Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli set a bad example by disrespecting umpires: IPL 2019 talking points

Here are four points of discussion on Season 12 of the Indian Premier League which is at the halfway stage

Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni, in yellow, argues with umpires during their match against Rajasthan Royals. Vishal Bhatnagar / AP Photo
Chennai Super Kings captain MS Dhoni, in yellow, argues with umpires during their match against Rajasthan Royals. Vishal Bhatnagar / AP Photo

Cricket may be grappling with a fairness problem these days.

There seems to be a growing tension between the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ vision, which has been codified into law by the game’s powers that be, and a win-at-all-costs mentality that has seeped into the mindset of players all over the world.

Three controversies erupted at the Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition during the past month, with every one of them arousing extreme passions from players and supporters, and in two cases putting those in positions of authority on the backfoot.

Ravichandran Ashwin’s ‘Mankading’ of Jos Buttler is within the rules of the game. Yet it was deemed unfair, or not within the Spirit of Cricket, by mainly Buttler supporters but also English fans. While there was robust debate on the vague wording of the law that permits Mankading and whether Ashwin bent the rule, it was accompanied by vitriol on both sides of the divide.

But this incident pales in comparison to the ones involving two of the game’s biggest superstars – Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni – and the attacks they carried out on umpires.

“We are playing at the IPL level and not playing club cricket. The umpires should have had their eyes open,” Kohli said after his Royal Challengers Bangalore side were edged out by Mumbai Indians – his ire directed at one particular official for failing to spot a no-ball by Lasith Malinga in the final over.

It was a legitimate grouse but one that was articulated poorly and sounded demeaning of authority.

Days later Dhoni crossed the line, literally and figuratively, by storming on to the pitch from the Chennai Super Kings dugout to confront umpires over confusion regarding a no-ball call. In the end, Dhoni’s team won, which may have come as a relief to the match officials given his contention was valid.

Nonetheless his behaviour was out of order for which he got away with no more than a fine that would have amounted to chump change for the millionaire cricketer.

Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli was scathing of umpires after their defeat to Mumbai Indians. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli was scathing of umpires after their defeat to Mumbai Indians. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP

Curiously, the actions of all three players resonated with Indian fans. Possible reasons for this range from national pride to hero worship to Dhoni’s otherwise impeccable disciplinary record to a legitimate sense among the clubs’ followers of being wronged.

But it seems with every passing year incidents of players showing scant regard for the Spirit of Cricket are becoming commonplace. There seems not only a desire to win but win at all costs, and this mentality has taken hold of cricket to the extent there is even a willingness to disrespect authority.

This is not to say umpires must not be questioned – and their performances are being monitored by their bosses, the match referees, anyway – but there seems to be a lack of sympathy for them and, worse, little respect for their roles as policemen on the pitch.

The consequence of Kohli and Dhoni’s actions could be far-reaching.

Who is to say children looking up to them won’t emulate them at the lower levels by standing up to authority and crossing boundaries not only set in the context of a sport but also by society, only because of their desire to win?

Must we cricket fans forget so soon that the suspensions of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft for colluding to tamper a ball stemmed from their desperation to win a Test against South Africa in Cape Town last year?

To be sure, this mentality has infected society at its core. In fact, American journalist Michael Lewis, of the Moneyball fame, seems to believe it is the source of what afflicts sports fans. In his new podcast titled ‘Against the Rules’, Lewis examines what has happened to fairness as a concept. He also asks what is happening to a world where everyone loves to hate the referee.

Cricket fans should reflect on Lewis’s premise and ask themselves what it is they love more: the sport or simply winning.

Ambati Rayudu seems to have taken his exclusion from India's World Cup squad in his stride. Or has he? Mahesh Kumar A / AP Photo
Ambati Rayudu seems to have taken his exclusion from India's World Cup squad in his stride. Or has he? Mahesh Kumar A / AP Photo

Rayudu's mischievous tweet

A day after Ambati Rayudu was left out of India’s Cricket World Cup squad, the Chennai batsman posted a line on Twitter that has reportedly irked the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

”Just Ordered a new set of 3d glasses to watch the world cup,” he tweeted followed by a winking emoji.

Rayudu was ignored in favour of inexperienced Vijay Shankar who chief selector MSK Prasad called a “three-dimensional player” given his all-round abilities. The 33-year-old batsman’s tweet has been perceived as a dig at Prasad.

“We have taken note of what Rayudu has tweeted,” an unnamed BCCI official told the Press Trust of India news agency. “[But] let’s accept that emotions are running high at this moment. There is bound to be disappointment, and there needs to be an outlet of expression as long as it’s not out of line.”

The BCCI has let Rayudu's alleged mischief slide, but the fact it has "taken note" should be a warning to the player who was once precocious and has a history of indiscipline.

There's always hope

Staying on the topic of the World Cup, the BCCI official further added to his comment about Rayudu’s tweet that the door remains open to players on the outside looking in.

“He [Rayudu] is one of our standbys,” the official said. “If any injury happens there is every chance, he would go.”

The message to Rayudu and the likes of wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, fast bowler Khaleel Ahmed and even experienced off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is clear: keep calm and carry on shining in the IPL.

South Africa fast bowler Dale Steyn, left, could be seen in action for Royal Challengers Bangalore again. Eranga Jayawardena / AP Photo
South Africa fast bowler Dale Steyn, left, could be seen in action for Royal Challengers Bangalore again. Eranga Jayawardena / AP Photo

Steyn slots back in

If Bangalore’s drafting of a squad so thin on bowling resources has left many scratching their heads, they finally did something right: pick Dale Steyn.

Steyn, who missed the previous two IPL seasons due to injury, returns to a franchise he represented from 2008 to 2010 as a replacement for the injured Nathan Coulter-Nile.

While the fast bowler may be past his prime, he has managed to retain some of the magic that made him South Africa's highest wicket-taker in Tests. If nothing else, his presence could boost a team whose morale has been shot to pieces.

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Updated: April 17, 2019 08:48 PM

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