Cricket is a gentleman’s game symbolised by the whites players wear (now only in Tests). Uttering words not linked to the game or abusing players and umpires on and off the field were considered sacrilege a few decades ago. Forget match-fixing or spot-fixing, even sledging was not commonplace earlier.
Things have changed since the advent of coloured clothes, TV and all that glam, fame and money. These days, it pays to be aggressive. Sledging or simply bullying has become synonymous with the game. There are mental trainers who devote time and energy formulating ideas to get on the nerves of the opponents.
So when India skipper Virat Kolhi just stopped short of calling his Australian counterpart Steve Smith a cheat, it did not surprise anyone. There have been instances of full-blown tussles between India and Australia over issues as diverse as Sourav Ganguly keeping Steve Waugh waiting before the toss in 2001 to the infamous monkeygate fracas involving Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in 2007-8.
Kohli was not amused when Smith tried to steal a glance at the dressing room for a signal on whether to ask for a review, which is against the rules. Kohli pointed this out to the umpire and exchanged words with Smith. The matter spilled into the public domain afterwards, unlike bygone days when cricketers used to forget on-field matters then and there.
Maybe times have changed. Maybe Kohli is right in pointing this out to the world while also conveying “look mate, I am not at fault”. Or maybe he was trying to score a psychological point against Smith before the crucial third Test by putting him under some additional pressure.
Yet, somehow, such ugly incidents involving players on the field are increasing and bringing the game into disrepute. It is robbing cricket of its gentlemanly ethos and principles. Perhaps, the introduction of red card to punish extreme cases of on-field breaches of discipline will stop such incidents from taking place.