Code of conduct for cricketers and democracy in Cricket

“We were soft on our batting. It’s always difficult to chase 180+. We lost momentum in the middle, and not to forget Smith got a horrible decision. We need to lift our game…”, uttered the defeated captain of the Chennai Super Kings in the post-match presentation. Soon, he was fined for questioning the umpire’s decision.

The cerebral cortex of my brain elucidates that this is not the first time it has happened. Players, in the past too have had their match fees pilfered for making their indignation clear when inflicted with scornfully wrongful decisions. We, the fans at least have the ability to scream expletives at the umpire in social media. What else do you expect me to do other than pitying those oppressed cricketers who have their voices ransacked by cricket’s codes of conducts?

I saunter along my memory lanes which still have a few shredded pieces of pages from the history books, I was coerced to lap up during my childhood, strewn along itself and find no difference between the way the hypocritical ethos of the elites of the medieval Europe functioned and the way “Codes of conducts for cricketers” function.

Having lived in a country through times of political turbulence and having just had a regime that oppressed the media and the freedom of expression of people deposed, I am utterly shocked that cricket still sustains the hideous relics of the ugly bygone epoch in its codes.

Considering some of the punishments that were handed out to people all over the world over the years for speaking out against a particular regime, the ICC is only slightly moderate in dealing with criticisms, in a way that it only consigns fines and match bans. But under all counts the denizens have their right to express themselves breached.

The Codes of Conducts for players is in 4 different levels, each level addressing different intensities of misbehaviours in the ascending order. All four levels have clauses that address showing dissent at the umpires.

Level 1 offences need a look-in

However, my concern is primarily around the Level 1 offences which even deem elementary human responses to unfairness wicked. A level 1 offence for showing dissent at an umpire’s decision entails.

(a) excessive, obvious disappointment with an Umpire’s decision; (b) an obvious delay in resuming play or leaving the wicket; (c) shaking the head; (d) pointing or looking at the inside edge when given out lbw; (e) pointing to the pad or rubbing the shoulder when caught behind; (f) snatching the cap from the Umpire; (g) requesting a referral to the TV Umpire (other than in the context of a legitimate request for a referral as may be permitted in such International Match); and (h) arguing or entering into a prolonged discussion with the Umpire about his decision.

Yes, you cannot shake your head, rub your shoulders or even look at your bat’s inside edge even if you are at the receiving end of an unfair decision. In a world that is actively accepting human emotions and embracing liberalism, cricket is yet to reach renaissance and is still stuck to its medieval past.

Article 2.1.7 saves the officials from any criticisms.

Without limitation, Players and Player Support Personnel will breach Article 2.1.7 if they publicly criticise the Match officials or denigrate a Player or team against which they have played in relation to incidents which occurred in an International Match

After all, why are umpires vested with such moral authority, that even when they make errors it guards them from being criticized, while even the chief justice of a state does not have such prerogatives? Was it because at the nascent period of cricket it was the elites and the learned who were entrusted with the responsibility of making a neutral decision when the yeomen bowled at the noble aristocrats?

Be that as it may, in the modern era, umpires are mere enforcers of cricketing laws. Rules govern the game and umpires enforce law by making decisions in accordance with the laws. Hence, they have no authority nor do they merit positional respect. One should not bow down to authority but obey the law.

Umpires are mere mortals who are paid for making decisions on field. Then, is it right for cricket to elevate them to the level of almighty and liberate them from any repercussions?

I do not concur with the need to comply with an erroneous decision by the umpire, let alone having to suppress one’s natural propensity of showing dissent out of indignation. An error is an error no matter who makes it. Just because the error is made at an authoritative level does not mean one needs to condone it.

The need to have DRS

In the bygone era, when there were no TV replays or use of technology to evaluate what has exactly transpired, the haloed moral authority vested to the umpires may have made sense. But when you have super motion replays that show you precisely what happens each and every milli second, do we have to put up with mockingly flawed decisions? Do you have to silently walk away having been given wrongfully out when the giant screen behind you shows replays of the ball clearly missing the edge?

Here is where DRS is needed. Much has been written and said about this controversial subject and debates on it better be reserved to another article. But the concern of the article is at least allowing the players to show some acceptable emotions when meted out with injustice.

The annals of cricket have several parables which reinstate the position of umpires as mere mortals in the face of cricket granting them heavenly attributes.

28 years ago, Shakoor Rana, the square leg umpire, cried raw expletives at Mike Gatting and even called him a f***ing cheat during a time when Pakistani umpires were invariably notorious for blatant prejudice.

16 years ago a man by the name Ross Emerson no-balled Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan for alleged chucking after orders from an Australian Cricketing Official. Had it not been for the gallant Arjuna Ranatunga, Muralitharan’s career would have hit a dead end, then. Two years later, umpires BC Cooray and Rudi Koertzen would declare Sanath Jayasuriya out for giving a one bounce catch to Graham Thorpe at the slip cordon.

Fast forward 6 years and Rudi Koertzen will be the culprit of another cringe worthy decision as he ruled Sangakkara out on 192 after the ball soared up in the air after deflecting off his shoulders onto the helmet.

The Oval became a theatre of war when Darrel hair awarded the English team five penalty runs as he accused the Pakistanis of ball tampering. Inzamam-ul-Haq’s men refused to take the field and the match was awarded to England on the grounds of forfeiture. Later, Ranjan Madugalle the match referee would exonerate Inzamam from the offense citing “there is sufficiently cogent evidence that the fielding team had taken action likely to interfere with the condition of the ball”

Even in the contemporary year, England’s James Taylor was denied a century when he was declared run out off a dead ball which made the ICC apologize later. If you are an Indian reading this, it is all too natural that scenes of the Sydney Test in 2008 come into your eyes.

Umpire Asad Rauf was charged with illegal betting, cheating and fraud in a Mumbai court and also found himself in a spot fixing controversy during the IPL in 2013, all, while still being a member of the Elite Umpires’ panel.

All what the aforementioned show is that umpires are prone to the basic human attribute of making mistakes. Then, why is that criticizing their mistakes and showing dissent considered a blasphemy?

By saying players should be allowed to express their emotions does not mean that abuses and racial slurs need to be tolerated. The Levels 2-4 address severe dissents. And they help maintain disciplinary standards within and out of the playing area. However, the level 1 is an absolute mockery of basic human rights.

If criticism of the government can bring good governance, then why can’t constructive criticism of umpires bring good umpiring? The media is known as the watchdog of the government for it constantly watches over and criticizes the government over how it deals with the three estates of a state. Has cricket got its watchdog? Do umpiring has a watchdog?

Cricket needs to ensure that the freedom of expression of the players is established firmly to ensure that there is democracy in the way cricket functions.

But criticizing the officials’ decision is not the only place where cricketers have their rights reneged. How many active cricketers can have a say in the rule changes ICC constantly brings to the game of cricket. And how many cricketers actually are enfranchised to elect the board that controls them? If a citizen of the country can vote to choose who rules over him why can’t cricketers do the same to elect the board officials? And how transparent is the process of electing members to the cricket controlling bodies?

Furthermore, certain boards have made it a norm to ban players from speaking to the media. Kumar Sangakkara was gagged by the then secretary of Sri Lanka Cricket, Nishantha Ranatunga after he brought the politics within SLC to light in his much acclaimed MCC lecture in 2011. If SLC has the right to leak private emails exchanged between the cricketers and the board officials, why is it wrong for players to voice their concerns?

Sports, in this world has in more than one occasion played a part in instilling democracy. Zinedine Zidane’s headers in the 1998 football world cup final helped thwart the then French government’s acts against the Algerians in France. When Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wanted to denounce the lack of democracy in their cricket, they wore black armbands while playing cricket to mourn the death of democracy. Sports has helped democracy, but how is it if there is no democracy within sports?

In the first qualifier of the IPL 2015, umpire Illingworth declared Dwayne Smith out when a low full toss struck him way outside the leg stump. Cricinfo called it an ‘atrocious’ decision. Dhoni said it was ‘horrible’. And the IPL governing council scowled at Dhoni’s decision to comment on the umpire’s decision. In reality, the decision was not just atrocious or horrible, it was a lot more than that- a downright ludicrous amateurish and deplorable decision. But hey hush! Players are not supposed to say a word about it.

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