Contained in eight short paragraphs this week, the Northern Cricket Union’s (NCU) management board issued a statement on the union’s website about the “falling standards” of player behaviour this season.
While not revealing exact numbers, the statement said that in the course of the 2017 season so far, “the number of occasions on which umpires have reported players for breaches of the disciplinary regulations is already in excess of the figure for the whole of the 2016 season”.
The statement pinpoints declining behaviour both “on and off the field” and highlights “reports of incidents involving club officials and spectators”. It adds: “The Board is also aware of social media being used to make inappropriate comments about opposing clubs, players and umpires.”
It’s an admirable statement of intent from the NCU but it is all rather undermined by the fact that its crackdown is launched on the back of its two vastly differing approaches to two recent incidents.
The subject of much discussion across the union has been an altercation that took place at the conclusion of a T20 Cup match between Civil Service North and Instonians. This incident is presumably is what the union referred to in its statement mentioning “incidents involving club officials and spectators”.
The two umpires who officiated that day recommended that no disciplinary action be taken against any of the parties allegedly involved. Instead, mediation was recommended between the two clubs who have been at loggerheads since Shane Getkate, the all-rounder, made it known in pre-season that he wanted to move from Stormont to Shaw’s Bridge.
That approach is all well and good if it did not contrast so starkly with the draconian punishment issued to two Waringstown players, one playing for the seconds and one for the thirds, who became involved in an altercation with each other on the field last month.
Year-long bans have now been issued to both players, both with exemplary records, and who were both devastated and apologetic about what they had done within a matter of seconds of the incident.
This week’s NCU statement promised “firm action” against “those whose conduct falls short both on and off the field of play” but what, the Waringstown duo may wonder, is going to happen about the allegations surrounding the Stormont incident?
And in any case, can a struggling amateur sport, and make no mistake cricket in Northern Ireland is fighting for its very life against rugby, football, golf etc, afford to deprive two men of outstanding character of a game of cricket every Saturday for a year on the back of a moment of madness for which they immediately apologised? As one prominent club official observed on social media, why not ask the pair to put something back into the game, perhaps by coaching at other, less well off clubs around the NCU, as a method of punishment as opposed to effectively shutting two men out of the sport they love for a whole year?
News Letter cricket writer David Holmes meanwhile says he has detected a general “football type behaviour” on the field this season.
“I get a sense that some people kind of think that certain things are almost becoming acceptable within the game,” he said. “I go back to when I was playing, and there was a bit of banter, a bit of craic, whatever, but it’s getting to the stage, if you want to use this description, of football behaviour on the pitch. Things being said, things not being said, there is stuff you can hear, and some you can’t, but there is a constant racket in some games, there is no sort of silence anymore.
“I’m not saying it needs to be a completely silent game, don’t get me wrong, but there is this constant, ball after ball, talking. If you want to go into the overall standards of behaviour on the pitch, there should be no room for quote, unquote, effing and blinding, whether that’s directed at players, umpires or spectators.”
Holmes does not blame umpires, but says the onus is on the two officials to clamp down on poor behaviour and adopt a consistent approach to ill-discipline.
”I believe the umpires are the arbitrators of the game, the minute they set foot on the pitch, and arguably even before that, the moment they go out to do the toss, if you read the laws of cricket, the umpires effectively take control of the ground from the ground staff, so it’s their ground. They are in charge.
“It’s up to them to let the players know what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable, it’s up to them to put a line in the sand. I believe for example on Sunday (at Waringstown) Alan Neill spoke to North Down, spoke to their skipper and some of the players about what he believed was basically guys excessively chittering. That was good because a problem arises if players get away with behaviour x this week and go out next week and repeat the same behaviour, thinking we got away with that last week, and we’ll escalate it a bit this week. If it is not addressed the levels keep ramping up until they encounter someone who says, that’s not acceptable.”
Not everyone agrees that behaviour is on the decline. One senior umpire says few players cause problems.
“It’s actually ok, but I don’t tend to get too much bother in matches due to knowing most of the guys,” he said. “You get wind of the potential trouble-makers and head them off at the pass but only a handful of players caused them in my opinion.”
One veteran player said he felt general behaviour was better except for certain teams.
“The mid-200s were very hostile, but having said that, players still had a beer after the game, and mostly that still happens. In fact, bar one team, I feel it has been better in the last couple of years. Although there are isolated instances of petulance.”
The key going forward is consistency and if draconian punishments are going to be handed out they must be done on a consistent basis.
Holmes says umpires may be put off reporting offences because they have to attend disciplinary hearings themselves as opposed to submitting a testimony in writing.
“Some of the comments I have heard is that there is one rule for them and one rule for us. It is perceived that some clubs get away with it and others don’t. I’m not saying it’s a fact but it is a perception,” he added.