December 15, 2016

Why the red-card proposal is important for grass-roots cricket

Players might soon be sent off the field for bad behaviour - though you probably won't see the punishment being enforced much in international cricket
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The kind of behaviour that could fetch you a red card late 2017 onwards © AFP

In less than a year, by October 2017 if meetings and procedures and decisions pass smoothly, umpires will be able to send players off the field and out of a game, turning a match, any match, into ten players versus 11. This was one of the recommendations made by the MCC's World Cricket Committee, which met in Mumbai just before the India v England Test last week. This is cricket's S-bomb. S for send-off.

That may seem over-dramatic; there is little chance of a send-off actually occurring in an international game. But if a provision for such finds its way into the laws of cricket, it marks a practical acceptance of the fact that while the spirit of the game is a noble idea, it certainly needs some teeth.

According to the recommendation, umpires at all levels will be able to pull out the symbolic red card when "serious disciplinary breaches" are committed by players on the field. These breaches are: threatening an umpire; physically assaulting a player, umpire, official or spectator; or any other act of violence on the field of play. In other words, Lillee v Miandad would definitely be send-off worthy. While in the case of the BBL's Warne v Samuels and the IPL's Pollard v Starc, it could largely depend on the umpire's mood on the night.

The MCC's World Cricket Committee (WCC) consists of 12 individuals, with Mike Brearley as chairman, John Stephenson as the MCC representative, and ten other former cricketers across countries and generations: Jimmy Adams, Charlotte Edwards, Sourav Ganguly, Rod Marsh, Tim May, Brendon McCullum, Ricky Ponting, Ramiz Raja, Kumar Sangakkara and Vince van der Bijl. While the WCC is funded and administered by the MCC, it is meant to be independent and meets twice a year.

In Mumbai the WCC was shown slides and videos of incidents from the game, particularly the infamous Bermuda brawl of September 2016. In a club final between Cleveland County CC and Willow Cuts CC, the Cleveland wicketkeeper, Jason Anderson, clouted a Willow Cuts batsman on the head, which led to a fiery on-field scrap. The WCC was also told that five English club matches in 2015 were abandoned because of on-field violence.

Of the 763 cricket umpires who were interviewed, with a majority being from club and recreational level, 21 said they had experienced physical abuse. An umpire from the Derbyshire leagues told BBC Radio Five Live that he had been spat at

Ramiz, current WCC member, told ESPNcricinfo that the new rule was meant to help umpires at the non-professional level - clubs, leagues, schools - because there is no strong deterrent against what is being seen as an increase in abuse at those levels of cricket, which has led to, the WCC was told, shrinking numbers of umpires willing to stand in games. "It is the lower tier of the game that needs this more - an in-match punishment for violent behaviour," Ramiz said. "It just gives a little bit more power to the umpire so that any act or threat by a player of physical violence will be red-carded and taken out of the game. Your team should also bear the consequences."

It was possible, he said, that incidents of physical threats and assaults may "not even be experienced… It is just arming an umpire in case something like this happens. Because it was felt that the other punishments are not as severe for an on-field physical assault as they should be." The Bermuda perpetrators were punished, but only later.

How might a situation be managed in an international match, where heated words can be the norm? What constitutes a physical threat worthy of a player being sent off in an ODI? I'm going to break your bones / crack your skull? Rearrange your face? Make sure you will never procreate? Fortunately for players and officials alike, it may never come down to having to categorise language as threatening or otherwise. The elite game is now policed by a match referee, four umpires and a dozen television cameras; there are detailed gradations of code-of-conduct violations, and suspension and demerit points are provided for.

The WCC must now put its recommendation to the MCC's cricket committee and get it - among other recommendations, about bat sizes and so on - pushed through into what will be the eighth edition of the Laws of Cricket. The ICC's own cricket committee, which meets in May 2017, will now study the WCC recommendations. It will then propose to the ICC Chief Executives' Committee (CEC) which recommendations should be accepted, which amended, and which ones need not be taken on board in the international game - because cricket is well-served by the ICC's own playing conditions and codes of conduct. The CEC will ratify these recommendations and, if approved, introduce them into international cricket from October 2017.

Research into player behaviour has found that a trend down the ranks often has its origins at the top. Dr Tom Webb and Dr Mike Rayner from the University of Portsmouth conducted three separate studies on abuse faced by referees and umpires in football, cricket and rugby union. The figures from football were almost predictable. When referees were asked how often they received what they considered verbal abuse, the distribution of responses - "every match" (22%), "every couple of matches" (38%), "a couple of times a season" (30%) - told their own stories.

Rugby union and cricket officials were asked, "Have you ever been a victim of verbal abuse as a referee/umpire?" In rugby union 53.7% of the respondents answered "yes"; for cricket the corresponding figure was 56.2%. Of the 763 cricket umpires who were interviewed "across pathways", said Webb, with a majority being from club and recreational level, 21 said they had experienced physical abuse. An umpire from the Derbyshire leagues told BBC Radio Five Live that he had been spat at.

Webb said football research had found that officials say that the kind of player behaviour on show at the elite level, in premier-league and international football, has a direct influence on lower-level games. "I can see the same in cricket. That is potentially something that can happen there as well." It is what the WCC recommendation aims to stamp out.

Send-off candidates? Gautam Gambhir and Simon Katich exchange pleasantries in the 2008 Delhi Test. Earlier in the match Gambhir and Shane Watson made physical contact © AFP

Football, as Webb said to ESPNcricinfo, has been a professionalised and therefore high-stakes sport for far longer than cricket or rugby union. The exposure to cricket and rugby at the highest levels continues to increase. With more exposure comes greater sponsorship, higher TV-rights value, and more money in the game, "and that means there's more at stake for players and coaches… and associated pressure on match officials". Like in football, where every decision from an official can have an "impact on the team's performance, where they finish in the league, therefore how much money they make and how much players and clubs make".

In the English summer of 2016, the MCC ran trials across certain leagues, schools and universities of the various sanction - from penalty runs to the player being sent off the field - to see their impact on player behaviour. The symbolic "red card", an MCC trials training document emphasises is not intended to replace established disciplinary procedures and that the "on-field and post-match systems operate in tandem and co-operation."*

Elite cricket's big recent dust-ups have come from franchise T20 cricket: Samuels v Warne and Starc v Pollard. Those were seen on TV and debated on social media but punished only off the field. There is little to stop the actions of elite cricketers on TV from influencing behaviour on club grounds and maidans around the world.

Before the arrival of neutral umpiring in the international game, it was, Ramiz said, "open war", which is how Lillee v Miandad came to be. The Bermuda incident looked to him like a throwback to the late '70s and '80s. Stories abound from first-class and club cricket everywhere of players getting into fistfights on the field and umpires being attacked.

An article in the Hindu this week recounted incidents from decades past, in which first-class umpires sent cricketers off the field for a session each in separate games. The umpires were Bomi Jamula and Vinayak Kulkarni, the players Vijay Mohan Raj, for sledging, and Sanjay Manjrekar, for comments about the officiating in the game in question.

Reactions of international match referees to the WCC ruling have not been forthcoming, but they are familiar with the individual quirks and temperaments of umpires. Darrell Hair armed with a red card would always have been eventful.

In terms of radical shifts in the laws of the game, the send-off could rank up there with playing cricket under lights. Except, unlike with floodlights, this latest move is focused not so much on shaking up elite players - who are well policed in disciplinary matters - but mostly those involved in the recreational game, and maybe T20 franchise cricket run by the many national boards. In the "cricketainment" stakes, you have to admit, removing a player from a game does rank pretty high.

*December 16, 8.40GMT: The paragraph about MCC trials in the 2016 summer was added to the original piece

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • MartinBriggs on December 18, 2016, 0:20 GMT

    @RIFFGAFFER - No, Darrell Hair would not have had the sending off sanction available to him for alleged ball tampering. This proposed new law amendment does NOT include for this and is primarily for serious violent conduct (assault, threats etc) against another player, umpire, official or spectator only. Similarly, it would not apply to persistent short-pitched bowling. It is only for present Level 4 disciplinary offences, which are as serious as they get. It appears as if many people are misunderstanding the whole concept and think umpires will be brandishing red cards for fun. They won't. The new law may well never, ever be used in international cricket. It is primarily to solve a perceived problem in recreational (particularly club) cricket below first-class level.

  • MartinBriggs on December 17, 2016, 6:27 GMT

    @Riffgaffer - What everyone must understand is that the proposed 'red card' is NOT to be used for ball-tampering offences, short-pitched bowling (Marshall didn't give 'Closey' a working over by the way), etc. Whilst the details are still to be sorted out, sendings off will only be applicable for what are now Level 4 offences as described in all articles on the subject, i.e. for violent conduct, threats and assaults and extreme cases of racism and sexism. Umpires will rarely, if ever, use them and it's likely that they will probably never be used in international cricket. As it stands, Darrell Hair could not have used the 'red card' in 2006. Shakkor Rana could possibly have done if he felt physically intimidated or threatened by Gatting, although this may have been stretching the point a little....

  • RiffGaffer on December 16, 2016, 22:49 GMT

    I wonder how this would have affected the spat between Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana. Clearly with neutral umpires my question is somewhat hypothetical at top level but if the player has a disagreement with the on-field arbitrator, he becomes somewhat muted. Another instance is Inzamam ul-Haq at the Oval in 2006 with Daryl Hair. If Hair had a red card available to him, could he have penalised the player he suspected of tampering? Would that have affected the protest?

    We'll never know of course, but it's hypotheses that keep us guessing. Where does it become too much? We've seen Marshall giving Closey a real working over. In the eyes of the umpire if that got to be too much...? I am not opposed to the idea but I want boundaries to be firmly constrained.

  • VisBal on December 16, 2016, 22:08 GMT

    @ DMQI: The proposal is for offences involving violence or threats of violence. Being sent off for the match is appropriate in such circumstances. That will give the player some time to think things over.

  • MartinBriggs on December 16, 2016, 20:09 GMT

    @CRICFAN86262610 - the 'red card' would be needed only on extremely rare occasions and only if there were physical threats, assaults or serious violent conduct against another player (either own or opposition), umpire, official or spectator. One would hope that instances of 'verbals', sledging or the like would not be allowed to develop into this state of affairs by the umpires. They have the same powers of warning a captain and the player as they've had for a number of years and can use them as early in the process as they wish. It's down to the umpires to manage and control the match as they see fit and telling the players what is acceptable and what quite plainly isn't. As Rowayton rightly says, he and close to 100% of panel umpires have never come anywhere near sending a player off. If we did so after 1 October 2017, it's fair to say that the offending player(s) deserves everything he gets.

  • cricfan86262610 on December 16, 2016, 17:19 GMT

    The comments by Rowayton and David Hopps intrigued me as they are both right, It points out the cultural differences of where and at what level cricket is played at. Grade cricket in Australia would be at a far higher level than a 3rd X1 club side in England. In the 70's and 80's grade cricket in Australia was tough and uncompromising. Players adhered to an "unwritten code" such as if a batsman was caught low to the ground by gully he might look at the fielder for a nod of acknowledgement and if received would walk. If a batsman on the other hand was deemed to be caught behind and didn't walk the abrasive language would start and the next ball would be around the ears. This was expected and would never reach a level requiring the proposed red card.This still happens today and Rowayton is right. At lower levels players lack this "give and take" ability and respond to perceived aggression inappropriately with umpire intervention the result. Escalation follows thus red card needed

  • MartinBriggs on December 16, 2016, 7:52 GMT

    @ALEXK400 - I don't really know what point you are trying to make. Umpires will not be "itching" to use this new law (it is a law, not a rule). The only incident in Test history which would have possibly attracted a sending-off (x2) under this new amendment is the Lillee/Miandad spat in 1981-82. It is for serious violent conduct against an umpire, another player or spectator only, NOT minor offences. Also, the ICC has no law-making powers whatsoever, the Laws come under the auspices of the MCC. Disciplinary matters, sanctions, the role of the Match Referee etc comes under ICC Match Regulations. Umpires only will be able to implement this new law during play. You can be assured it will be used extremely rarely and it's likely that it will never, ever be used in international cricket. I think you're barking up the wrong tree and over-dramatising things.....

  • Alexk400 on December 16, 2016, 6:42 GMT

    I always believe when you think negative , negative get attracted to you by choice. When you think evil , evil will surrounds you. Its nothing to do with karma. Same type hang out together. Law of universe. By providing this send off rule , Umpires will be itching to use them. The only place it will be used are in England and Australia on opposite teams. ICC mis use the power against weaker teams as though they are rag doll and don't question them back. Faf case is prime example of cherry picking things that suits the needs of the people in power. When you create something you must maintain it. In this you must use it. It reminded me of florida stand your ground law. Aussies and icc's do not innovate , they just create new law/scheme to cover their weakness and call it innovation.

  • MartinBriggs on December 16, 2016, 4:48 GMT

    @ALEXK400 - If a player is sent off for violent conduct or assault, his livelihood deserves to be affected. An umpire's well-being should never be in doubt, full stop. If it is by assault, threats or being spat at, that player should receive a lifetime ban and has no right to be on a cricket field again. Period.

  • MartinBriggs on December 16, 2016, 4:42 GMT

    @BUMSTEER - it's extremely unlikely that umpires will be issued with red cards or be the ones to instruct the player to leave the field. He will instruct the captain to remove the player from the field, in much the same way as instructing him to remove a bowler for beamer, protected area offences etc. If the captain or the player refuses to accept that instruction their side can be deemed to be refusing to play under Law 21 and could forfeit the match. The umpires are quite within their rights to take the bails off and end the game. A team doesn't have to be sat in the dressing room refusing to take the field for that law to be actioned. Also, there is some confusion over the scope of this law amendment. It covers what are serious Level 4 offences only, such as assaulting an umpire, player or spectator and other violent conduct. It does not cover ball tampering, sledging etc. I suggest that if an umpire is assaulted, threatened or spat at, most of us would abandon the game anyway.

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