ICC boss labels Waugh of words a waste
Chief executive Richardson calls out sledging, umpire criticism and revisits four-day Tests concept in his Cowdrey Lecture
8 August 2018, 05:41 PM AEST
As a lieutenant in a combative South Africa unit during a hard-nosed era of international cricket throughout the 1990s, incumbent ICC boss David Richardson saw sufficient 'trash-talking' of opponents to realise it's a worthless ploy.
To validate his view, Richardson points to a barb that his former Proteas' teammate Pat Symcox aimed at then 25-year-old Matthew Hayden who was struggling to hold his place in Australia's Test team during their 1997 tour of South Africa.
Hayden, already in his second incarnation as a Test opener having spent three years on the outer after failing in his debut game on the previous visit to South Africa, went to the middle for the final match of the 1997 campaign having scored just 64 in his four previous innings in the Baggy Green Cap.
"As he walked into bat past Pat Symcox at gully, Pat said 'don't worry Matt, Don Bradman also made a duck in his last Test innings'," Richardson recounted in delivering the Marylebone Cricket Club's 'Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture' at Lord's this week.
"He actually did make a duck in (that) Test innings, but a little later he came back for the second part of his career with extraordinary success, including a record-breaking tally of runs against South Africa in a later series."
The fact that Hayden plundered three centuries and averaged 107 when the nation's next met on the Test arena convinced Richardson that verbal warfare often results in self-inflicted injury, as was regularly the case with former Australia captain Steve Waugh.
Who Richardson noted his team would try to rile by asking him while he was batting "what it was like to be the unpopular twin, with Mark getting all the toys when they were growing up".
The older Waugh twin averaged a shade below 50 (49.87) in Tests against the Proteas, and once (with batting partner Greg Blewett) defied South Africa's bowlers for a full day in which 288 runs were scored and not a single wicket claimed.
"I think in most cases sledging or chirping is a waste of time, often resorted to by players who are trying to be a big deal, or psyche themselves up or even boost their own lack of confidence, and very often it's counter-productive," Richardson conceded.
The ICC has signalled its intention to try and stamp out personal abuse that is dressed up as the sort of spirited banter in which Symcox engaged by introducing a new offence of 'personal abuse' within the game's Code of Conduct.
With penalties ranging up to bans of six Test matches or 12 ODI/T20I matches which – as Richardson pointed out – for the most flagrant offenders could amount to the best part of a year out of international cricket.
But it's not only on-field breaches that the game's foremost administrator is looking to target.
Richardson also voiced his frustration at the behaviour of partisan officials, namely international coaches and team managers, and served notice that the crackdown on poor behaviour that also features education programs for players and more 'courteous' practices from host countries will also target over-zealous support staff.
"Too many coaches or team managers of recent times are too quick to side with their players, blame the umpires for being biased against their team, storming off to the match referee's room to complain at the drop of a hat," Richardson said.
"We are relying on everyone to showcase cricket and inspire a new generation of players and fans.
"Winning must obviously be the aim of any game, but not at all costs and not when it means compromising the integrity of the game."
In his address, Richardson also reaffirmed the ICC's hard line on ball tampering which he noted was simply a euphemism for "cheating", and claimed further compromising of cricket's integrity and diminution of the game's spirit represented a threat to its long-term sustainability.
A future that depended on the game's capacity to become more accessible and relatable to young players and fans of both genders, and in marketplaces beyond the game's historically limited imperial footprint.
"It is the diversity of cricket that is so precious – different formats, different nationalities, different shapes and sizes of people playing," he said.
"As a sport, we can and should be making every effort to diversify even further both in terms of new markets, but perhaps even more importantly in my mind, in relation to women and girls.
"How many young children get to watch their England heroes in a Test at Lord's?
"Limited seating capacity, a ready and sizeable adult and corporate market, a need to maximise revenues – in the main, from tickets and alcohol sales – all lead to very few opportunities for young boys or girls to attend internationals."
Among the innovations being explored to make Test cricket more accessible to the widest audience are day-night matches, as pioneered in Australia in 2015 and since introduced in England, New Zealand, South Africa, Barbados and the UAE, and the possibility of trimming five-day Tests to four days.
Richardson admits that neither of those measures offers a silver-bullet solution to waning Test match crowds in a number of locations beyond traditional strongholds Australia and England.
Of greater consequence will be the way in which Test cricket is marketed and is able to maximise scheduling opportunities, such as holiday periods and long weekends to ensure more days of Test cricket are played when working families are able to attend.
He said that while five-day Tests retain their significance, partly because they represent a further challenge for cricketers raised on first-class fixtures played over four days, a shorter version does carry some appeal.
Opponents to four-day Test cricket claim the loss of three sessions, even if it was mitigated by the extension of playing times and overs requirements on the preceding days, would yield a greater number of no-result matches and significantly lessen the chances of thrilling final-day outcomes.
But Richardson, who does not advocate for one format of the Test game over the other, pointed out the current rate of Test match draws was around 13 per cent.
While claiming that "a vast majority of Tests are finishing in four days, a few go into the fifth day but that's probably because it's available".
Of the 46 Tests played during the previous 12 months, 27 reached the fifth day (of which five lost at least a day's play to poor weather) while the remaining 19 were completed within four days or less.
Seven of those Tests ended in draws, with the average first innings totals of both teams across those drawn games being around 380.
Which suggests benign pitches are the most relevant factor in matches that stretch into a fifth day.
As a result, Richardson indicated that any move to four-day Tests might also require a corresponding re-think in how teams strategically approach matches.
"I can see that if we were to move to four days, then captains have to become a little bit more inventive, not just bat until they are all out (in the first innings)," he said.
"Maybe make declarations and things like that to force results.
"And certainly from a scheduling point of view, if we know that every Test match starts on a Thursday and climaxes on a Sunday when everyone is available to (attend), and can sit at home and watch it on television, maybe that's quite a good thing.
"Whether we have to force a limit on (first innings total before compulsory) declaring, I'm not so sure.
"People just have to adapt their tactics – after all, you want to win the game."