The laws of cricket have an exemplary feature. They are preceded by a preamble, which lays considerable emphasis on the traditional values of cricket and the spirit of fair play. The conduct of the players is of paramount importance. The unique aspect of cricket lies in the pre-eminent position of the values and the spirit ahead of the 42 laws that govern the course of the noble game.
What transpired at the Oval at the conclusion of the Ashes series defies all logic. Never before in the 150 years of the history of first-class cricket has anybody heard of an act as despicable as cricketers urinating on a cricket pitch. However, it did happen, as world-wide media reports concurred. And the disgraceful incident was carried out not by novices or by upstarts, but by established Test cricketers: by some cricketers of England, a founding parent of cricket. Moreover, the crass act was enacted on a piece of turf at the Oval, the international history of which matches the antiquity of the Lordís.
Any cricket pitch, wherever it may be, is sacrosanct to the person who has ever held a cricket bat in his or her hands. No cricket lover worthy of the title would contemplate damaging the sacred turf, far less urinating on it. Such acts of sacrilege would be beyond contemplation in any part of the civilized world.
That some English international cricketers could resort to such a despicable act just goes on to show to what levels some modern sports stars have descended. More surprising still is the attitude of the English cricket authorities. Instead of criticizing the act, they are actually making desperate attempts to play down the issue. Even former cricketer-turned-critics are searching for ploys to ignore the matter and divert the attention of cricket lovers.
Can you imagine, dear cricket lovers, what would have happened if the offenders were from India, Bangladesh or Pakistan? The British media would have gone overboard in their condemnation not only of the players concerned but would also have raised questions about Indians in general. The International Cricket Council would have declared harsh punishments for the offenders in next to no time. And then for good measure, the ICC would have delivered sermons to Indian players on civil conduct and behaviour.
But since the offenders were English, the ICC maintained a studied silence on the issue for over a week. It is yet to muster sufficient courage even to speak out. If the ICC has any conscience, it should at least invoke its own code of conduct. It can easily raise a charge under Level 2, Section 2.2.11, wherein players who bring the game into disrepute or act against the spirit of the game can be penalized. The punishment is monetary fine between 50 per cent and 100 per cent of the match fee and suspension from one Test or 2 over-limit matches. This is the minimum penalty in such cases. There is, of course, a higher penalty under Level 4 where the offender can be banned from playing cricket. But then, will the ICC have the desire and the strength to act according to its own rules against England?
That the ICC has not yet invoked even the minimum penalty is not surprising for most cricket followers. Over the years, they have witnessed the ICCís obvious leaning towards certain nations, players of which invariably receive lesser sentences than those from India and Pakistan. Players from India and Pakistan have been given punishments in order to imply that they are the worst behaved in international cricket.
The ICCís prejudice against India does it no credit. It still seems to be suffering from feudal ideas of the past. Who would ever forget the ridiculous charge against Sachin Tendulkar regarding ball tampering? Tendulkar had merely cleaned the mud lodged between the stitches with his nail. Actually, it is impossible to take out the wet mud in the ballís seams unless one uses oneís nail. It seems that the match referee, Mike Denness, of England, wanted to show the world that even Sachin Tendulkar was not above board. He penalized Tendulkar but could not prove that the ball was tampered with. If the ball was not tampered, why was Tendulkar fined? The ICC never came out with any answer.
Another ridiculous incident is of recent vintage. In 2011 in England, Ian Bell was very rightly declared run-out by the umpire as he had left the crease before the ball became Ďdeadí. Immediately, the England coach, Andy Flower, rushed to the India captain asking him to reconsider the decision. Very sportingly, M.S. Dhoni withdrew the appeal and allowed Bell to continue his innings. This was a classic example of a coach trying to influence an umpireís decision. But the ICC never bothered to penalize Flower. On the contrary, the British media criticized the Indians for appealing. Where was the ICC when all these incidents were taking place right in front of its eyes?
The Oval is not just another cricket ground. The south of London venue is steeped in lore and literature. Its historical import goes back to 1880, when England under Lord Harris defeated Billy Murdochís Australians in the latterís first-ever Test on British soil, riding on W.G. Graceís 152. Just for the records: in those days, Tests were of 4-days duration and 4-ball overs were the norm.
The Oval does not belong to England alone. It belongs as much to you and me as cricket lovers. Cricket lovers go to the Oval not only to watch internationals but also as pilgrims. Former journalist Subroto Sirkar and I once spent a delightful day watching an exquisite Rohan Kanhai innings against Surrey.
The hallowed turf at the Oval is full of memorable characters. It was the home of Jack Hobbs and Tom Hayward. In the 1920s, Percy Fender taught Douglas Jardine the rudiments of captaincy on this ground as at a later date, Stuart Surridge made way for Peter May. The memories of Tony Lock, Jim Laker and Alec Bedser lie in the quagmire created by uncouth behaviour. Other great performers of distant lands too have exhibited their skills over the last 130 years. Len Huttonís 364 (then a world record) and Sunil Gavaskarís magnificent 221 in 1979 are just a few instances that come readily to mind. Today, the holy earth stands desecrated by the loutish behaviour of the cricketers. It is amazing indeed that Indian superstars, who generally are not short of words, have nothing to say about this, except for a short statement by Gavaskar. And Sourav Ganguly feels that no punishment is required as the players are not youngsters.
It is difficult to make out what Gavaskar and Ganguly actually had in mind. Certainly, cricket lovers were expecting some serious discussions from these highly respected analysts. Probably they have their own compulsions and obligations in not coming out with some meaningful comments. Thankfully, the editorials around the country have contained more punch than the utterances of our cricketer-turned-analysts.