CMJ: Increase in bad behaviour a real cause for concern

The hot-headedness of Stuart Broad, in part a symptom of his current problems as a bowler who has temporarily lost the art of taking wickets, cost him half his match fee after England’s second one-day international against Sri Lanka at Bristol. It is only the most publicised example of a disturbing trend in the professional game this season. Cricket’s version of “racket abuse” is in danger of getting out of hand.

Last week, in the relatively peaceful atmosphere and sylvan splendour of Arundel, I saw the incident that will surely lead to the suspension of a county cricketer for the first time since Mark Ramprakash got lost in a red mist and abused the umpire Rob Bailey in a match between Surrey and Sussex at The Oval. Murray Goodwin, who was involved in that incident three years ago, is, like Ramprakash, a brilliant batsman, similar to Ramprakash both in his ability to buckle down and concentrate and to give total and passionate commitment to the team cause.

When Goodwin was given out lbw to Jeetan Patel at Arundel, having played himself in for an hour at a time when Sussex’s chance of escaping from a poor first innings batting display against Warwickshire probably depended on his ability to lead a long rearguard, he made his disagreement, or disappointment, plain enough by lingering at his crease and checking the relationship of his pads to the off stump.

He had gone right back and left a ball that spun back and might or might not have done enough to hit the wicket. Unwisely for a man already in danger of suspension after being reported twice over the last two seasons and receiving three points each time under the ECB’s fixed penalty system, he then left the officials no option but to report him a third time by hitting the stationary ball, hockey style, to the boundary as he made his way towards the steps in the Arundel bank that lead to the pavilion.

Gerard Elias, QC, the long-serving chairman of the ECB’s disciplinary committee, was actually watching from the top of the bank at the time, which made it all the more certain that Goodwin would face an official hearing by a disciplinary panel. Elias was on a tour of the county circuit in an effort to try to get to the bottom of the sudden rash of angry behaviour that has led to a backlash by umpires this season. He is one of several who believe the trend to be due to the intensity of county cricket, and of Twenty20 in particular, and the desperation of every county to win at a time when all of them are feeling the cold winds of financial restraint.

I am less concerned with Goodwin’s individual case, which at Arundel really came under the ‘silly’ rather than seriously bad tempered label, than the general slippage in behaviour, which more than one umpire has confirmed to me this season is worrying them all. Goodwin, after all, is generally an example to his fellow professionals and to all who watch him, and quite unlike, for example, the South African firebrand Andre Nel, who was suspended for two matches in April last year after three instances of dissent, each attracting a three-point penalty.

In passing I can’t help wondering whether the general South Africanisation of county cricket has something to do with the harder edge that has been evident both in the England team and the domestic game generally. They are brought up to play the game toughly and not always quietly in that great sporting nation, although they always seem, also, to produce sportsmen who are articulate and courteous off the field.

Another cricketer of South African background, Steffan Piolet of Warwickshire, is the only other player currently with six penalty points against his name. He received a double dose of punishment for dissent and bad language following last season’s Second XI county final.

First-class umpires are worried by excessive mass appealing, a plague for too long, and by bad language when a decision goes against a player, the crime that cost Broad his fine last week. So far this season the ECB has placed penalty points on the records of 17 men, four more than at the same stage of last season. The worry, as always, is that instances of petulant behaviour set a bad example to the young watching either on the grounds or on television. James Foster, one of the last to be disciplined, actually had a slanging match in front of the cameras.

No one, I hope, under-estimates the pressures on cricketers in the public eye and this is a trend that probably merely reflects social mores, as fashions in cricket always will. The problem, of course, is that club and school cricketers will try to emulate the professionals. At the recent Eton v Harrow match at Lord’s an umpire had to give the Harrow fielders a stern talking to for over-doing their appealing and the word from umpires in premier recreational leagues is that the game is generally getting more lippy.

Perhaps the precis of the MCC’s Spirit of Cricket message should not just be ‘hard but fair’. How about ‘hard, fair and silent’? No one can blame any cricketer for thinking that the decision just made by an umpire was terrible. We have all done that often enough, and sometimes, of course, we were wrong.

About Christopher Martin-Jenkins

One of the leading chroniclers of cricket over the past four decades, he is perhaps best-known for his commentary on BBC Radio’s Test Match Special since 1973. But he is also a former cricket correspondent of both The Times and Daily Telegraph newspapers as well as the BBC, besides having had two spells as editor of The Cricketer magazine. A fine after-dinner speaker, he played second XI county cricket in his youth and his son Robin was an all-rounder for Sussex from 1995 to 2010.
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3 Responses to CMJ: Increase in bad behaviour a real cause for concern

  1. Ed Lamb says:

    Very interesting piece CMJ. As a club cricketer for Steyning I picked up the fair play award from you at last year’s Sussex league dinner! I’ve got the following thoughts from the point of view of a player (but also completely understanding the very tricky job that is umpiring):

    - when I started playing club cricket in the 90s umpires immediately asked the fielding side to cut it out if they started grumbling about an appeal not being given. Now most don’t respond whatever is said to (or around) them which has allowed players to get away with far too much.

    - the captain is apparently responsible for his players but that is a cop out meaning that umpires sometimes don’t confront the player direct. I say “apparently” because captains can only react after the issue – they can’t tell the future. Even MS Dhoni knows he can’t control his players (“the only person who can control Sreesanth is Sreesanth”). The captain should deal with anything they see/hear but umpires need to deal with the things that are said to or around them (that the captain doesn’t hear) direct with the player.

    - technology in pro cricket has led to more decisions being given and it feels, rightly or wrongly, as if club umpires are following suit. That means more contentious decisions because where there was doubt the benefit went to the batsman previously, it feels like that is no longer the case.

    - batsmen that walk (like myself!) are huge exceptions these days. It’s always been a divisive issue, but a Horsham player didn’t walk in a friendly we played there last week. Not walking in a friendly!! It caused unecessary bad feeling in an otherwise enjoyable match, and the umpire must have felt very awkward. Is there any way we can get walking back into the game? Perhaps that’s an ambition too far…!

  2. Mark P says:

    Well said Ed, couldn’t agree more.

    I too have played ECB Premier Cricket and Div One for over 20 years and in general the umpires do a good job…. but all of the players know the umpires who

    Think the louder the team shout, the more it must be out
    Are three shouts and out merchants
    Have never played the game
    Are ‘conned’ into giving decisions – For example batsman nicks the ball and doesn’t walk – next time he plays and misses wicketkeeper throws the ball in the air and slips go up. Batsman gets given out.

    Because of the technology now employed on the TV Umpires in general are now give more decisions than ever. This creates problems in itself as players are unwilling to accept LBW decisions especially when they are batting two feet out of their crease and then get a good stride in. This just creates more problems as players then shout louder, sometimes taking a second breath to look even more convincing!

    I was stood at the non strikers end earlier in the season and was told this by an umpire who gets £40 a match for standing at one end….

    ‘That one was close, probably 75% out, but I only give ‘em when it’s 90′

    Noones saying that it’s an easy job, but players do know which umpires are prone to pressure and if you can get them to give two of the top five out, you’ve won you’re game.

    Players are just as much at fault for applying the pressure, but because they can get away with it they do. Captains should be responsible for the behaviour of their team…. and dissent should be stamped out immediately – it’s not acceptable.

  3. CityGent says:

    The captain is responsible for discipline on the field is definitely a cop out – how is he meant to control any individual in the heat of the moment? Yes he can control the level of sledging etc, but never individuals reactions.

    Too many umpires at club level give the impression that they are above everybody else because they are the umpire, rather than being there to facilitate a game between 22 players. The best umpires are seen, but not heard, and who, at the end of the game, you have not had any reason to mention during the game.

    There are too many old duffers who would still like to clap the batsmen in and play the game nicely. For 20+ years English cricket didn’t compete at the top level, but, as the game as hardened up at all levels, and more pressure was put on players, so the performance of the national side has improved too. If you can’t handle it, go and play village green cricket on a Sunday.

    I’m not condoning torrents of abuse to umpires, but some of them definitely need their attitudes pegging down a level or two, and words never hurt anybody.