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LONDON: Ball-tampering, verbal abuse and on-field confrontations are threatening the spirit of cricket and recent poor behaviour by players has to stop, International Cricket Council (ICC) boss David Richardson has said.

The ICC chief executive said the ‘public has spoken’ on bad behaviour in the game as he delivered the annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s on Monday night.

Richardson referred to events during the ill-tempered South Africa-Australia Test series earlier this year when Australia captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft were slapped with lengthy bans for their roles in a plan to change the condition of the ball using sandpaper.

“Cricket’s DNA is based on integrity, but we have seen too much behaviour of late that puts that in jeopardy and this has to stop,” Richardson said. “Sledging that amounts to no more than personal abuse, fielders giving send-offs to batsmen who have been dismissed, unnecessary physical contact, players threatening not to play in protest against an umpire’s decision and ball tampering.

“This isn’t the version of our sport that we want to project to the world.”

During that notorious series, South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada was suspended for making contact with Smith, though his ban was overturned on appeal, and there was an ugly off-field scuffle between Warner and South Africa wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock.

As a result the ICC toughened its code of conduct, last month increasing bans for ball-tampering and bringing in new sanctions for verbal intimidation with Richardson saying the ICC was determined to punish ‘ugly and personal abuse’.

“The public reaction around the world to the incidents in the recent Australia-South Africa series was an eye-opener,” said Richardson. “The message was loud and clear, cheating is cheating and it’s not what we signed up for.”

Richardson said he found it a ‘little disingenuous’ for players to say that rules were unclear about how the condition of the ball could be altered legally.

“Over the last few months I have read comments from players requesting guidance what is allowed in relation to the ball,” Richardson added.

“They have asked if they can chew gum, wear sunscreen or drink a sugary drink.

“To be brutally honest I find this a little disingenuous. The laws are simple and straightforward: do not change the condition of the ball using an artificial substance.

“If you are wearing sunscreen, sucking a mint or chewing gum with the intent of using the cream or the sugary saliva on the ball you are ball-tampering.

“You may not always get caught — and we are not going to stop players from chewing gum or wearing sunscreen — but if you are, then don’t complain.

“Taking the attitude that it’s always been there to some extent is a mistake. The public have spoken.”

Ugly incidents involving players undermining officials have also tarnished the game, with Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan sanctioned after threatening to take his team off the ground over an umpiring decision in a Twenty20 match against Sri Lanka in March.

Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal, coach Chandika Hathurusinghe and manager Asanka Gurusinha were all sanctioned last month after the team refused to take the field for two hours in a recent Test match against West Indies in protest after Chandimal was charged with ball-tampering.

The ICC introduced tougher punishments for ball-tampering last month, but South Africa captain Faf du Plessis, who has twice fallen foul of the rules, remarked that he needed more ‘clarity’ over what was permitted.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2018