much in the same jellybean Test at Trent Bridge when Sreesanth unleashed a beamer to Kevin Pietersen and a bouncer to Paul Collingwood, bowled from round the wicket and a yard beyond the popping crease. Sreesanth lost half his match fee for a petty little tilt at Vaughan's shoulder as he walked past him, but he should have lost the rest of it for that deliberate no-ball, and if the senior India players believed the beamer to have been deliberate, he should have been left out of the side until the lesson was learned for good.

Strong, as opposed to officious, umpires make sure that aggro does not go too far. If necessary, they have had sanctions at their disposal since the last revision of the laws. The application of a five-run penalty to the fielding side for an unfair jibe at a batsman should soon put a stop to any nonsense, always assuming that the umpire subsequently gets support from his employers. The newly retired Darrell Hair. arguably chose the wrong time and place to make his stand against ball-tampering, at the Brit Oval in August 2006, but he was applying the law. What happened to him subsequently hardly encouraged the others.

That county cricket has had to introduce a points system for proven misdemeanours is another sign of the times. Respect for umpires used to be fundamental to the county game, but many of those who have fallen foul of the new procedures learned their cricket, significantly, in the southern hemipshere. As captain of Hampshire, Shane Warne was an adornment to the game in England but he set a poor example by so often debating umpiring decisions, albeit usually with a smile.

Sophisticated television technology has often exacerbated feelings of resentment. Replays, a fact of the modern game, have unintentionally undermined umpires and sown seeds of mistrust, making it harder than ever for players to live up to the spirit of the game. But, of course, if we want trust to return, batsmen should walk when they know they are out. And if captains exercised their responsibilities we would need neither run-penalties nor disciplinary procedures.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins has been a leading cricket broadcaster, journalist and author for almost four decades, during which time he has served as a cricket correspondent for the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and the Times

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Richard on August 29, 2008, 12:12 GMT

    PaulT79 your suggestion that umpires are 'highly paid' is both ill infomed and absurd.

    I am an umpire and can assure you that no one amongst the fraternity (at any level) does it for the money.

  • JJ on August 29, 2008, 6:43 GMT

    My comment to PaulT79 It is an interesting approach you take, but it is wise you read back what you write before you post it. Your wishes that "professional cricket ought be an unpleasant place to be" and that "Players have ever right to question the decision of the umpire" are mindless. Clearly you have not grasped the gereral idea of cricket (and life in general for that matter) Players are - like it or not - role models for millions of children around the world. If the players become argumentative brats like many of the football players the game will go quickly downhill. As for the "unpleasant place to be.." comment... Why would you wish that on anyone. Controlled aggression and fire in the spirit ok. Disrespect for authority and distasteful personal wishes. Keep them to yourself. There are enough unpleasant places in the world. A cricket ground should not be one of them.

  • Jojy John on August 28, 2008, 6:07 GMT

    I feel we are judging Mark a little too harshly. What is a game without the occasional arguement? The game is so boring already as it is and such incidents actually provide the excitement we all crave for. I feel he should be let off with a stern warning.

  • David on August 27, 2008, 21:59 GMT


    FYI Preamble to The Laws (2000 Code 2nd Edition - 2003)

    <i>1)Player's conduct

    In the event of a player failing to comply with instructions by an umpire, or <b>criticising by word or action the decision of an umpire</b>, or showing dissent, or generally behaving in a manner which might bring the game into disrepute, the umpire concerned shall in the first place report the matter to the other umpire and to the player's captain, and instruct the latter to take action.

    5)It is against the Spirit of the Game:

    <b>To dispute an umpire's decision by word, action or gesture</b></i>

    Dunno what game you like to watch/play but it ain't cricket - shuffle off to football if you really mean it.

  • The on August 27, 2008, 19:31 GMT

    Rampsfan, how is Goodwin being born in Salisbury, 17 deg south of the equator, relevant to player behaviour? Picking another player at random, Harbhajan Singh was born in the northern hemisphere. I wouldn't put Zoehrer bouncing the ball in one of the all-time low points of cricketing behaviour. For that matter, Ramps reacting to something from Goodwin doesn't seem especially newsworthy either.

  • Paul on August 27, 2008, 18:33 GMT

    Can I be the alternative voice here? I think dear old CMJ just needs to get over himself, and stop being such moaning old minnie. I love a bit of aggression on the cricket field - it's great fun to watch bowlers getting up the nose of batters and putting pressure on (highly paid) umpires. It's just as entertaining to see a batter respond aggressively, and put the bowler back in his place. Professional cricket ought to be an unpleasant place to be, for the players and the umpires. Players have every right to question the decision of the umpire - the standard of their decision-making is pretty poor as a whole, so should be made to answer back to the players.

    So come on CMJ, you can write better stuff than this rubbish. It's predictable, dull, and you sound like a tired old hack pining for the old days. Perhaps that's because you are. But do try and join us in the modern world of aggressive cricket, you might even enjoy it

  • Barry on August 27, 2008, 17:06 GMT

    I'm afraid much as we all applaud gentlemanly behaviour CMJ hits the nail on the head himself about the overseas, southern hemisphere influence on our cricket, as diving never existed in our football. Hussain and Fletcher knew the time had come to stand up to the sledging, turning the other cheek won't deter the bullies but sheer bloody-minded fire will and the rest is winning history. Oh, where does Murray Goddwin come from ? And as far as Tresco's murray mints are concerned good on him and good for us, how on earth can any adult complain -that's kids' stuff!

  • mark on August 27, 2008, 15:26 GMT

    I agree, this is not a new phenomenon. Playing non-league "friendly" cricket as a lad in North Gloucestershire in the late 70's, my team was frequently embarassed by the antics of one of our opening bowlers who would abuse the opposition batsmen in the most foul terms whether he was slogged or beautifully driven. He also got away with it for many years, despite losing the club a handful of fixtures, having grown up amongst the senior players, it was always excused as "That's just Smokie"...There has long been a minority for whom bad temper and macho posturing have been an integral part of the game.

  • David on August 27, 2008, 11:14 GMT

    CMJ is (as usual) correct. While vswami may not like anecdotes, a number of them turn into a case series: evidence of a problem. CMJ mentions a league match: my own experiences in a low standard English league last year have been a major contributing factor in my decision not to play this year (and perhaps in the years to follow as well). Filthy language, sledging, sharp practice (clapping and shouting while a bowler is running in, attempted stumping with the ball long dead), fielders returing the ball at the batsman's head, damaged equipment and what amounted to an assault on a child are all first hand experiences of mine last season. A particular player was banned for twelve games and his captain for eight this season as a result - I have never seen behaviour like that or the need for punishment of this type and this is in IIIrd & IVth eleven club cricket! As for who is to blame the Laws are quite clear: the responsibility for players behaviour is that of the captain.

  • Rajaram on August 27, 2008, 10:11 GMT

    Trescothick's admission to using Mints to shine the ball istantamount to cheating.So England's wins in The Ashes 2005 should be null and void.

    Rahul Dravid and India, would have have been put on a pedestal for exenplary conduct had they banned Sreesanth for the beamer, bouncer and shoulder barging.

    in the same vein, Gundappa Vvishwanath (for recalling Bob Taylor), Alan Gilchrist for walking, should get ICC Awards.e

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