Cricket council reviews code after “worst” behavior in years

March 29, 2018

Australian Cricket Captain Steve Smith speaks during a press conference at Sydney International Airport in Sydney, Thursday, March 29, 2018. Former Australian captain Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft were banned by Cricket Australia after an investigation into the attempted ball tampering during the third test against South Africa. (Brendan Esposito/AAP Image via AP)

The best batsman in test cricket has been banned for 12 months by his own bosses after he and two teammates finally crossed what Australians have long described but never fully explained as “the line.”

The International Cricket Council has decided enough is enough. The rules have existed for more than a century, but obviously not clearly enough. Cricket’s governing body can no longer abide by arbitrary interpretations of what constitutes what is right and what is wrong.

ICC chief executive David Richardson said he couldn’t let it go any further after seeing “a number of incidents of poor player behavior in recent weeks which has included ugly sledging, send-offs, dissent against umpires’ decisions, a walk-off and ball tampering.”

The hostile series between Australia and South Africa has had plenty of flash points, with players verbally abusing and physically intimidating each other on and off the field and even the crowd getting involved.

It reached its lowest point, though, when young Australian opener Cameron Bancroft was caught in a clumsy attempt at ball tampering — a plot apparently orchestrated by vice-captain David Warner and not stopped by captain Steve Smith — in the third cricket test in South Africa last weekend. That led to an outpouring of anger in Australia and calls of hypocrisy from the rest of the cricket world.

Smith was banned for one test by the ICC, but was more severely punished by Cricket Australia after an investigation into the cheating claims. Smith and Warner were banned for 12 months and Bancroft was suspended for nine months.

Australia coach Darren Lehmann watched emotional news conferences from Smith and Bancroft on their returns to Australia and, on the eve of the series-finale in Johannesburg, announced he also planned to quit. He’d earlier acknowledged there was a need for a shift in culture within the Australian team.

The combative Warner had already been in trouble following a confrontation with a South African player near the locker rooms in the second test in Port Elizabeth. In the same match, South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada had been banned for clashing with Smith before having the suspension overturned on appeal to the ICC.

Richardson said recent weeks have been “one of the worst periods in recent memory for consistently poor player behavior and the global outcry in relation to the ball tampering is a clear message to cricket: enough is enough.”

Some of the biggest stars of the game have been accused of ball tampering over the last three decades, but the sanctions have only ever extended to one or two games and fines. The first recorded case for an Australian test player upended that trend, though, with Cricket Australia reacting to public backlash not so much for ball tampering but because of the blatant conspiracy to cheat.

After promoting its national team as the moral compass of the rules for so long, Australian officials had little choice. Now there’s a push for a crackdown not only on ball tampering but on all kinds of on-field behavior in the international game.

“I must admit this has been an eye-opener for me personally. Ball-tampering around the world is considered cheating . I think we need to look at it again, and this is what has prompted this review,” Richardson said. “This is an opportunity for us to draw a line in the sand and say quite clearly fans are concerned about the way the game is played.

“The reaction . all around the world shows us that if we neglect the way the game is played, cricket is itself in danger.”

Richardson said respected ex-players, including the likes of former Australia captain Allan Border and West Indies leader Richie Richardson, would be invited to join lawmakers on a panel to review the player code of conduct and ensure it is made clearer,

The review will focus on the Code of Conduct, assessing the levels of offenses based on seriousness, working to more clearly define the conduct that will constitute each offense and determine what sanctions should apply.

Richardson said the “Spirit of cricket” — which has long existed but may lack some clarity in the modern era — should be based on a culture of respect.

Cricket has long been considered a genteel game, where the umpire’s decision is final and the rules were accepted rather than enforced.

In the ultra-professional era and with the implementation of TV umpires and video referrals, that no longer seems to be the case.

“This is a real opportunity for us to take a hard look at the game,” Richardson said. “That definition of ’It’s just not cricket.” Well, we’ve got an obligation to make sure that becomes still a relevant phrase in the English language going forward.”

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