Warning signs: Aussie cricket’s behavioural ‘decay’ showing

This was signalled in the international summer and confirmed in the recent Sheffield Shield round.Things have begun to drift. The signs of decay are identifiable at the head and there needs to be some intervention before things end up in a place we’ve been before.It is too soon for things to be going this way.Cricket officials must carry some of the blame for walking past sliding standards, but the fault lies with senior players.Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith present as good people who wish no harm to anyone or anything, especially not the game which has given them such advantage in life and the one they prove so adept at.Watch live coverage of the 2020/21 Marsh Sheffield Shield on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >They’re not abusive, they’re respectful, they put in time around the game, they are very likeable men and do not fit the caricature of the “ugly Australian” cricketer.They are, however, senior players in the Australian cricket team and their behaviour is closely observed by everybody below them in the food chain – and in the broader cricket universe.There’s been speculation that Smith or Labuschagne may be the next captain of the team when Tim Paine retires and because of that they will be examined more closely.Australian cricket, like it or not, is still on probation following South Africa.You only had to see the international pile-on when Smith – innocently enough – took guard during India’s innings at the SCG, scuffing the batsman’s mark as he went. This was further highlighted by the reaction to what Paine was heard to say on the stump microphone.For Smith in particular, the response was a warning that if he assumes leadership in the future he will be held to a higher standard than others. Perhaps an impossibly high standard.These senior players were part of a post South African players’ pact, which talked about respecting “the game and its traditions”.Watching their dismissals in the second innings of the Sheffield Shield last week, however, left a bad taste in the mouth and didn’t show the game that respect. Both displayed patterns of behaviour that needs to be arrested.Smith was given out caught behind to the bowling of Will Sutherland and Labuschagne similarly from the bowling of Beau Webster.Both demonstrated – soft – dissent with the decision. They stood, they stared open mouthed, they shook their heads, then they exited the field shaking their heads. Neither swore, neither spoke to the umpire.Both decisions looked a little crook and you’d suggest they were unlucky. Smith indicated his clipped the pocket, but the Victorians were convinced at the time and remained convinced that the Test star was out post-match.Both batsmen trudged off like school boys, throttling the bat half way along the blade, gesturing and muttering to themselves. Labuschagne’s bat was upside down as he exited.He has a bad habit of lingering at the crease when out at the best of times, but that is generally disappointment not dissent.Cricket: Steve Smith cut a disappointed figure after he was controversially dismissed by promising Victorian quick Will Sutherland.In the scheme of things this is not a big deal and supporters of both will point out they were not fined or even given a warning by match officials. No bats were thrown, balls damaged or obscenities uttered. That doesn’t make it right. There were years and years where Australian cricket pointed to the infrequency of punishment from the ICC as an indication their behaviour was acceptable – it seemed a valid argument at the time, but on reflection was not.And, in truth, their reactions probably only warranted a warning, but nothing was done. Perhaps umpires are intimidated, perhaps they are embarrassed about the decision they gave, but whether they were out or not is not the point.Some will question the standard of domestic umpiring and may have a point but it is not the point either.Watch every ball of the 2021 QANTAS T20 Tour of New Zealand Live & Ad-Break Free During Play with Fox Sports on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >The greatest character test in cricket is accepting a wrong decision and always has been. Perhaps DRS has created a sense of entitlement among elite players to question an umpire but it is against the code of conduct.The rules state “excessive, obvious disappointment with an umpire’s decision” is not acceptable.Smith did something similar in November 2019 in a Shield match against WA and said at the time “you are allowed to be disappointed at times”. He was wrong about that and he was fined and was at it again last week. It hints at a lack of respect for the game and I am assuming both would be horrified to have that suggested.A senior official told The Australian that he was “really disturbed” by both incidents and thought Smith’s should have resulted in a charge, even if it was only a warning.Officials have let standards slip and must take some responsibility. A few years back it was signalled to participants in domestic cricket that there would be a crackdown on poor behaviour and umpires would not be so willing to ignore the petulance of batsmen or any bad language.Match referee David Boon chose not to pursue any action against Justin Langer after what looked like a heated exchange in the race over India’s concussion substitute in Canberra. Maybe it was not what it seemed, certainly Boon indicated that by his inaction so it has to be accepted.What was a big deal was Mitch Marsh’s intemperate reaction to being given out at a critical moment in the Scorchers’ qualifying final match against the Sixers in January.In this instance Marsh was fined $5000 and allowed to play in the final. He accepted the decision and apologised, but the penalty was a slap on the wrist.Like Smith and Labuschagne, Marsh is a decent human being, a polite and entertaining man who shows no hint of ugliness, but if ever a reaction to dismissal warranted a suspension that one did. Marsh, who has form in this area, let himself down.It might be too late for officials to address the trend this season. It is not however too late for those involved to reflect on how they behave.Let’s hope for a reset soon.

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