London, Dec. 12: The International Cricket Conference, the game’s ruling body, today urged players to improve their behaviour by taking a lead from the exemplary conduct shown during the series between Indian and Pakistan and between Australia and England.
Expressing concern about how standards of sporting behaviour had dropped ahead of the Australia-South Africa series, Malcolm Speed, the ICC’s chief executive officer, said today: “In recent times, series such as Pakistan v India and England v Australia have highlighted the importance of the spirit of the game in cricket.”
Speed pointed out that this year, 38 players and officials had been charged with various offences and gave a tough warning: “Players should be under no illusions. Cricket is a game that expects high standards of behaviour from its players. Umpires will report Code of Conduct breaches and where a breach occurs, it will be dealt with.”
But Speed’s words provoked angry denunciations from two former Australian fast bowlers, who suggested the game would be stripped of its fun if players were not allowed to indulge in a bit of gamesmanship. “They are the biggest bullsh's in the world ' the ICC ' what a waste of space,” said Jeff Thomson, the former fast bowler known as “Thommo”.
He went on: “They do nothing about blokes chucking, they do nothing about all this other stuff, they are more worried about words, that is all they are, full of words, the ICC.”
He argued: “You have got to have a bit of gamesmanship, that is what it is all about.”
Part of the problem in the past has been that Australian “gamesmanship” was considered “sledging” by others ' a term used to describe the behaviour of Australian fielders towards opposition batsmen.
This allowed Australians to question a batsman’s parentage or give an account of what they might do to his wife. While this could be construed as playful banter between Australian and English players, who often drink and socialise together, the comments appear much more offensive when directed against Pakistanis or Sri Lankans, for example.
Thomson was supported by fellow Australian Terry Alderman who said the ICC’s senior officials were trying to justify their six-figure salaries following the organisation’s recent move to Dubai.
“We need some characters in the game, we don’t need assaults on players out in the middle, but the banter that does go on ' there is nothing wrong with that,” he said, accusing the ICC of trying to sanitise the sport and make players more robotic.
However, the ICC is worried about a recent rash of bad behaviour. “There are a growing number of incidents of verbal exchanges on the field and they are concerning for us,” ICC president Ehsan Mani said. “We don’t want cricket being reduced to a level where it turns into a hooligan sport.”
Speed said the players had worked hard to meet the standards expected of them and that umpires and match referees would not allow the “spirit of the game” to be compromised.
“Unfortunately, since the Ashes, there has been a spate of Code of Conduct offences committed by players which have resulted in a series of penalties being applied, including suspension,” said Speed. “There have also been a series of comments by players and former players ahead of the Australia-South Africa series that I believe make it necessary to remind the players of the importance of playing within the spirit of the game ahead of this series.”
He accepted that verbal exchanges between players were part of the game but warned that any player who crosses the line faced action under the ICC Code of Conduct.
The Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations chief executive Tim May today endorsed Speed’s call for players to support and comply with the game’s spirit. However, he stressed that player support for such behavioural standards would only be maintained if the ICC extended the same standards of professionalism and behaviour to include the conduct of the games’ administrators.
May appeared to make a political point. “Players, particularly those in Zimbabwe, or those forced to play there, will find it difficult to fully accept Speed’s call when the ICC has not seen the need to intervene, or been unable to investigate, serious allegations about the games administration.”
England players have an advantage, a source pointed out, “because many overseas players come to play in the counties ' and they get to know them”. The exception to the rule was Sourav Ganguly, who somehow did not fit into the culture of Lancashire cricket when he played for the county.
The ICC rule book outlaws “using any language or gesture that offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies another person on the basis of that person’s race, religion, gender, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin”.
Australian leg spinner Shane Warne, who was last night given a BBC award as the Overseas Personality of the Year, has suggested that the South Africans might need a psychologist after his team had finished with them.