The fallout from the first Test in Durban between South Africa and Australia has dominated the headlines for the last few days. Sadly, the confrontation between Quentin de Kock and David Warner has been the primary focus and the performances of Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markham, Mitch Marsh and Mitchell Starc barely mentioned.
Once again, the behaviour of the minority has grabbed front page headlines and put cricket on the centre stage for all the wrong reasons. Rather than taking a stronger stance on this sorry episode the ICC has once again opted for their waving of demerit points as a form of punishment when clearly much stronger sanctions should have been handed out.
This publicity because of poor behaviour has been repeated in England to an extent with the Ben Stokes saga and the ongoing issues that surround it. Obviously, this is not a straightforward situation that the ICC can necessarily interfere with due to the police investigation but the fact that the ECB have now permitted Stokes to play in New Zealand before the case has an outcome is simply ludicrous. As Michael Atherton commented on in his column in The Times, the ECB’s decision is “illogical and feeble.”
It is also very difficult not to mention Virat Kohli’s name when discussing poor personal behaviour. The best batsman in world cricket at the moment and captain of cricket’s most powerful nation, India, is hardly an innocent bystander at the best of times. His repeatedly poor behaviour has been way below the levels expected of international players.
The notion of playing hard once you cross the white line, but then having a beer and a joke with the opposition after the game, seems long gone. The personal nature of some of these clashes must surely be having a more lasting effect than they ever used to. Sledging, of course, is an art form and has been used in a variety of ways throughout the history of the game. From Sir Ian Botham’s exchanges with Rod Marsh to Andrew Flintoff taunting Tino Best, there has always been an element of touching the line but not to go crashing headlong through it.
What everyone saw in Durban was a very sad way to end what had been a very absorbing and highly skilled game of Test match cricket. As Ian Chappell has said, the incident reflects poorly on everyone involved and that more severe punishments need to be handed out to stop this kind of behaviour before it gets any worse. Whilst you don’t want big players missing big series, taking a stronger line on this kind of incident would surely inhibit repeat episodes and perhaps even handing out longer bans for particularly poor behaviour or repeat offences would stamp this out.
There is absolutely no problem with playing hard, within the confines of the game itself, and quite often to succeed at the highest level you need to find a way of blocking everything else out. The art of ‘mental disintegration’ used so effectively by Australia under Steve Waugh’s captaincy saw an incredibly tough and successful outfit, but not one despised by their rivals. The send offs that the likes of Kohli and Warner give to players currently is nothing short of vitriolic and has no place in the game. It is not sledging, it is venomous and ugly.
At a time when Test cricket is constantly climbing back from the brink of the abyss, the game doesn’t need headlines about poor behaviour. We should have seen headlines about Aiden Markram’s brilliant defiance and then Starc’s ability to blow away the tail, but instead we got what we did. The ICC needs to start taking a firmer stance and in doing so, it will go some way to removing the events seen at Durban from the game.
By Andy Hunter