Officials will soon be armed with new powers to banish ill-disciplined players from the field. It’s a positive move for the game from top to bottom.
Sending-off (the red-card kind, rather than the ‘Back to the nets!’ kind – that’s been going for a while) is set to be introduced to cricket in a bid to curb violence and threatening behaviour on the field.
The innovation was announced as part of a wide-ranging set of recommendations by the MCC World Cricket committee – an advisory body made up of a host of luminaries seeking to provide an independent voice for the good of the game.
The change – supported by ICC chief executive Dave Richardson and since approved by the main MCC committee – will come into effect at all levels in October 2017.
“Cricket is one of the only sports in which there is no ‘in-match’ punishment for poor behaviour,” the committee said. “A captain may ask his player to leave the field but the umpires have no such jurisdiction.”
The game requires a punishment that affects an offending player and their team immediately, the committee said.
“Even if the sanction is rarely used, its presence will act as a suitable deterrent, thereby leading to an improvement in behaviour.”
While it seems unlikely we’ll see the new ruling in action on the international stage (although you never know) the recommendation has been made with recreational cricket in mind in particular.
The committee added: “The decline in behaviour in the recreational game is having an adverse effect on the availability and willingness of people wanting to stand as umpires. The ECB Association of Cricket Officials (ACO) recognises this as a real problem and a recent survey by Portsmouth University showed that 40 per cent of British umpires said that episodes of abuse made them question whether or not to continue umpiring.”
As Nick Cousins, head of the ACO, told AOC for our feature on player behaviour in club cricket back in August, “last year there were five games abandoned because there was fighting on the field of play… The idea that you’d have a game abandoned because of fighting was once unheard of. And in each of those games the umpires can’t do anything. They’ve got no on-field authority to send people off. That’s why we at the ACO fully support and endorse the MCC’s proposal.”
As we’ve consistently highlighted at AOC, the issue of player conduct is a significant one for amateur cricketers. Notwithstanding actual physical violence, just a general atmosphere of unpleasantness understandably affects the willingness of people to play, let alone umpire. At a time when participation in cricket – and by extension, the future health of the entire game – is facing severe threats from multiple angles, behaviour is one area where it’s possible for the game to take an immediate stand. That’s why the new ruling should be welcomed: as much as anything for the message it sends out.
When it comes to the recreational game there will be plenty of complications introducing the change. Not least the fact that only a minority of amateur matches played are officiated by neutral umpires. In scenarios where there’s no proper arbiter – just players from the batting side flicking coins from hand to hand – no one will realistically have the authority to actually send someone from the field.
But even so, the move is worthwhile. Just as new technologies and the DRS has arguably been responsible for a subconscious eroding of the umpire’s authority that’s filtered down to the grassroots game, so this new statement by cricket at large can have its own subtle effect: by reminding players of all abilities that their on-field behaviour matters to us all.