This game needs adult supervision

It beggars belief that the BCCI chose to publicly air stump mike recordings to make a particular case – one that, if deemed serious enough, should have landed in the court of the ICC-appointed match referee, not used to deliberately fuel flames that are already burning bright.

I thought that the Lodha Commission and the Supreme Court had between them had ensured that the BCCI would be run by adults?

Not that I have any time for Steve Smith’s “disappointment” either. He was not merely stood there when the Ravi Jadeja-Matt Wade incident happened – he was a willing, even active, participant throughout.

The issue is not about the nature of the words exchanged, or even the fact that any words were exchanged at all. No one is naïve enough to imagine that it was all one-way traffic, all the time, that the Indians have not chattered at opposing players. The problem lies elsewhere.

I was calling the play over by over at the time, for FirstPost.com. And while I had no means of knowing what was being said, I made the point that Wade was repeatedly, deliberately, talking at Jadeja as the batsman was settling into his stance.

That is not sledging or mental disintegration or any of the other euphemisms that have entered the lexicon to provide loutish behavior a linguistic fig-leaf. The egregiousness of the incident lies in the fact that it was a deliberate, and repeated, contravention of the rules governing cricket. Smith, maybe, needs a refresher, so here it is:

Law 42, governing fair and unfair play, begins thus:

The responsibility lies with the captains for ensuring that play is conducted within the spirit and traditions of the game, as described in The Preamble – The Spirit of Cricket, as well as within the laws.

Item #4 is headlined ‘Deliberate Attempt To Distract The Striker’, and it says:

It is unfair for any fielder deliberately to attempt to distract the striker while he is preparing to receive or receiving a delivery.

Which part of that sentence does the Australian captain need explained to him in words of one syllable and accompanying hand-gestures?

The clip provides additional clarity to what anyone who was watching saw in real time: During that passage of play, the chatter was constant, high-decibel, and it occurred even as Jadeja was preparing to receive. On one occasion, he had pulled away and walked off to square leg to regain his equanimity, and as he walked back he got more of the same.

To repeat, Smith was not only part of it, he and his mates continued the practice even after Jadeja had once taken his frustration to the umpire.

Smith is “disappointed”? Frankly, so am I. He is a brilliant batsman – it is, in fact, a travesty that Kane Williamson, Joe Root and Virat Kohli are being held up as the triumvirate of modern batting when Smith has shaded them all. And as captain, ignoring his fairly ordinary game awareness for the moment, he has managed to hold a young team together through a very tough transitory period and is well on track to restoring it to a measure, at least, of its former pomp.

But these brain fades of his, and his seeming ignorance of cricket’s governing laws, are now becoming a marked blemish. If he saw the clip the BCCI aired, he has every right to be “disappointed” – not that it was aired, but that under the pressure of a rescue operation mounted by Jadeja and Saha, he so far forgot his role and responsibilities and became a willing party to some extremely sharp practice.

All of which is also why this was an issue the BCCI and team management should have taken to the match referee. It seems, though, that we live in different times, where the first and often last recourse is social media – not that it does anyone any good.

In passing – the BCCI did the reveal because it owns the feed and therefore it could. But has it considered for a moment that this is a two-edged blade? And that sooner or later, in an age where we celebrate this new-look, aggressive, take-no-prisoners Indian side, we can and likely will find ourselves on the business end of that sword?

No point asking, at the time, “Where were you in 1984 when the Sikh riots happened?” or some other equally asinine form of whataboutery.

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Cogito, ergo sum confusion

Cogito, ergo sum, says Iain O’Brien in the latest issue of The Cricket Monthly. He thinks, therefore he is.

What he is thinking about is David Warner — who, Iain says, is not just a serial offender, but an escalating offender.

That’s a neat way of putting it. Shorn of polysyllables, what it means is: Warner’s behaviour is getting worse. He says:

I have seen the regularity of Warner drawing fire, the growing frequency and the level of these indiscretions, increasing since late last year. Is it wrong to try to find a reason for this? Is it wrong to possibly suggest that the tragic death of his good mate Phillip Hughes – Warner was on the field when Hughes was fatally hit – is having an unwanted affect on the decisions he makes, and contributing to his involvement in conflicts?

From that jumping off point, the writer transitions to the death of Philip Hughes on the field of play, and the possibility that Warner — who was at the other end when his mate died — suffers from PTSD.

Perhaps it is fair to say that Warner has had similar demons to deal with since the death of his very good friend. Perhaps it isn’t. It may be that it is still worth discussing. Maybe we can just rule out any form of PTSD and simply justify Warner’s actions saying, “He has always been like that”, and say they might also be a result of the laxity in efforts to curb certain forms of on-field behaviour. I get the feeling there’s a little more to his recent behaviour than can be explained by the flighty application of fines and limited consequences for his actions.

I read a lot of crime fiction, particularly the courtroom types. And when someone says “PTSD” I am all over him like a rash — I know PTSD like only readers of Shane Stevens and Scott Turow and Richard North Patterson and such can. Seems to me — my view is probably colored, even jaundiced, by too much of this stuff — that there is no case that comes to the courtrooms of America where the anatomy of some horrendous crime cannot be explained merely by whether it is right or wrong to rape and kill; it needs a battery of experts to speak with polysyllabic profundity to child abuse or adult trauma and its effects on the individual’s id.

It is all supposed to lead to a verdict of Not Guilty By Reason of <insert your favourite trauma here>.

Hold that thought, while you follow some of these narratives:

Australian coach Darren Lehmann says he knows there are lines drawn, but Australia is always going to push as close to the edge of acceptable behaviour as it thinks it can get away with:

“If the ICC decide it’s not in the spirit of the game or we cross the line, they’ll come down on us. We all know that. So we’ve got to make sure: we’re always going to teeter pretty close to it, that’s the way we play, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t cross it. David’s an aggressive character and we support that. It’s just making sure he does the right things on the ground, and he knows that more than most. We’ll work with him with that.”

Australia’s almost-was-captain Brad Haddin believes this is the “brand of cricket” Australia should be playing (Inset, James Anderson believes sledging “done right” can be “entertaining”. He doesn’t say for who.)

Haddin said Australia would not be changing the way they play and he said they always respected their opponents and the game.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting — famous, among other things, for a spirited discussion with umpire Aleem Dar during the 2010 Ashes series — believes the problem is not with what happens on the field, but with how it all looks when magnified by the TV cameras.

Darren Lehmann has said publicly that David is an aggressive character, and the Australian public love the way he bats, which goes hand in hand with the sort of confrontational approach he sometimes takes in the field. What David needs be aware of is how animated that can look through the lens of a television camera.

When I was captain I often had to control how things looked when I was talking to opponents or umpires. The incidents that got me into trouble often had little to do with what I was saying but how it could appear when I started moving my hands around, pointing fingers or taking on an assertive posture. That would leave me open to different interpretations from people about what might have been going on, and invariably cause the match referee to have a word. I also had a few hearings in my time.

That has been true of this episode for David, where his 50% match fee fine has come about largely because of how it played on television and came across to fans around the world. Whether misplaced or not, Australian anger that a run was taken after the possible deflection of a return to Brad Haddin was genuine. I could count a few instances where I’ve seen opposition teams take another run when the ball deflected in this way. As minor as it sounds, that convention is about as well understood as that of not running out a non-striker backing up without a warning. So I can understand some anger in the belief it had not been followed.

That is a very good argument to do away with not mayhem, but with the cameras that might be in a position to record that mayhem and amplify it via YouTube and other social megaphones. “The problem is not that the cops strangled the black guy, the issue is really how it all looks when that irresponsible idiot with the cellphone camera…”

In those same courtroom novels I referred to, I’ve come across another phrase: enabling behaviour. Like, when someone does something that is clearly wrong, and the officials excuse it on specious grounds (“It is only a first offence… Level 2.1 (a) (ii)…)? Like, when people of stature and authority don’t call out an act for what it is — unacceptable — but obfuscate, justify, condone?

I’ve no quarrel with Iain’s cogitations. Merely, that I did some of my own — and I wonder if it is fair to say this: Excuses — even legitimate ones — may help us understand the nature of the offender. But they should have no bearing on the offence. Or the consequences.

BTW? Try searching for “David Warner sledging”. You might find a couple of instances if you look hard enough. And if you care to notice the dates, you might find that the odd example pre-dates any PTSD.

PS: Warner and Australia are merely the peg of this argument, not the sole targets. Bad behaviour is just that — no matter who the culprit is, or which team he belongs to. Oh, and to Anderson’s point about all this being “entertaining” — if the quality of your cricket was good enough, why would you need an item number?

Additional reading:

Martin Crowe wrote recently about the need for cricket to take bad behaviour seriously, and mooted the concept of red and yellow cards.

The sad part? Back in 2002, the same concept was briefly discussed by cricket’s lawmakers. And dropped. And I remember writing about the need for it, in 2003. Can’t seem to find the link, but I did find this discussion I was part of, where the theme was developed on. Here, read.