A drop in standards


Friday, April 3, 1998

IT HAS BEEN a wretched series for anybody who truly loves cricket. Those of us who have long cherished the sportsmanship that once went hand in hand with the game have been left to wonder whether there is any left.

From my earliest days at school I was brought up believing that cricket was the most noble of all sports. That illusion was quickly dispelled when I went on my first overseas Test tour to Australia in the winter of 1975-6. I had always believed that a batsman should walk if he is out-then I came up against the Australians. Few of them walked. The West Indies team did in those days; now even they have stopped the practice. Sadly, I would say that 90 per cent of cricketers worldwide are now non-walkers.

But more serious things went on in this series. Worse still, they went unnoticed or unpunished by Barry Jarman, the match referee. A lot has been said and written about the merits of the International Cricket Council's code of conduct since it was first introduced in the late 1980s along with referees to monitor its enforcement.

Of course, it is within the right of every batsman to stay at the crease and wait for an umpire's raised finger, specifically when he knows he is not out. In the second of the two Tests in Trinidad, Nasser Hussain clearly did not edge the ball from Courtney Walsh from which he was given out caught by David Williams.

There have been other occasions where players have almost knocked the cover off the ball but then either waited at the crease for the umpire's decision or ignored the official by seeming to mark their guard. They then seemingly only become aware of the verdict when they hear the crowd's reaction or the rejoicing of the fielders.

Worse still, there are those cases where a batsman has started rubbing an arm or a shoulder, thereby rightly or wrongly indicating that is where he has been hit by the ball. In bad cases, these amount to little more than blatant attempts at influencing an umpire's decision. Antigua threw up what looked like a couple of interesting examples of unintentional or intentional messaging to the umpire.

For instance, I was disappointed to see Alec Stewart-television replays later showed he had clearly top-edged a bouncer from Franklyn Rose into the gloves of Junior Murray-rubbing shoulder. Let us give Stewart the benefit of the doubt. The ball may have caught both shoulder and bat - but players should be careful before sending misleading signals.

If a referee sees it going on he should act immediately and umpires have got to start ignoring any physical signs from batsmen and make their decisions purely on their instincts from what they thought happened to the ball.

Also, with the last ball of the series from Courtney Walsh, Phil Tufnell was given out caught by Clayton Lambert at short leg. Well within his rights -and I think the ball actually came off either his thigh pad or his hips-Tufnell stood his ground waiting for the decision from Steve Bucknor.

Long before he could raise his finger, the WI players had whipped the stumps out of the ground as souvenirs and were dancing back to the pavilion to celebrate. I believe that Bucknor was carefully considering whether to give Tufnell out or not out-more likely not out-but was forced into giving him out because of the confusion that might have ensued in trying to call the players back and calm down the excited crowd for the game to continue.

There was a similar incident in Barbados. Nixon McLean was the last man out in the West Indies innings when the England players began to leave the field before waiting for an umpiring decision. It all constitutes a subtle and unwelcome way of influencing officials.

Another device we saw a lot of was the shout of ``catch it'' to the close fielders when a spinner hit a batsman's pads. I am sure TV viewers back home must have got sick of the sound of David Williams' voice booming through the stump microphone during the Guyana Test.

Apart from again suggesting that the ball had hit the bat, it also broke one rudimentary coaching tip that is given to any young cricketer: if the ball is in the air, it is the fielder's duty to catch it and the last thing he needs is the distraction of a shout from one of his teammates.

During the past six weeks we have witnessed far too much appealing and I just wish that, when it all began in Trinidad, Jarman had spoken to both sides at the earliest opportunity and told them it was unacceptable.

I cannot leave this subject without referring to the catch which England claimed against Shivnarine Chanderpaul during the first West Indian innings in Barbados. The ball, a full toss from Angus Fraser, clearly bounced after it hit the bat and carried on to Stewart in slips.

Umpire Eddie Nicholls made the mistake by ruling the catch clean, but then it was the duty of the England fielders-to withdraw their appeal.

In Barbados, when Mark Ramprakash completed his maiden Test hundred, the closest man to him as the ball crossed the boundary was Brian Lara. He was the first to shake Ramprakash's hand. That was repeated by Williams long before Ramprakash could get to the middle of the pitch to receive the congratulations of his batting partner, Graham Thorpe.

Later, as Ramprakash left the field at the tea interval with 150 beside his name, the whole West Indian side joined in the standing ovation.

I have criticised Lara in the past, but at the Kensington Oval the reaction of the West Indian captain and his team at least showed that some traditions are still alive and well.

Source: The Express (Trinidad)

Contributed by CricInfo Management, and reproduced with permission

Date-stamped : 03 Apr1998 - 18:34