Sport

Cricket, a gentleman’s game? There’s nothing gentlemanly about it.

By Antoinette Muller 30 August 2013

Something is rotten in the state of cricket and it’s not a player refusing to walk or a coach mouthing off. It’s far more than that. The very people who should care most about the game are doing it a massive disservice. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

In the early 1800s, cricket was between the Gentlemen and the Players. The game was played between a number of seasoned pros and amateurs. The amateurs were often rich with vetted interests elsewhere, which funded their cricket hobby.

It’s debatable whether that is where the term “the gentleman’s game”, often used to describe cricket, originated, but it certainly had an impact. Cricket always had a set of standards which it held in high regard and, to this day, the lunacy of the Spirit of Cricket lives on. Yet, if the last few weeks of summer in England is anything to go by and the greater picture is taken into account, there is almost nothing gentlemanly about cricket these days.

From Stuart Broad’s non-walking incident to England players urinating on The Oval pitch amidst their celebrations and Darren Lehmann mouthing off to an Australian radio station about Stuart Broad being a “cheat”, cricket hasn’t done itself any favours over the last weeks. Bad light has also played a a role and it’s often caused controversy and angered fans to the extent that they resorted to booing the officials at the end of play on the final day of The Ashes. But those are almost minor issues when the larger picture is assessed.

Cricket has far more serious problems to deal with, yet it persists in its snobbery of being a gentleman’s game. Corruption has and always will be a massive issue in the sport. How can it be any different when the game was designed for betting? In the modern age, betting and sport will always go together and with the inherently flawed nature of human beings, there will always be a few bad apples, but that needs to be policed and acted upon. To this day, The Board of Control for Cricket in India are yet to begin their “operation clean-up“.

The BCCI have not bothered to explain why there has been a delay and the International Cricket Council haven’t bothered to step in. The first step of the plan was to ensure that the agents acting on behalf of players in India are accredited. Centrally contracted players were due to provide the names of their agents to start the accreditation process. This all in an attempt to help determine who is a genuine agent and who is a bit dodgy. But it hasn’t happened.

A few months later, the BCCI insisted that it would ask players to reveal the sources of their income and owners or Premier League franchises to give details on their contractual obligations of players and support staff. Both of those promises remain on paper and nobody in a position of power has bothered to explain why.

Similarly disturbing is the ICC’s double standards. When the governing body launched the 2015 World Cup campaign, they spiced up their press conference with a couple of big names. Dennis Lillee, Ian Chappell, Kapil Dev and Sanath Jayasuriya.

Since retiring from cricket, Jayasuriya has assumed a career in politics and earlier this year, he was appointed chairman of selectors in Sri Lanka. This goes completely against the ICC’s Articles of Association.

The above states that: Where a government interferes in the administration of cricket by a Member, including but not limited to interference in operational matters, the selection and management of teams, the appointment of coaches or support personnel or the activities of a Member, the Executive Board shall have the power to suspend or refuse to recognise that Member, subject to the provisions of Article 2.7.

But the ICC has not said a word. How is a cricketing world, board members and its fans supposed to trust a governing body who completely ignores its own rules and who doesn’t seem to do much governing?

Those are two big and contentious issues which have flown under the radar under while far smaller issues have grabbed the headlines. Things like players misbehaving and coaches mouthing off seem almost insignificant in comparison. While the bad light debate will rage on and the ICC have said that they will be addressing it, that is once again a symptom of a different illness.

Overrates are far more concerning than the bad light rule – one which makes sense once everyone involved abandons their sense of entitlement. Pick up any Wisden Almanack of the last three decades and you are almost guaranteed to see a mention of interferences with the game. The 1987 edition mentions how drinks and glove carriers used to be mentioned over the PA as “those who came to watch have the right to know who is the man interrupted their day’s entertainment”. Stricter fines have to be imposed in Test cricket for the dismal overrates. Fines and suspensions for captains as well as a relook at how to limit on-field interruptions are very much needed.

Over the last two days, no fewer than three games managed to get all their scheduled overs in on time for the last two days. Teams are desperate to get those overs in because a point is deducted for each over short of the 16 over target rate, once the rate has been averaged across four days. While some punishment exists in Test cricket, it is never applied.

By definition, “gentleman” is a chivalrous, courteous, or honourable man. That definition can be used to define only a select few in the sport. The notion that Test cricket is dying might be true, but it’s not dying in the sense of dwindling interest or profits. Rather, it’s dying because its soul is rotten thanks to those who should care for it. DM

Photo: England’s captain Alastair Cook lifts the replica Ashes urn after the fifth Ashes test cricket match against Australia ended in a draw and England won the series 3-0 at the Oval cricket ground in London August 25, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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