Sanjay Manjrekar

Can we turn the stump mics down, please?

Why all the talk about bad language on the field is overblown

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
Cricketers are in the news for the wrong reasons again, but it would be far from the truth to assume that issues to do with on-field behaviour are a modern problem.
Just for the record, no bowler in this millennium has deliberately collided with the umpire while running in to bowl in a Test match. No bowler has also kicked the stumps at the batsman's end, sending them flying into the air, when an appeal was turned down.
There hasn't been an instance where a batsman has wielded his bat against a bowler and the bowler has his arms raised, boxer-style, ready for a bout. All this during a Test match. The umpire had to wedge himself in the middle to stop a potential street fight.
A batsman has also not hit a bowler on the shin with his bat to vent his frustration, the poor bowler holding his leg in agony, shocked at what just happened.
It's a myth, really, that players in the old days were gentlemen and today's are ruffians. But, some might say: players didn't abuse each other as much then, nor was their language so foul and the tone so personal.
Well, to that I say: how would you know that? Having played in the '90s I am here to tell you, nothing much has changed in this regard too. What has changed is that today the stump mics are switched on at loud volume all the time, to catch every word said on the field.
In the past, the playing field in many ways was a private space for the players, despite being so public. Players then knew their actions were being watched, but they still had the freedom to say things they wanted. This was mainly between players from the same team, and when something was said to an opposition player, it was done in a way that the umpire could not hear.
But with some broadcasters keeping the stump mics on all the time, and at full volume - despite ICC guidelines that say that once the ball is dead, stump-mic volume must be pulled down - that freedom too is now lost for the players.
Now, on certain productions, every word that's said on the field is clearly heard in living rooms thousands of miles away.
You know what is really shocking? In the last South Africa-Australia Test, all that was said on the field was heard by us at home, and the umpires on the field only learned of it second hand.  The umpires don't get to hear half the things that we who are watching do, because they are not wired up to the stump microphones like we are. Surely this can't be right.
What was said on the field in the match in that game was not reported by the officials; it was the fans and the media who made news of it before the officials did. It's like a sting operation, this.
There is a video doing the rounds of MS Dhoni saying something to Manish Pandey in South Africa recently. The language in it would make you cringe.
There is a certain sort of language that's spoken on a cricket field, and it's not for everyone. Cricketers are best watched, not heard
The stump mic had no business being on well after the ball was dead. This is plain eavesdropping: to get some spicy gossip just for our entertainment, it has nothing to do with covering or enhancing the game.
There is a certain sort of language that's spoken on a cricket field, and it's not for everyone. Cricketers are best watched, not heard.
Imran Khan was a successful Pakistan captain because he could speak in a certain manner with his players, just to get the best out of them. He would be half the captain he was in today's world. For example, could he marshal his troops towards winning matches by saying, after a fielder has dropped a catch: "Mr Malik, please, could you focus a little more in the slips and make a better effort?" That is basically what players will be forced to do if we keep up such intense scrutiny on every word spoken on the field.
The non-cricketers in the media are the ones especially upset by players' behaviour. They are the ones up in arms most about this. Listening to them you would think this is the gravest issue that ails the sport. This community is made up of intelligent people. Many of them are my friends, and I respect them for making the game richer with their contributions. These are genuine cricket fans, who love the game and are floored by cricketers' skills, but they want cricketers to also behave like good boys - behave a bit like them, I guess.
My problem is that this expectation is unreal. The good kids, the ones you saw in the classrooms, who behaved themselves, respected their teachers, completed their homework on time, never uttered a cuss word, became chartered accountants or doctors or bankers, not cricketers. (And let's not pick out exceptions here, because it's how people generally are that makes our world.)
Fact is, sportsmen are not your A+ students in school, and that's one of the reasons they end up being sportsmen in the first place. That's why you need umpires and referees to make sure that while they enthral us with their great skills, they also behave themselves.
Cricket fans and general media have a real issue with the behaviour and the language (that we should not be hearing) of the Australians especially. This is a valid issue. Australians tend to take it a bit too far with this whole "sledging" thing.
But more than expecting them to behave themselves, why aren't we putting the onus on the umpires to get them to fall in line? After all, it's the umpires' duty and they have the power to achieve that. So if you have a problem with the Australians going overboard with their antics on the field, take it up with the umpires - with the law.
Have you wondered why when Australia were in India for four Tests in 2016-17, they never quite crossed the line with their language while engaging with their new arch-rivals? Yes, there were some eye-catching events on the field, like the "brain fade" incident, but no foul language was heard or made news, right? That's because the broadcasters of that series respected the ICC guidelines with regards to stump mics. Bad language, and the penalties that come with it, cannot be brought to attention by the selective usage of stump mics by different TV productions around the world.
I believe that more than language, it's actions and gestures that have to be censored, for those are visible to all, even the public at the ground. That sort of thing is actually dissent in public - as opposed to a close-up of an anguished face of a fast bowler muttering something. This will ensure uniform application of the penalty system.
Kagiso Rabada being penalised for making physical contact with Steven Smith, makes sense. There has to be zero tolerance for such behaviour.
That there are kids watching cricket and they mustn't be allowed to hear the players using the language that they do is another bit of angst directed at the players. Why aren't broadcasters taking responsibility for this by turning the mics down as per ICC guidelines? We will then only see lips moving.
If the umpire senses that there is too much trash talk and it's getting personal, he should have access to the stump audio to listen to later. We could then be informed that a certain player has been penalised for excessive bad language. We don't need to know exactly what was said. Umpires being mostly former cricketers will also not overreact to a swear word here and there
Please let's go easy on the players on this issue and instead put them under pressure to bowl their overs quicker and liven up the pace of the sport.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar