On-field chatter was on the agenda again after the Gabba Test. The question being asked was: Why did India taunt Mitchell Johnson? The more important question is: Why does cricket allow so much on-field chatter?
The more players talk on the field, the more the likelihood there is of something personal being said. If something personal is said at the wrong time, there will eventually be an altercation on the field. When that happens it will be players who are punished and as is almost always the case, the administrators will escape scot-free, despite being guilty of allowing the problem to escalate to this point.
Apart from the danger of an altercation on the field - and if you don't think that could be ugly, just remember two players have bats in hand - there is the simple matter of the batsman being entitled to peace and quiet while he's out in the middle. I'm surprised more batsmen don't object to the inane chatter that regularly occurs in the guise of gamesmanship. And if I hear one more player, coach or official say this chatter is "part of the game", I'll lose my lunch.
What will happen if a batsman - and the sooner one summons up the courage to do so the better - starts talking to the bowler as he begins his run to the wicket? Will he be told by the umpire to desist? Sure he will. The batsman would then be entitled to ask the umpire: "So is only one team allowed to talk out here?" Perhaps it will take such a scenario to make the administrators realise this is not an acceptable part of the game. The issue needs to be addressed seriously and promptly.
I don't have any problem with gamesmanship. This is the thoughtful and often humorous use of wit to entice an unsuspecting player into losing his concentration. When bowling into the footmarks to Sourav Ganguly from round the wicket, Shane Warne provided a classic example of gamesmanship. After Ganguly had let a couple of balls go, Warne remarked; "Hey mate, the crowd didn't pay their money to watch you let balls go. They came here to see this little bloke [pointing to Sachin Tendulkar at the non-striker's end] play shots."
If a batsman is silly enough to fall for such a ploy then more fool him. Gamesmanship has been part of cricket since its inception and it's also been responsible for a lot of the humour that adds colour to the descriptions of the contest. There's a big difference between gamesmanship and personal abuse, or the constant inane chatter fielders use to try to distract batsmen.
Any abuse should result in the offender being spoken to in no uncertain terms by the umpires. If it continues then the offender should be hit with a substantial suspension, one that will cause him and other players to think twice before they mouth off again. And umpires should be told by the administrators that they will be backed to the hilt in an endeavour to rid the game of both abuse and excessive chatter.
One of the big mistakes touring sides make is trying to play Australia at their own game. There has always been a bit of needling/gamesmanship in the Australian first-class game because the players know each other so well.
However, in the past this was laughed off after play with the aid of a cold drink, and the next day's play commenced with a clean slate. As socialising after play doesn't often occur so much now in the international game, the previous day's hostilities are still fresh the next morning and it doesn't take much to re-ignite the fuse.
India made a mistake in taunting Johnson at the Gabba. The administrators will be making an even bigger blunder if they don't crack down on excessive on-field chatter, and it's the players who will pay a hefty price if this issue is left unresolved.