Opinion – Cricket’s behavioural revolution needs to start with stump microphones.
Until we shame the game’s elite players into silence, we’ll continue to see club and schoolboy players suspended for abusing their peers.
The abandonment of a match between Napier Tech Old Boys and a Western Districts School Children’s Association XI last month wasn’t just an embarrassment for the offenders and their families. The fact a game of cricket in this country was called off due to repeated racial, homophobic and sexist slurs was an embarrassment to the entire sport.
To see that followed by a Naenae Old Boys player being banned from the remainder of the Wellington premier men’s club competition for calling a Victoria University batsman a “n…..” just defies belief.
Are we a nation of racists and homophobes? The honest answer is maybe.
But let’s not call this a societal issue. This is a problem almost unique to cricket, in that recent generations of fielding teams have been taught that batsmen are fair game. That what’s said on the field will stay on the field and that every form of vile abuse is acceptable.
Australia captain Tim Paine was made to look a fool, during his team’s recent test series against India, after stump microphones and cameras caught him telling batsman Ravichandran Ashwin he was a “d…….” whose own team-mates didn’t like him.
Stump microphones ought to be turned up all the time. Their audio is constantly in the ear of commentators and television production staff, for instance, who make vague references to a bit of “chat” going on out in the middle or cut to shots of the protagonists.
Well, let’s all hear it. Let’s all hear what grubs some of the players are. Then let’s see how quickly that “chat” suddenly disappears from the game.
Even at very junior levels of the game, players are told to chirp and told to clap between balls. To get in the batter’s ear and to try and put them under pressure.
Endless cries of “bowling mate” and the like – often delivered in a faux Australian accent – have become a staple of the age-group game, as players seek to emulate the inane chatter of those on TV.
When the story of international cricket is told, Australia’s Steve Waugh will feature relatively prominently. A doughty batsman and successful captain, Waugh is also synonymous with the term “mental disintegration”
That basically means making life unpleasant for the batsman and waiting for them to capitulate.
How many of us have heard second or third-hand stories about the things said to batsmen by Australian bowlers and fielders? How many of us have then cringed when New Zealand players sought to do the same?
Brendon McCullum set out to change that type of behaviour when he became Black Caps captain, then went further again after the on-field death of batsman Phillip Hughes in an Australian inter-state match.
Not that the notion of treating opponents with respect impressed everyone.
“They were that nice to us in New Zealand [during pool play] that we were that uncomfortable,” Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin said after the 2015 Cricket World Cup, in which his team beat the Black Caps in the final.
“I said in the team meeting: ‘I can’t stand for this anymore, we’re going at them as hard as we can [in the final].’
“I said, ‘I’m not playing cricket like this. If we get another crack at these guys in the final I’m letting everything [out].'”
Rightly or wrongly, we take our cues from Australia and their players, rather than our own. Australians are renowned for playing tough, hard, winning cricket and their methods have often been treated as foolproof.
Cricket would be no worse a game for discontinuing the practice of fielders swearing at batters. The quality of the contest would not suffer because we stopped allowing people to abuse each other on the basis of race or build or sexuality or hairline or whatever else.
And that starts at the top. That starts with the grubs among the game’s elite being exposed. It starts with fines and suspensions and public condemnation for abuse that would not pass muster in any other workplace.
Players regard the broadcast of stump microphone audio as an invasion of privacy. Or is it just concern that we might see and hear them for what they are?
Cricket has to change. It can’t continue to be a game that turns a deaf ear to abuse.
We have to turn the volume up on the stars of today to have any hope of building a better, more inclusive game for tomorrow.