As regular readers of ASM Plus blogs will know, as well as being a sports mediator I am an avid follower of test cricket. I have greatly enjoyed following the quite recent hard-fought test match series between England and South Africa. I am posting this at a time when there is no competitive sport being played but perhaps the current inactivity will give cricket’s administrators an opportunity to reflect and consider making some improvements to the disciplinary structure.
During the series one thing that caught my eye was the reporting of the way that the match referees dealt with discipline lapses and breaches. There are defined levels of wrongdoing and in practice most fall within the scope of the less serious “Level I”.
But even these less serious disciplinary breaches are taken seriously and wrongdoers are given more than a cursory slap on the wrist. Following a summary investigative process, “guilty” players will normally be awarded one penalty point. Penalty points are cumulative and attaining four points in any two-year period would lead to an automatic one test match suspension, something that could at the very least stall a successful test playing career. Additionally, guilty players are invariably fined a substantial proportion of the match fee.
I was particularly struck by the comments made in respect of a one-point penalty and hefty fine that were awarded to a South African bowler who was considered to have celebrated excessively after taking the wicket of the English captain. It was reported in the media that the bowler in question had previously been awarded a penalty point and at first glance one might have thought that this was an instance of indiscipline that warranted the action taken.
One BBC commentator criticised the treatment meted out to this bowler as being excessive and questioned whether “celebrating” the taking of a test wicket really did warrant the combination of penalty point and a fine. He also noted that in the context of what many will see as a relatively minor infringement the awarding of the penalty point means that in theory at least the alleged wrongdoer has moved one step closer to the all-important four-point total.
The full results of the match referee’s enquiries into this incident have not been made known and, necessarily, any disciplinary related decisions that are made will be summary in nature. However, in the present instance there was no substantive suggestion of racial abuse, intimidation or violent conduct, and I agree the commentator’s viewpoint.
This commentator made the very valid point that the laws of cricket require that in each and every test match a minimum of 90 overs must be bowled each day and that on the innumerable occasions that this target is not met nothing significant is ever said either by the umpires, the match referee or indeed any International Cricket Council (ICC).
One particular effect of this is that the paying public and the television companies that pay considerable sums of money for transmission rights are short changed. Unfortunately, it seems that none of the officials responsible for administering and refereeing cricket care very much. If an English premiership football match was simply cut short there would be an outcry and the Football Association would investigate. However, international cricket is a different story.
The commentator queries whether this very important slow over rate issue is being overlooked. One implication of his comments is that players’ breaches are an easy target so that the ICC can be seen to be “doing something” and at the same time gloss over more fundamental failings.
One must be wary of criticising the ICC which, not least in the context of match fixing, has had some very significant issues to address. However, the match fixing issue demonstrates that in some respects at least it is a little too inward-looking and that a strategic rethink is due. Calling on management gurus or lawyers may achieve little more than the application of a system of reforms that may get ground down either in very costly subcommittees or consultative exercises and take years to implement.
Equally, the simple implementation of immediate punitive sanctions on current cricketers that some ex-players and commentators advocate could generate significant levels of resentment. Success would not be guaranteed and even the potential risk of a climbdown at a later date would be embarrassing for the ICC and tarnish its reputation.
A CT exercise overseen by a renowned expert such as ASM Plus’s Roy van den Brink Budgen would help the ICC undertake a simple but effective root and branch investigation of its rules and methods. It would also help the ICC to instigate a simple sequence of changes and improvements in both the fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost that the more conventional measures identified in the last paragraph would take. Staff, managers and directors would be involved at day one and a framework could be devised so as to address matters such as the over rate problem.
It might even be that the television companies, who have a lot to gain from any attendant improvements, would be prepared to contribute towards the modest cost of any such exercise. In showing that it really was serious about addressing the slow over rate and other issues, in all probability, the ICC’s reputation would be enhanced. The real benefactors would be the paying public whose unstinting support ensures the continuation of the very fine traditions that test cricket engenders.