Chris Waters: Gentlemen's game needs urgent intervention from cricket chiefs

PERHAPS it would have been better if David Warner and Quinton de Kock had actually come to blows during their heated exchange on the stairwell at the Kingsmead ground in Durban last week.

Australia's David Warner, left.
Australia's David Warner, left.

Because then it might just have shaken the game’s authorities into taking effective action against player misconduct.

Details of the verbal spat that marred the first Test between South Africa and Australia are perhaps best left to the imagination, particularly as they allegedly involved someone’s wife in response to other insulting remarks.

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Amid rumours and counter-rumours as to exactly what was said, with the blame game worthy of a children’s playground, the upshot was that Warner, the Australia vice-captain, was fined 75 per cent of his match fee and handed three demerit points and de Kock, the South African batsman/wicketkeeper, fined 25 per cent of his match fee and given one demerit point, pitifully inadequate sanctions in the context of cricket’s latest disfiguration.

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Had Warner not been physically restrained by team-mates as the players returned to their dressing rooms at tea on the fourth day, it is likely that yet another skirmish between classless sportsmen would have escalated into out-and-out violence.

As it was, with the footage captured on video and widely shared on social media, it was yet another blow to Test cricket at a time when the format is flagging and needs self-inflicted image problems like a gunshot wound.

Try telling that to some of the players, however, who apparently care even less for their own image and the legacy they will leave.

David Warner

When Warner hangs up his whites, for example, how will he chiefly be remembered – at least outside of his native land? As a magnificent batsman or, in the spirit of the sledging nonsense in which he excels, as a beeping beep? It is, of course, a rhetorical question.

It is not Warner and his imbecilic ilk who are the chief bone of contention hereabouts, however, for there is no law that says that sporting talent must go hand-in-hand with grey cells.

Rather, it is the authorities, match officials, captains and coaches who need to get their act together to rid the sport of verbal abuse which, one of these days, could well lead to skirmishes that have more in common with recent events outside a Bristol nightclub than the gentleman’s game that cricket once was, but sadly is no longer.

Indeed, as personal abuse flies around on cricket fields that would not sound out of place in drunken kebab queues on Saturday nights, filtering down into the club game, incidentally, it is surely only a matter of time before someone is physically attacked. Let us hope it does not take that – or worse – to rouse administrators from their collective inertia.

England's Alastair Cook (left) and South Africa's Quinton de Kock.

Suggestions that the tragic death of Phillip Hughes, the former Australia batsman, to a short ball in 2014 would somehow lead to a more considerate and respectful sport, if no less fiercely competitive, have been unmasked as hogwash by the very country that Hughes represented; there is no legacy for poor Hughes there.

Indeed, if there was a World Championship for crass behaviour, Australia would monopolise it in the same way that Manchester City monopolise the Premier League.

Of course, every country is culpable to some extent. England are hardly whiter than white – James Anderson has had his moments – and this is a game-wide problem.

But last week’s garbage cannot go on; in addition to Warner and de Kock, we also had the shoddy sight of Australia spinner Nathan Lyon deliberately dropping the ball near AB de Villiers as he lay prone on the ground after running him out. Not content with that cowardly send-off, it was followed by Warner madly screaming in the direction of de Villiers’s culpable batting partner, Aiden Markram, like some demented lunatic.

David Warner

When it comes to player behaviour in sport, it was legendary football manager Brian Clough who put it best.

“Discipline is too important to be left to players,” said Clough, who was as tough as they come but who famously hated his players baiting referees, for instance, and so stamped it out. It is an example that every cricket captain and coach should follow, rather than encouraging the antics that go on today.

Australia view sledging in simple terms – as a bona fide tactic that helps them win. They openly talk of pushing the line as far as possible while trying to stay on the right side of that line.

The problem is that Australia’s line goes well beyond what is acceptable and should not be theirs to draw in the first place. The only line that needs to be drawn is one of zero tolerance.

Strange as it may seem, sport is not just about winning. There is also a responsibility to the people watching, many of them children.

After the dust-ups in Durban, some have suggested the idea of red and yellow cards in cricket, which would at least keep the waxwork match officials busy, seeing as their mantra seems to be “see no evil, hear no evil”.

England's Alastair Cook (left) and South Africa's Quinton de Kock.

But if there were more Brian Clough-types around, people willing to stand up for what is right and to put their necks on the line, sledging and the like would not be a bona fide tactic at all but as obsolete as smoking in pubs.