LONDON (AFP) – The World Cup promises to feature plenty of big-hitting and dramatic bowling but will there be verbal fireworks too? Not if the International Cricket Council can help it.
“Over the last six months, or even going back further to the last Ashes series, there have been too many examples of player behaviour going too far and overstepping the boundaries of acceptability,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said.
“The amount of sledging (verbal abuse) and disrespect shown by players to each other was bad,” the former South Africa wicketkeeper added as he promised match referees would come down hard on sledging at the World Cup.
Many of the best remembered ‘sledges’ have been relatively amusing.
For example, England fast bowler Greg Thomas once told West Indies great Vivian Richards “it’s red, round and weighs about five ounces in case you were wondering” after beating the outside edge only for the ‘Master Blaster’, having smacked the next ball out of the ground, to reply: “You know what it looks like, you go fetch it”.
However, there has been little humour in the obscene or crude taunts of recent times, with Australia captain Michael Clarke telling James Anderson to “get ready for a broken arm” when the England tailender was batting during the last Ashes series.
Fiery Australian opener David Warner was involved in several altercations during India’s recent tour but coach Darren Lehmann said he was happy with the batsman’s aggression.
“If the ICC decides we cross the line, then they’ll come down on us – we all know that,” Lehmann said.
“We’re always going to teeter pretty close to it – that’s the way that we play – we’ve just got to make sure that we don’t cross it.”
With cricket unusual amongst many major team sports in that its leading teams come from a variety of cultural backgrounds – European, Asian and Afro-Caribbean – the problem is that where Australia draw the line may well be different from their opponents.
Such was Australia’s dominance in the 1990s and 2000s, when skipper Steve Waugh gave sledging the rather more dignified status of “mental disintegration” that many sides followed suit, even though plenty of the game’s most greatest players – such as legendary West Indies fast bowler Malcolm Marshall – rarely bothered with ‘verbals’ and were often rather more ‘aggressive’ than the sledgers they came up against.
Unlike other sports, cricket’s on-field umpires have not traditionally had a disciplinary function allowing them to impose an immediate punishment for poor behaviour which has some bearing on the match in progress.
Given the fines imposed are rarely a deterrent and don’t tend to lead to suspensions – although Lehmann himself was banned for five one-day games for a “racially motivated obscenity” after he had been run out by Sri Lanka in 2003 – most players carry on as they always did.
New Zealand great Martin Crowe has called for the introduction of a yellow and red card system, common to many other sports, into cricket – which has traditionally prided itself on being a “gentlemen’s game”. Meanwhile Ian Chappell has said he fears it can only be a matter of time before things get so heated that a physical clash ensues.
However, Chappell’s remarks may provoke a wry reaction.