Ian Chappell

Turning up the stump mics isn't the way to deal with sledging

The ICC says it will help viewers feel part of the action, but they are actually trying to tackle verbal abuse - which needs to be dealt with in other ways

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Virat Kohli and Tim Paine exchanged a few words, Australia v India, 2nd Test, Perth, 4th day, December 17, 2018

When players cross the line verbally, it should be left to the on-field umpires to deal with it  •  Getty Images

There have been some interesting snippets of information from the ICC recently that could be deciphered as either good or bad news, depending on your view point.
It is said they are considering making more use of the stump microphones during the World Cup in order to allow fans "to get closer to their heroes". That leads to the question: "What about when a fan hears what they perceive to be annoying comments from a player?"
Some of the banal on-field comments heard on a regular basis can drive you to distraction. For instance, I'd equate the inane chatter of wicketkeeper Matthew Wade with the aggravatingly annoying grunting of Maria Sharapova on the tennis court. Personally, I could do without both when watching television.
In their announcement the ICC said: "It helps to allow the viewer to feel part of the action."
But for every bit off magic - like Shane Warne miked up and predicting how he will dismiss the batsman - viewers will be subjected to interminable versions of the cricketer's refrain "We have to bowl in the right areas and build up pressure." It should also be remembered that Warne was playing in an exhibition match at the time, and that he's one of the few bowlers who can visualise a weakness and then deliver the appropriate ball to take advantage.
Some BBL matches now include comments from the batsman at the non-striker's end. If I were captain and that batsman was involved in a dismissal after passing comment, I'd be mighty peeved, just as I would be if a fielder was busy answering commentators' questions and then committed an error.
Rather than taking fans "closer to the game" this appears to be another example of cricket moving more into the entertainment category rather than sport. Sport needs to be entertaining but the balance has to always favour the former.
It seems clear there's another factor driving this increased access to players. The broadcasters are paying such hefty fees for the rights that they feel entitled to ask for greater access to players, and it's hard for administrators to say no. Again, there needs to be a balance between the rights fees and who controls the game. As Kerry Packer once famously said: "Never let a media company control your sport."
The original rationale for the ICC's greater use of stump microphones was to counter a perceived increase in player misbehaviour. If the ICC had been ahead of the game, as they should be, instead of miles behind as they are, they would have cracked down on the amount of on-field chatter years ago.
The on-field umpires are best positioned to police player behaviour. Not only do they hear things said away from the microphones, the good ones also have a "feel" for any animosity that is brewing. If the umpires had received a strong directive from the ICC to crack down on the amount of on-field chatter, and were then backed to the hilt by the administrators in policing it, they would not now be facing the current dilemma.
It's easy for the ICC's CEO, David Richardson, to say: "If you don't want to be heard by anybody saying something that you shouldn't be saying, well, then don't say it."
In the heat of the moment things are blurted out without any consideration for where microphones are placed. If a player uses a swear word the public finds offensive, my question would be: "Whose fault is it? The player's for using the word or the administrators' for allowing it to go to air?"
The blame is probably equally shared. Nevertheless I'd be much happier as a player if the public didn't hear the exchange and I was reported by an umpire for the indiscretion.
As a friend observed: "How would the ICC feel if cameras were placed in their boardroom meetings?" It's a reasonable question. Faced with that challenge, the ICC might then rethink their decision to have the on-ground microphones constantly in play.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist