Sunday, 9 August 2009

Is booing now part of cricket?

England lost the Fourth Ashes Test today, in pretty humiliating fashion losing by an innings and 80 runs. It means that the series now stands at one all with the final game of the series to be played next week at the Oval.

Ignoring England’s shambolic batting display, one thing that did interest me in this fourth test match, and which occurred during the third match at Edgbaston, was the booing of the Australian captain Ricky Ponting. To use a classic cricket phrase ‘It’s just not cricket’ to boo opposing players, but maybe it’s something we should now get used to.

The most interesting comment I heard regarding this incident came from veteran cricket commentator and former Australian captain Richie Benaud who basically said that cricket reflects what goes on in the outside world. If people are abusive and aggressive out on the streets, why should they act any differently at cricket match or any other sporting event? I think he's raised a valid point here.

Personally I haven’t really understood why some England fans have decided to boo Ricky Ponting. Is it purely because he happens to be the Australian captain?

I can’t remember him saying anything overly controversial or insulting about English cricket to merit such hostility. It just seems that because it’s the Ashes, and he’s the captain and best batsman, then he's fair game for abuse.

I don’t see the point of it to be honest. Fair enough in football, fans routinely abuse opposition players, but that’s part of football culture, you’re almost encouraged from the moment you become a football fan to engage in the abuse of opposition players.

It’s the sort of thing you don’t see in cricket and also rugby, but again rugby had a similar problem last year in the autumn internationals, with some fans booing the penalty kicks of the opposition.

I don’t want to get into a debate between football fans and that of cricket and rugby, but you become accustomed to how people behave at particular sporting events. I’ve just never seen booing the opposition in cricket as being part of the game.

What Richie Benaud talked about which caught my attention was that he said verbal and physical abuse is now commonplace in today’s society. In his own words he believed people see and regard it as their right. If people behave in that way in their day-to-day lives then if you take his argument, is it really a surprise that people act in the same way at cricket matches.

I think that what’s happened in the last 10 - 15 years is that attending any sporting event in this country is a real event in itself. Tickets for some Premier League football matches are now like gold dust, attending international Rugby is expensive (I paid £70 to watch England v Australia last year) The Ashes is the biggest thing in English cricket. To be able to go to such events is a real privilege.

I think that because people have paid so much money and in some cases made sacrifices to go to these events, they think they're fully entitled to say and act in whatever way they want.

If you’ve spent however much on travel, match tickets, buying food and drink and whatever else, why shouldn’t you feel entitled to shout abuse at opposition players? I don’t necessarily think it’s right, as I wouldn’t do the same at a cricket match myself, but I could understand if people want to act in that way.

It's becoming more noticeable these days that people are set up to be insulted and ridiculed, whether it’s politicians, celebrities, anyone in the public eye, everyone is fair game for a bit of abuse regardless of whether they deserve it or not.

So yes, I think Ritchie Benaud is right. Cricket is getting more boisterous grounds like Edgbaston and Headingley do have more hostile, partisan atmospheres, but I still don't think booing opposition players is necessary in cricket.

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