Greg Hawke | 7:26am gmt 29 Apr 2008
The great game of cricket has been subject to many changes in its glorious history and none more so than in the past ten years.
Technology is now playing its part to put the home viewer in "the best seat in the house". Playing schedules have become far more demanding on the players; some rule changes have been implemented in all forms of the game to help keep matches as appealing as possible, and to help keep the players on the park playing when there is rain or poor light delays. And for the most part, I believe the changes have been positive. But there is one change on the table for discussion at the next ICC Annual General Meeting in June that is bordering on lunacy.
Banning sledging. This is what has been proposed by the new superpower in world cricket, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Even the set of circumstances that led to this issue being put in front of the ICC is as bizarre as the issue itself.
After India's most recent and controversial tour of Australia, where its bad boy spin bowler Harbhajan Singh was involved in yet another racial abuse incident, ironically the BCCI now want sledging banned.
During the Sydney Test in this tour, Harbhajan Singh was found guilty of racial abuse during a verbal "sledging" exchange with Australian all rounder Andrew Symonds. Harbhajan was subsequently banned for 3 test matches by match referee Mike Proctor. After hearing this news the BCCI decided to flex their muscles and made what seemed to be a threat to the International Cricket Council (ICC) that it would abandon the remainder of its tour in Australia if Harbhajan's penalty was made to stick, and or, an umpire officiating in this particular game needed to be dismissed from further duties in the tour, as they were very dissatisfied with his performance.
The events that transpired from this point on painted a crystal clear picture of just how much clout the BCCI now has in world cricket.
The umpire the BCCI were seeking to have dismissed, Steve Bucknor, was removed.
Now I'm certain that almost every cricket playing country, or even most club cricket sides, could tell a story or two about a game of cricket where the umpire seemed to dish out some very ordinary decisions. But I believe most nations and cricket administrators subscribe to the theory that eventually the good and bad decisions sort themselves out, or even themselves up, and just get on with the game. This opinion is debateable, but I think most do. But not India on this occasion. Umpire Bucknor, a veteran officiating in more than one hundred Test matches and one hundred One Day Internationals, was relieved of duty for the remainder of the tour by the ICC.
To go with this, shortly after Bucknor's removal, the ICC appointed an appeals commissioner to deal with the BCCI's request to re-visit Harbhajan's case, and very quickly Appeals Commissioner Justice John Hansen found that Harbhajan's appeal against his three match ban for racial abuse during the test at the Sydney Cricket Ground was to be upheld and downgraded to a fine, due to a lack of evidence that Harbhajan used the word "monkey".
But Justice Hansen was quoted as saying after the hearing that "the penalty would have been different if he'd had some facts in front of him", and after learning that Harbajhan had a suspended one Test ban on his record, he considered reviewing his decision to fine him, but concluded he could not do so.
How did these things get missed by the ICC? Coincidence? The whole situation that occurred in Australia this summer was nothing short of farcical. And if we were to be completely honest, the BCCI told the ICC to jump, with regard to their issues, and the ICC responded with "how high sir?"
India got their way. They had Bucknor removed and Harbhajan's 3 match suspension revoked (for a sledging related incident) all because the ICC were afraid of what the BCCI and their corporate dollar might do if they didn't give in to their demands.
Now the almighty BCCI, ironically, want sledging banned. A recent article in the Indian National Newspaper The Hindu
quoted BCCI President Sharad Pawar as saying, "I can't name certain countries, for we need to keep good relation with them, but often a group of players from those teams take a conscious decision to target a particular Indian player to demoralise him".
And when asked what was the BCCI's recommendation to the ICC to stop sledging, Pawar said "we have to be very, very harsh and tough, irrespective of the player and that means even our players"; "Sportsman spirit has to be maintained and we have to take action"; "We have told them enough is enough. Erring once is understandable but you can't go on doing it."
And on empowering on-field umpires, Pawar said the process was on, and the ICC was also contemplating introducing a fourth umpire to assist the on-field umpires.
My questions to Mr. Pawar are: how do you expect cricket umpires to interpret and police sledging and distinguish it from harmless on-field banter? Or do you propose to completely sanitise and rid the game of all sense of humour and ban the on-field banter too? And if a player like Harbhajan is reported and banned for sledging, will you allow the ICC "to be very, very harsh and tough", or will you again intervene and make your threats to ensure your player is exonerated?
I would suggest the BCCI look after their own backyard first before looking to cure cricket of all its problems. Maybe the BCCI should leave the officiating to the ICC, and perhaps accept the umpire's or ICC's decision once it is handed down, rather than employ stand over tactics to influence or overturn a decision. And once this box is ticked, we might take any proposal made by the BCCI to amend any laws in our game more seriously.