Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Playing the game

A lot of fuss has been made about a rather baffling incident in the Indian first innings at Trent Bridge. What seems to have happened is that Alistair Cook scattered one or two jelly beans at the crease when Zaheer Khan came in to bat. This, apparently, was a reference to Khan's soft centre as a batsman. Given that India were some 200 runs ahead of England by the time Khan came in, you might think that the gesture was mis-directed. Perhaps Khan should have called to the dressing room for some pies for the England bowlers to throw to him, or maybe a powder puff.

Be that as it may, the incident has caused ruffled feathers in the Indian camp and a mild outbreak of 'what's the world coming to?' in the press. But it has to be said that, as sledging goes, this is absurdly low key. Another sledge was supposed to have been as follows:

“I’m driving a Porsche Carrera; what’s your car?” was one question picked up by the stump microphone this week when England were trying to unsettle an India batsman. That sort of tactic is not only not clever, or acceptable; it is also an illegal attempt to distract the batsman.

This is what passes for sledging these days? Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee would be turning in their graves. If either of them were dead that is. 'Mental disintegration' has a long and chequered history - with sledges ranging from the genuinely amusing, such as when Shane Warne asked for a fielder 'right under Nasser [Hussain's] nose' and proceeded to place him some 15 yards from the bat, to the tediously aggressive, such as, to be honest, most of the rest of it. Endless streams of swear words are dull and lowering - making the whole game less fun. This is becoming almost ubiquitous even in club cricket where most proponents lack the wit to say anything amusing and instead rely on abuse.

On the whole, therefore, I'd have to say that jelly beans are pretty trivial. Where the game in Trent Bridge got truly nasty was in the behaviour of Sreesanth. One incident of transgressive hostility can be regarded as an aberration, but Sreesanth had three strikes. First he bowled a beamer at Kevin Pietersen. Then he ran through the crease to bowl a bouncer at Collingwood. And finally he shoulder-barged England captain Michael Vaughan. He has forfeited half his match fee for the shoulder charge, but that was the least of his offences.

Beamers, head high full tosses from faster bowlers, are a serious offence, and risk causing serious injury. Batsman facing quick bowlers have between a quarter and a half of a second between the ball leaving the bowler's hand and it arriving. Consequently, the eyes are focused on the areas where the ball will pitch - there isn't time to allow for a high full toss. A beamer therefore comes out of the batsman's blind spot, giving him less than a fraction of a second to spot it. Couple that to the fact that the ball will not be slowed by contact with the pitch, and a beamer has the capacity seriously to injure the batsman. They are, of course, strictly against the laws of the game.

There is a good argument moreover, that should an injury to the batsman result, they are contrary to the laws of the land. In Australia recently, an amateur rugby player sued an opponent who badly injured him in an illegal spear tackle. The traditional line that, by taking part in a sporting occasion, the player had consented to the risk of injury was defeated by the fact that spear tackles, like beamers, are contrary to the laws of the game, and hence the player would not have consented to them. If Sreesanth had hit Pietersen and badly injured him, there would have been a good case for a civil case. This is serious stuff.
As for running through the crease to bowl short at Collingwood, this was almost certainly deliberate - it's not possible to go a yard over the bowling crease without being aware of it. It was designed to hit the batsman and, though not as serious as bowling beamers, is utterly contrary to both the laws and the spirit of the game. This isn't at all a targeted criticism of Indian cricket - many other teams are guilty of similar transgressions - but it seems odd that the focus of attention is on jelly beans, which whatever else they are are hardly life-threatening, when far more serious breaches of the game were taking place at the same time.
UPDATE: I should point out that Alistair Cook denies being the bean merchant, I am a fruit pastille man myself.

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