There are many issues plaguing the game at the moment, and David Richardson – the ICC Chief Executive – opened up on some of them in his MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture on Monday, August 6.
Player behaviour on the field – sledging, abuse, send-offs – is one of the problems.
“As fans, we want our players enjoying and expressing themselves, we want to see emotion, passion and pride from players. What we don’t want is robots, lacking in personality, but equally, what we don’t want is ugly behaviour,” said Richardson.
“Lately, we’ve seen too much ugly on and off the field of play. As a sport we must be united, not just in our desire to protect the spirit of the game, but every single person in the game needs to commit to living that spirit and ensuring it is relevant in the 21st century continuing to make cricket a unique sporting proposition.
“We have seen too much behaviour of late that puts that in jeopardy and it has to stop.”
Speaking specifically about some of the issues, Richardson added, “Sledging that amounts to no more than personal abuse, fielders giving send-offs to batsmen who have been dismissed, unnecessary physical contact, players threatening not to play in protest against an umpire’s decision and ball tampering; this isn’t the version of our sport that we want to project to the world.”
Tampering, in fact, has reared its ugly head again in recent times, with the incident in Cape Town in March, which led to bans for Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft and widespread changes in Australian cricket, the main lowlight.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dinesh Chandimal, the Sri Lanka captain, was banned after using sweet-infused saliva on the ball during a Test match in the West Indies in June.
“The public reaction, around the world, to the incidents in the recent Australia–South Africa series was an eye opener. The message was loud and clear, cheating is cheating and is not what we signed up to,” said Richardson.
“I’ve read comments from players requesting guidance on what is allowed in relation to the ball. Asking if they can chew gum, wear sunscreen or drink a sugary drink, and to be brutally honest, I find this a little disingenuous. The laws are simple and straightforward – do not change the condition of the ball using an artificial substance. If you are wearing sunscreen, sucking a mint or chewing gum with the intent of using the cream or sugary saliva on the ball, you are ball-tampering.”
All said, sledging and bad player behaviour aren’t new developments. It has all existed for the longest time.
“We tried to unsettle Steve Waugh by asking him what it was like to be the unpopular twin, with Mark getting all the toys when they were growing up – it had no effect and only made him more determined, seemingly getting runs whenever he batted against us,” joked Richardson.
“Matthew Hayden’s career was in two parts. In the first he had a very unhappy tour of South Africa, suffering a string of low scores in the series. In the second innings of the final Test he got a duck. As he passed Pat Symcox on the way back to the dressing room Pat said, ‘Don’t worry Matt, Donald Bradman also made a duck in his last Test innings’.
“Hayden was dropped after that but a season or so later came back for an extraordinary successful second stage of his career, including a record-breaking tally of runs against South Africa in a later series.”
— Lord’s Cricket Ground (@HomeOfCricket) August 6, 2018
The difference between the past and the present, in Richardson’s opinion, is: “The guise of playing ‘aggressively’. That type of ugly behaviour is not what sport, never mind cricket, is all about and is simply unacceptable, and it is the latter that we are attempting to eradicate.
“We are relying on everyone to showcase cricket and inspire a new generation of players and fans. Winning must obviously be the aim of any game, but not at all costs, not when it means compromising the integrity of the game. We must all work proactively to protect the spirit of the game and make it a relevant part of cricket in the 21st century.”