While ICC can do its bit to reform laws and system of policing, much work needs to be done at grassroots levels to instill right values in up-and-coming cricketers
Ball tampering row: Win-at-all-costs mentality driven by too much player power mixed with nationalistic pride
The International Cricket Council (ICC) issued a statement on Sunday announcing it had punished Australia’s Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft for their roles in the latest ball tampering scandal to rock the game.
But the juicy bits in the news release included what the governing body’s chief executive Dave Richardson had to say about the incident, which was essentially that a win-at-all-costs mentality had permeated the minds of many a cricketer around the world.
“The game needs to have a hard look at itself,” the former South Africa wicketkeeper said. “In recent weeks we have seen incidents of ugly sledging, send-offs, dissent against umpires’ decisions, a walk-off, ball tampering and some ordinary off-field behaviour.”
Indeed, the ongoing Test series between Richardson’s former team and Australia has been marred by flashpoints between players on both sides, including a well-documented spat between David Warner and Quinton de Kock that got very personal. Some Proteas supporters playing 12th man proved no less nasty, making Australian players patrolling the boundary rope very uncomfortable.
More than 7,000 kilometres away, Shakib Al Hasan and his Bangladesh teammates behaved poorly during a high-stakes Twenty20 game against Sri Lanka, arguing with opposition players and umpires, staging a walk-off and knocking down the dressing room door. Bangladesh won that match, but they lost more than a few admirers on the island and beyond its shores.
The recent histories of the India and England teams, too, are littered with incidents of bad behaviour. So Richardson is right: cricket does need to have a hard look at itself, and that includes the ICC and the individual boards, as well as the players and the spectators.
As he also suggested, more effective laws can be introduced and the enforcement of these rules must be improved to keep the players in check. Efforts are already under way in this regard.
For instance, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced last week it is adopting a law that gives umpires increased power to impose on-field sanctions to punish poor behaviour. The ICC has adopted a part of the law that empowers the umpire to send off a player for violence on the pitch. Sample also The National Sports Editor Graham Caygill's solution for swift justice.
Those are all good ideas.
But laws are only meant to deter players from doing something wrong and, of course, to deliver justice. They do not fix the problems at the root. And as the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) said on Monday, this is also essential – especially to avoid setting bad examples for future generations to follow.
“The time has come for a major shift in attitude and culture of all those with responsibility for leadership within the game, to give young players the kind of role models who will uphold standards, preserve cricket and, vitally, the spirit of cricket for future generations,” the MCC, considered the guardian of the laws of the game, said.
While this cannot be done overnight, a good place to start would be to identify what it is that triggers the hyper-competitiveness seen in players these days. To be sure, each country will have specific experiences to draw from, but there are a couple of trends sweeping the globe in recent times, one of which is player power.
Bad behaviour has always been a part and parcel of sport, not just cricket, and one could argue that live broadcasts have only increased the visibility of players and their shenanigans.
However, it is also true that cricketers have never been as powerful as they are today, especially since the advent of the Indian Premier League a decade ago and the subsequent mushrooming of franchise-based T20 tournaments elsewhere. Now players have more options to make money, which gives them the power to dictate terms.
With money obviously comes an upscale in lifestyle, and an upgrade in a sense of self-worth, which have the potential to wrap players in bubbles, and which can have an impact on how they perceive the world. England all-rounder Ben Stokes is one infamous example of this.
To complicate matters, we live in a world where individualism as a construct, aided by new technologies such as social media, is empowering players to boldly express themselves and challenge existing power structures. A case in point would be how Virat Kohli and his India teammates used their clout to force coach Anil Kumble out.
Curiously, there is another cultural wind blowing counter to that of individualism but is nonetheless adding fuel to the fire: nationalism.
In response to an increasingly inter-connected world, the issue of identity has resumed importance in the lives of many, with more and more people – cricket stars and fans included – desperate to hold on to the notion of nationhood.
And what better way for cricketers to express their love of nation, real or contrived, than to win a game for their country. Hence, if you are Pakistani, you are determined to beat India. If you are from Australia, England are your No 1 enemies. And so on.
This is not to say patriotism is bad, for it provides context to a game and motivates players. But as we have seen in recent times, it can also push them to do something wrong, unethical and stupid.
One would have thought growing familiarity between players teaming up to play in these T20 leagues would have helped in reducing player conflict. But clearly we are not there yet.
Now, it is impossible for organisations such as the ICC to stop cricketers from getting caught up in the vortex of global trends.
And while it may not think its place to pontificate to them, it can find ways to impress upon them the importance of the most basic human values, chiefly respect for another. It can also remind them of their responsibility as role models to set good examples to the fans.
It certainly must encourage member boards to take the initiative to begin a process of reform, through education, at the grassroots level.
Because fundamental reform has to begin from the bottom.
For now, we can enjoy moments like these