A fast bowler brushes shirt sleeves with the opposition captain after just having got him out, not intentionally perhaps, but in the midst of a violent fury of celebration.
The same fast bowler gets in the face of the opposition’s opening batsman after getting him out later in the same match.
Halfway across the world, an international captain waves to his players to walk off the field in the middle of the final over of a Twenty20 International. The reason? The captain wasn’t happy with a non no-ball call.
There is a shattered dressing room-door which, reports say, is the doing of the captain himself after over-exuberant celebrations when his team win the match against the odds.
And that same match has a substitute fielder getting into an ugly, angry exchange with the home captain, which seemed a hair’s breadth away from descending into an actual brawl.
If the events of the past few days in international cricket and the various sagas that Kagiso Rabada, Shakib Al Hasan and Nurul Hasan got embroiled in have proved anything, it was that the International Cricket Council might need to have a closer look at how its demerit points work.
On a common-sense level, you cannot have a Rabada getting one demerit point for getting into David Warner’s face, while both Shakib and Nurul also get a demerit point each. Shakib very clearly was trying to stage a walkout because he was upset with an umpiring call. The umpires may have erred, but if teams start walking off the field every time there’s an umpiring error, we’re going to have a lot of toing and froing from middle to pavilion and back. And after the match, Shakib even tried to pass it off as him telling the batsmen to stay in the middle. “I wasn’t calling them back. I was telling them to play. You can describe it both ways. It depends on how you see it,” he said.
Why the Bangladesh captain felt the need to come out to the boundary line in the middle of an over merely to tell his batsmen to play was not explained. From Shakib’s explanation, you would think that in international cricket matches, it is routine for captains to come outside in the middle of the match and ask their players to carry on. That it is normal to expect that if the captain doesn’t come out from time to time, there will be walk-outs. That thinking that the game will go on normally, as it has always done, is folly.
The offence, and the blatant lie – there’s no other way to describe Shakib’s words – should have attracted greater censure than a single demerit point. Especially if you consider other instances when a demerit point has been handed out – clapping off a batsman, being picked up swearing on the stump mic, and the like. And the shattered remains of glass outside the Bangladesh dressing room haven’t even been addressed yet. If no culprit could be reasonably determined, then the whole team can be sanctioned. To avoid that, it is natural that whoever the culprit is will own up.
And what about Nurul? If getting into an opposition cricketer’s face gets one demerit point, getting into the face while not even being part of the XI, or on as a substitute, should logically bring greater censure. You are bringing unpleasantness from beyond the boundary into the field. Not that bowlers giving send-offs to batsmen is a pleasant sight, but at least that’s between two competitors who have both probably been in the heat of the battle.
On a common-sense level, you cannot have a Rabada getting one demerit point for getting into David Warner’s face, while both Shakib and Nurul also get a demerit point each. Shakib very clearly was trying to stage a walkout because he was upset with an umpiring call. The umpires may have erred, but if teams start walking off the field every time there’s an umpiring error, we’re going to have a lot of toing and froing from middle to pavilion and back. And after the match, Shakib even tried to pass it off as him telling the batsmen to stay in the middle.
In Rabada’s brushing against Steven Smith case, there is a different sort of egg on the face of the decision-making process. Jeff Crowe, the match referee, ruled, “I found that there was contact between Rabada and Smith, and in my judgement the contact by Rabada was inappropriate, and deliberate. He had the opportunity to avoid the contact, and I could not see any evidence to support the argument that the contact was accidental.”
The video of the incident is far from conclusive about this. Crowe seems satisfied that the contact was deliberate, but on what concrete basis he arrived at that is a little baffling. Rabada was moving towards a teammate to celebrate Smith’s fall, while Smith himself was walking straight and holding his line. Whether it was a case of being too charged up and not noticing he was too close to Smith – as Rabada claimed – or it was a case of misplaced machismo that urged Rabada to not veer from his path even if it meant physical contact with Smith, who can reasonably know?
In the absence of damning evidence, Crowe chose to go with the option of ruling guilty. Was it any surprise at all that South Africa chose to appeal, appointed a high-powered lawyer in Dali Mpofu, and won the appeal?
Perhaps Crowe’s statement that, “It is also disappointing that this has happened the day after the pre-match meeting I had with both teams, where the importance of respect for opponents was highlighted” held a clue. The match referee clearly felt that the Rabada-Smith incident had to be seen in the larger context of a series which had already seen a lot of unpleasantness via Warner’s tirade at Quinton de Kock, and that he had already spoken to both sides about toning it down. In the light of that, Rabada’s transgression might seem greater than it is, especially in Crowe’s eyes.
But therein lies the problem. If there is going to be subjectivity to such extremes in decision-making, there is bound to be a lot of accompanying angst about the merits and, forgive the pun, demerits of the process.
And the ICC has to find a way around that.