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Sunil Gavaskar column: All the banter in today’s game is not bringing the crowds

Cricket needs more leaders like McCullum today

Staff Report
17:06 March 24, 2018

Is cricket in a happy place today? The incidents that keep happening between players of rival teams that keep the umpires and match referees on their toes just about every day makes one wonder if indeed cricket is in a happy place.

Television coverage and constant slow motion replays does not allow any incident to go unnoticed and with so many cameras around, even the players’ dressing room is not exempt from the camera scrutiny. As the leaked video of the David Warner and Quinton de Kock joust in the stairwell showed that even the interiors of the pavilion is under the camera lens. players who think that they won’t be seen in the stairwell now know that their deeds or misdeeds will be caught on the security cameras and could be out in the wide world of the internet before they have entered the sanctum sanctorum, their dressing room.

In football too, a lot of players scuffles happen in the tunnel that leads to the team’s dressing rooms. The James Anderson-Ravindra Jadeja spat at Trent Bridge, Nottingham some years back also happened on the stairs — so maybe future designers of stadia will be told to ensure that the entrance to the ground from the team dressing room should be separate. Most stadia do have separate entrances and that ensures that any ill feeling between players does not turn into a physical confrontation in what the players feel is an area safe from prying eyes.

But why are these things happening at all? Even in one of the most controversial of series, the Bodyline Series, the players though upset never came close to blows. There was tremendous ill feeling not just between the players but the administrators of both the cricket boards but it never came close to a brawl.

So why are today’s players so quick to give and take offence? Is it the times we live in where there is little or no respect for elders, institutions, traditions? Is it the liberal upbringing that is clearly different for this generation than previous ones? Whatever may be the case, the fact is that behaviour on the ground has descended to levels where sooner than later players are going to come to blows.

In India, there has been an ugly incident in the past when the late Raman Lamba — all padded up — was chased down with a stump by an angry Rashid Patel in a Duleep Trophy match and again it was due to the language that was used then. So does it simply boil down to the verbals? Absolutely. The defenders of the modern practice of mental disintegration will say that the game will become robotic if there is no banter. There was little or no banter in the past — say around the early 1970s — and nobody can say the games were not competitive.

They were extremely hard-fought with no quarter given nor taken. Heck those days, even the Tarzan films were with little violence. Then came the Terminator movies and with it all hell seems to have broken loose with every kid with burgeoning testetrones wanted to flex his muscles, scream loudly as he looked to bash his villain.

The media too is not without blame. Instead of condemning the ugly behaviour of the players they, especially in Australia, started to encourage it by saying that’s the Aussie way. Maybe that was done to suit their own needs for a headlines story, but it does no good to that lovely country to be branded as a country full of people trying to always get in your face mouthing expletives.

Yes, there will be louts in every country but Australia is much more than that and many of its citizens do not like that generalisation and being called ugly Aussies. Not that the Australians are the only ones doing the verbals today, just about every country is, but the Aussies were the ones who started the trend and so they ought to cop the blame. The New Zealanders, under Brendon McCullum, decided to stop the chirping after the unfortunate death of Phillip Hughes as they realised that it is after all a game and there is no point making enemies playing it. That’s McCullum’s greatest legacy to the game and may there be more like him.

There will be those who argue that if there is no banter, there will be robots playing. That is a specious argument for every player be it a batsman or a bowler has his own unique style that is different and there is absolutely no danger of the players looking like robots. Today despite all the confrontations, there is hardly a full stadium. So clearly, it is not approved by a majority.

Parents do not want their children to play cricket because they are worried that instead of learning sportsmanship, their child is going to return from the ground with an unwanted vocabulary. Yes when the so-called robots were playing, the grounds used to be full and overflowing at times — simply because the people came to see the bat and the ball do the talking and not the players.

— Professional Management Group