Of Cricket, Controversies, and Change Management

Chandra JayaramakrishnanCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2009

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29:  (L-R)  Australian players Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden are seen along side Harbhajan Singh, assistant Indian team manager MV Sridhar and Sachin Tendulkar prior to the start of the appeal hearing against a three-match ban imposed on Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh by the ICC at the Adelaide Federal Court on January 29, 2008 in Adelaide, Australia. Harbhajan was charged with a level-three offence under the ICC Code of Conduct and given the three-match ban following an on-field incident with Andrew Symonds of Australia during day three of the second Test match between Australia and India.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

After a batsman had had his stumps flattened, Phil Tufnell turned to Christopher Martin-Jenkins and said, “He’s been feng shui’d.”

CM-J didn’t understand: “Feng shui’d? What do you mean?”

To which a delighted Tuffers replied, “He’s had his furniture rearranged.”

Controversies, in today’s game, can potentially Feng Shui the laws of cricket. The term refers to an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics that uses the laws of Heaven and Earth to help one improve life by receiving positive energy flow.

Controversies, though negative by nature, can induce positivity by bringing out the imperfectness within today’s game, and help us fans understand and appreciate the nuances of cricket.

We don’t love something because it’s perfect; it is because we accept its imperfectness. We are all ardent fans of the Gentleman’s game, even though we know it is high time the world chooses an alternative a.k.a for cricket.

Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) framed 42 laws (bound to increase as the sport globalizes) outlining all aspects of the game, and retains copyright in the laws – meaning that only MCC may change the laws after discussing with the game’s global governing body – the BCCI. Sorry, the ICC.

Right from the days of Nobleman and Gentleman, cricket’s earliest known code of rules, the sport has witnessed controversies that have, in most cases, proven beneficial to its future. The Monster Bat incident in 1771 refers to a game between Chertsey and Hambledon in which Chertsey’s Thomas White attempted using a bat as wide as the wicket.

A formal protest was lodged, and three years later, the laws stated that maximum width of the bat cannot exceed four and one quarter inches. Dennis Lillee, the Australian pacer, after carrying an Aluminum bat to the wicket, helped append the rule by specifying the material out of which the bat should be made—wood.

The Underarm bowling incident in 1981, which infamously put Greg and Trevor Chappell in the limelight, banned underarm bowling from International Cricket until, on a lighter note, Glen McGrath was red-carded by Billy Bowden in the first ever T-20 international between Australia and New Zealand.

Daryl Harper, an umpire from down under, sparked controversy after no-balling Muttiah Muralitharan for what we know today as chucking or throwing. Biomechanics were called into the sport for analyzing the bowler’s arm and seeing whether it exceeds 14.123456789 degrees, or whatever the number is. Further bowling laws were introduced.

Both on and off the field, the sport has witnessed enough incidents that have left many fans fuming, bemused and often, clueless. We’ve seen rebel tours, match-fixing, bookies making the headlines one day and on another day, we come across random elements named Mikeium and Dennessium, which possess atoms that react vigorously when exposed to excessive noise, stealing the thunder.

The consequences of most, if not all, of these events have been detrimental to the nature of the game.

I can understand why a South African would hate the Duckworth-Lewis system (leaving aside KP and AS for the time being), why no West Indian would be proud of the Antigua Recreation Ground, why every Pakistani would have felt let down by Darrel Hair, why every Indian would regret Kolkata 1996, and why everyone who love to watch a fair and sensible game will never browse through the Mendeleev’s Periodic Table!

I remember how furious I was after Australia won the BASHES (Bucknor Aided Series that Hedged and Edged Symonds) a few years ago—that is why I never call that series the Border-Gavaskar. I don’t mean to offend anyone here, but in a lighter vein, Symonds appeared to have hedged his wicket during his knock of 161/7, and Bucknor mitigated the risks involved.

I’m not tapping into that further as Andrew seems to have found a more suitable profession now—something similar to what weak batsmen tend to do against tempting balls outside off stump.

Controversies have often tested the character of the player involved, and the shrewdness of the umpire/official concerned. What often comes out of a controversy is probably ten percent of what it actually would have been. The information that reaches the public, in many cases, could be partly true or drastically incorrect.

The Ganguly-Chappell saga was a sad one, the aftermath of which saw many Indian cricketers expressing their displeasure over Greg Chappell and his methods. I still don’t know to date for certain who were all the players involved in the infamous match fixing scandal during South Africa’s tour of India.

After seeing Hansie Cronje and his ways on the field, the verdict was a bitter pill for many cricket fans to swallow. Laws can only be written for what happens on the field, but the focus is predominantly on what happens off it.

The beauty of a Tendulkar straight drive pales into insignificance when the headlines tinker over why a player arrived two minutes late to a team meeting. It often becomes worse if this player ends up twittering his experience (I’m not sure if I used the right term here as I am not there on Twitter).

Rules cannot be changed on a daily basis—we know the fact that the cricketing laws are a bit fuzzy by nature. The target inherently boils down to how little we can deviate from them. The Andrew Strauss-Graeme Smith incident is not something that the MCC can monitor and add No. 43—rather, it is individualism that stands out here.

As the game goes global, different characters will come into the foray. Decisions taken on the field will not be cricketing, but rather philosophical. It is just like walking—you walk, or stay and wait for the umpire to decide.

Some walk, some don’t walk, some may walk provided the opposite team didn’t field, say, a fisherman. Likewise, if you feel a batter is genuinely hurt, you give him a runner—the law can never order you to do so—fresh controversies will rise with respect to those who fake injuries otherwise.

It would be interesting to see how the ICC handles all this—especially if there is a push to redefine existing laws, or write new ones. This is bound to happen as more countries start embracing cricket.

Change will occur, and this change needs to be managed effectively. Controversies will occur, and they too, must be managed sensitively. As long as the game isn’t complicated further, fans can recline on their easy chair and watch an uninterrupted game of cricket.