Jadeja v Anderson: why making a complaint was the right thing to do!

I have read with much amusement the shenanigans going on between the England and India test match cricket teams in England this week.  For those how have missed it here is a summation of what has gone on:

  • James Anderson (England) and Ravindra Jadeja (India) were involved in a verbal altercation during the first test at Trent Bridge last week.
  • That altercation continued after the players adjourned from the field for a lunch break which lead to a physical altercation.
  • Said altercation was not witnessed by the umpires and no report was made to the match referee, David Boon, about it.
  • When the Indian team raised the matter with Boon he suggested the teams work it out amongst themselves.
  • India, not sated, complained to higher-ups within the ICC leading to Anderson being charged with a Level 3 breach of the ICC Code of Conduct.
  • England have made a complaint now against the Jadeja.

Much has been made in the competing press about the charges and whether India should have pushed the matter the way that they have.  The fact is that I think they were 100% right to make the complaint they did and here is why:

  • The issue of player behaviour on the field is one that has been festering for some time.  I have no cavil with sledging, as I have written about before, but increasingly, particularly in situations where one team is on top in a game, we are seeing overt discussions between opposing players that continue for more than just a ball but for overs on end and, indeed, whole days of play.  This is, at best, ugly, and, at worst, not in the spirit of the game.  The fact that another such incident spilled over the change rooms might be OK in country cricket but it can not be acceptable at the top level of the game.
  • The days of players “going around the back of the pavilion” to sort out a problem are long gone.  Anyone cogently suggesting that the players should have been left to their own devices to do that is not instep with current community values.
  • James Anderson is a serial offender when it comes to going to too far when it comes to sledging and on field aggression and, one suspects, the fact that he has not been brought into line played a part in his poor conduct on this occasion.  Let’s not forget that in all of the kerfuffle about Michael Clarke’s threat to “break Anderson’s arm” in the first test at the Gabba in 2013 it was Anderson who had threatened physical violence against George Bailey that lead to that confrontation.

There is a lot of anger and aggression, it would seem, between certain teams in international cricket at the moment.  It seems every game involving Australia, South Africa, England and India (or a combination of any of them) includes an unseemly incident or series of incidents between the teams.  The fact that one of those incidents has spilled over to an off the field incident necessarily requires a strong response and by complaining to the ICC, India should be applauded for the stand they are taking.

PostScript: It is not lost on me that India are often the most aggressive of teams in that list noted above and, indeed, it might be considered hypocritical for them to be such an active complainant here.  I concede that their conduct is not blameless but at some point someone has to take a stand and I am glad that someone had regardless of who it is or how hypocritical it might be.

Cricket: The 2014/15 Schedule … Biggest winner = BCCI

Cricket Australia yesterday announced the schedule for the test matches to be played between Australia and India in the 2014/15 season.

This announcement had been much anticipated given that there are only to be four test matches played in Australia in summer 2014/15 in the lead up to the World Cup which takes place in February / March 2015. That meant that one of the traditional venues (if you don’t count Bellerive Oval) would be missing out and it was announced yesterday that that venue is Perth.

This is a somewhat unexpected result given the obvious preference of Channel 9 to have a test match held in prime time to allow for maximum viewing coverage in the Eastern states. At least, I had thought it was unexpected till I thought about how this sets up the series now for the combatants. Simply: after playing the first test at the Gabba, widely regarded as the best wicket in the land, the final three tests will take place on our most benign of surfaces in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. That scheduling plays right into the hands of the Indians doesn’t it?

Of course it does: with their phalanx of flat track bully batters combined with the best spin bowlers in the world (outside of G Swann) they will now play Australia in three of four test matches at venues that will suit their style of play rather than the hosts.

This is yet another example of Cricket Australia not scheduling to give Australia the best chance to win and, rather, chase the dollars that comes from the BCCI touring and being happy. If India are losing then the TVs in India will be turned off which will leave the BCCI unhappy which is not a situation, seemingly, that Cricket Australia could countenance.

It is utterly ridiculous for Cricket Australia to have not scheduled a test match in Perth where, aside from fixtures where South Africa’s pacemen have dominated, Australia has been largely undefeatable. I, for one, would have looked at ditching the Sydney Test match from the schedule and retaining the test match in Perth. Now before Sydney fans eviscerate me consider this: the SCG plays host to a Quarter and a Semi final of the World Cup and thus, arguably, will have enough “big” cricket to replace the test match.

Of course, the removal of the Adelaide test match was also an option however that option was always going to be unlikely given that the Adelaide Oval seems to be the metaphorical darling of Cricket Australia at present with it having received a World Cup Quarter final over competing claims from Perth and Brisbane.

I know this is sacrilege to suggest but if winning was the goal Cricket Australia needed to bite the bullet and schedule a test match in Perth and ditch either of the Adelaide or Sydney tests. Actually, come to think of it, if winning was the goal then a test match on the minefield that is the Bellerive Oval pitch would also have been preferable that playing on the benign wickets that will be thrown at the Indians when they tour.

Unfortunately, based on current evidence, the goal of winning remains secondary to that of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for those at Cricket Australia Towers. When will they learn?

Cricket’s Decision Review System: a time for change?

The Decision Review System (DRS) is again in the press this week after the International Cricket Council’s Chief Executives Committee (CEC) meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

The CEC recommended to the Board of the ICC that the DRS system be universally applied and be mandatory for all Tests and One Day Internationals.  An important caveat was put the “mandatory” usage of this technology in that its usage is “subject to the Members’ ability to finance and obtain the required technology”.

Before wading into this debate, it is important to establish some key factual matters:

  1. The DRS is presently used when both combatants agree to its usage.
  2. The Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) has consistently declined to agree to DRS being used in fixtures it’s team is involved in.
  3. Presently, the Sri Lankan Cricket Board can not afford to use DRS technology and thus the present Sri Lanka v Pakistan Test Series being played in Sri Lanka is going without it.
  4. The current system for referrals to DRS sees each side have the opportunity to refer an unlimited amount of decisions of the umpires until they get two referrals incorrect.

The decision of the ICC CEC is obviously a step forward for cricket and the efforts of the CEC ought be acknowledged with acclamation.  The problem is: the decision does not mean anything will change.  There are two reasons for this:

  1. The BCCI have, since the announcement of the CEC’s recommendation and consistent with their previous practice, shown significant reticence to accept the use of the DRS technology in any form.
  2. There are cricket boards of control who simply can not afford the technology which means we will still see series occur where the technology will not be used.

I should declare here that I have no cavil with the BCCI using its power in world cricket to shape the game the way they wish it to be played.  Simply put, the present state of affairs is nothing different to when the MCC ran the game from Lords and the cards were stacked heavily in favour in the anglo-saxon teams.  Whilst I would prefer that a decision was made in the interests of the game rather than one particular team, they have earned the right, through the dollars that they bring to the game, to act in their own interests.

One issue that I am not fully across is why it is the each member board that is required to go to the expense of supplying DRS technology.  I would have thought it would be a natural extension of the ICC CEC’s recommendation that the ICC would foot the bill for making the technology available.  That issue is, perhaps, a topic for further exploration in a later post.

The fact remains though that we, as cricket fans, are likely to be in the same position as we were last year when it comes to the usage or otherwise of DRS technology despite the ICC CEC’s recommendation. 

That being the case, I have had pause to consider how the technology is actually used.  It seems to me that now is a time, whilst the use of the technology can only be considered to be experimental (given it’s semi regular use), to, on the one hand to ponder whether we ought be using the technology at all and, on the other hand, whether the technology could be used in a better fashion.

A regular theme of my writing on this blog has been the question of respecting match officials. The advent of the technology that lead to the introduction of DRS has been the catalyst for cricket officials being under more scrutiny than they ever have before.  Pre-DRS for every wicket there was 10 minutes of analysis of whether the umpire had gotten the decision correct.  This fact of itself it must be said has seen a diminution of the maxim “the umpire is always right” to the point that, on the question of no balls for example, we are increasingly seeing the umpires themselves questioning their own decisions. 

When I started writing this piece, my central premise was that if we could not have DRS everywhere because of financial constraints then the ICC board should decide to ban its use.  However on reflection and as my ideas have formed on the page I think that premise and argument is mistaken.  Removing the technology on a blanket basis will not stop the scrutiny on umpires nor the questioning of their decisions.  Indeed, if the present series in Sri Lanka is anything to go by, the questioning of umpires and their decisions will only increase in a non-DRS environment. That being the case, I am of the view that DRS should be used where it is available.

The question remains then as to how DRS ought be used.  The current system, being that the captain of each team can challenge the decisions of the umpires, is the epitome of failing to respect the decision of the umpire.  Simply put, I do not like it and I do not think it is good for the game.  The use of the technology ought not be at the election of the captains of either side. 

An option oft suggested is that DRS should be engaged in a review of each decision made on the field.  I do not agree with this for two reasons:

  1. A review of every decision will already make a day of cricket longer than it needs to be.  The long form of the game is facing challenges from many angles internal and external for viewership and extending play even longer will not make the game more popular.
  2. It is a very short step from a review of every decision to there not being umpires on the field at all. 

It strikes me that the best system has to be one that rests the control of the use of DRS technology in the hands of the umpires themselves.  Much like the system used for the Television Match Official in rugby league and rugby union, in the system for using DRS that I envisage the first port of call for any decision would be with the umpire however if the umpire is not sure then he can call for assistance.  In my DRS utopia, the umpire would have three decisions available to him:

  1. Give the batsman out;
  2. Give the batsman not out; and
  3. Refer the decision to the TMO.

I consider that having the umpire make the decision and then refer it only leads to more confusion and questioning of umpires particularly if the umpire’s decision on review is reversed.  If the umpire’s decision to refer forms one of the three decisions that can be made then the prospect of an umpire being overruled fades away.  If a referral is made it would then be solely the province of the TMO going on all the evidence he has available to him to make the decision.  

For example, it is a breezy day at the Gabba for day one of the 2014 Ashes: there is a packed house as fans are desperate to see whether England can compete with Australia having been beaten 5-0 in the 2013 series.  The first ball is bowled to Alistair Cook by Pat Cummins and whilst the umpire hears no noise the ball deviates after it passes the bat and a raucous appeal follows.  The umpire’s immediate thought would be (and for anyone wondering I have been an umpire at sub-district and school level) that there is doubt because he did not hear a sound.  If the umpire has the ability to refer the decision to the TMO he does it immediately WITHOUT making a decision because that doubt means he can not be certain Cooke hit it.   The TMO then makes the decision.

This is the system that the cricket authorities should be trialing whilst DRS technology is not available in every test playing country.  It is more equitable to all concerned and does not lead to captains of cricket teams being openly in conflict with the umpires who are supposed to govern how a game is run once the players enter the arena. 

All things being considered then it is my view that there is now an opportunity for the authorities to change the way DRS is used to make it both more effective and more respectful to those officiating the matches.  I have no doubt that they will not try using the system this way but one can only continue to hope that one day the interests of all stakeholders (including the umpires whose interests are so regularly kept out of the debate) will be considered in the great DRS debate.