Mark Nicholas

Cricket could do with some humility and kindness

Violent as it is, rugby doesn't prevent its players from being respectful and considerate to their opponents. Surely cricketers can do the same

Mark Nicholas
Mark Nicholas
All black: The New Zealand rugby team are world-beaters, but also much loved  •  Getty Images

All black: The New Zealand rugby team are world-beaters, but also much loved  •  Getty Images

All around the world, international cricket is being played. West Indies in Sri Lanka; England in the UAE against Pakistan, the South Africans on an Indian crusade, and now New Zealand take on Australia for the second time in a week, albeit in a different sport. Richie McCaw and his rugby world champions will take a lot of living up to. Both in the quality of their play, which experts suggest has never been bettered, and in the manner of their victory, which, though celebrated, was not exaggerated. Modesty appears to come more naturally to the rugby fraternity than to any other. Perhaps it is to do with the extreme physicality of the sport and the respect that comes from understanding each other's courage.
Before the professional age, rugby players drank beer alongside their opponents with an almost ritualistic certainty. Having hammered seven bells out of one another, they then sank pint after pint until most fell down. In those days, they probably stumbled into the motor and gave the lads who had come by bus a lift home too.
Rugby big heads are few and far between. It is safer not to tempt fate. Neither is there much baiting or bullshit. Rugby folk are pretty straight and even the most commercial rarely preen their own feathers. I guess they don't dare, given you will soon enough find yourself at the bottom of a ruck with a gap-toothed 18-stone second-rower licking his lips at your misfortune. Years ago, the Australian fly-half Michael Lynagh, widely known as "Noddy", found himself exactly there against the Barbarians at Twickenham. The gargantuan South African, Flippie van der Merwe, grabbed him by the neck and said, "Noddy, what are you doing here? Silly boy, Noddy, don't ever let me catch you in here again", before lifting him to safety! Now that is respect for your fellow sportsman.
Batsman versus bowler is a dogfight and all the better for it. But the public doesn't want the ugly stuff, the bitching and baiting that so demeans the game
Sonny Bill Williams was quick to console Jesse Kriel after the All Blacks got up in the semi-final a fortnight ago, just as Grant Elliott went to Dale Steyn in the painful moments that followed South Africa's >dramatic semi-final loss to New Zealand in cricket's World Cup last March. Perhaps most famously of all, Andrew Flintoff knelt alongside Brett Lee at Edgbaston, arm draped over his shoulder, after Australia had fallen just three runs short of victory in the second Test of the epic 2005 Ashes series.
These images capture the imagination of the public every bit as much as the contest itself.
The age of chivalry may be long gone but a little humility still goes a long way. Contrary to the view of too many modern sportsmen, those who pay at the gate are not looking for blood. If one word could be buried from the speak and literature of the world in which we now live, it should be "sledging". What is there to like about sledging?
Banter is a different thing, along with the understandable expletives that run side by side sport's emotional roller coaster. There is, for example, no problem with Shane Watson and Wahab Riaz getting stuck into one another as they did in the Adelaide quarter-final of the World Cup. In fact, it is very much a part of the show. Such dynamic head to heads are both thrilling and compelling. Batsman versus bowler is a dogfight and all the better for it. Much the same as those rucks that Flippie warned Noddy about.
But the public doesn't want the ugly stuff, the bitching and baiting that so demeans the game. There is a great history out there and no one is in it for sledging. Eight international captains have it in their gift to bestow this message to their players. Brendon McCullum has the mind to talk about this publicly, saying how the death of Phillip Hughes made New Zealand rethink their attitude to the game. "Most of it emanated from us being semi-embarrassed about the way we had played in the past. It has to be authentic and it may not last - you can't force it down people's throats - but this is the way I want this team to play and I know the senior guys have similar feelings on it," he said. Bravo.
Given the relatively new or inexperienced captains around - Hashim Amla, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Jason Holder, even Angelo Mathews to a degree - and the amount of dashing around the world at present, this might be the perfect time for the ICC to revisit the idea of a gathering of international captains once a year in Dubai to chew the fat. Obvious dates are late September or sometime in April, as the IPL gets underway. There must be so much they would all like to say to each other but never find the time, patience or mood to do. Representatives of both the ICC umpires and match referees could sit in for brief periods to air thoughts, and the main body of the ICC can have the platform to explain thinking and legislation face to face, allowing the captains a voice in response.
At the top table, a savvy chairman would be required to both inspire and mediate. Alongside him must be Dave Richardson, the CEO of the ICC and a former South African wicketkeeper, who appreciates the complications of life across the white line. As for the first agenda? Well, let's see: the DRS, catches claimed low to the ground, over rates and, wait for it, respect for one another and the game - surely the true meaning of the spirit of cricket.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK