Rival captains Alastair Cook and MS Dhoni revealed very different approaches to the vexed question of verbal abuse ahead of the fourth Test between England and India at Old Trafford on Thursday.
The issue came to the fore after the International Cricket Council (ICC) confirmed they would not appeal against the decision of judicial commissioner Gordon Lewis to clear England’s James Anderson over allegations he pushed and abused India’s Ravindra Jadeja in the Trent Bridge pavilion during the drawn first Test in Nottingham.
But what is not in dispute is paceman Anderson’s fondness for ‘sledging’ out in the middle.
There have been several successful fast-bowlers, including Anderson’s Lancashire and England predecessor Brian Statham (252 Test wickets at 24.84 and more than 2,200 first-class wickets at the scarcely credible average of 16.37) who rarely, if ever, ‘sledged’ or verbally abused a batsman.
When Anderson started his international career he was not one for dishing out the ‘verbals’, but decided he needed to do so in order to get himself going.
And Cook doesn’t want his spearhead fast-bowler to do anything different at Old Trafford — Anderson’s Lancashire home ground.
“Of course there are little bits where Anderson might have overstepped the mark throughout his career, but you’d rather be on that line than too passive,” said Cook.
“I’ve been round for dinner with Anderson and he doesn’t use that language with mum and dad. That only happens when it’s important and that’s why he has that slightly split personality.”
When ‘banter’ became ‘abuse’
When Australia were the world’s dominant side in the 1990s and early 2000s, the belief grew that the way to succeed was to copy them in every respect – including their penchant for sledging or ‘mental disintegration’ — rather than by simply playing better cricket.
But inevitably, there were occasions when what one side considered ‘banter’ was deemed by their opponents to be ‘abuse’, hence the ICC’s introduction of a code of conduct.
Several India players were not shy of having a few words, even if purely English-speaking officials weren’t always sure of what they were saying — a source of confusion in the infamous ‘monkey’ row between Harbhajan Singh and Australia’s Andrew Symonds.
But Dhoni appeared to be calling for a return to a gentler age when he said Wednesday, “The world has changed and a lot of emphasis is put on winning games with so-called killer instinct but it has been misinterpreted a lot.
“You cannot really move ahead saying abuse is part of the game.”
Perhaps if more officials adopted the approach of now retired English umpire Dickie Bird, potential flashpoints might be stopped in their tracks.
One of Bird’s strengths was that he was able to manage and earn the respect of some of the more volatile players in the game, sometimes by using his infectious humour.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2014.
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