Players might not be perfect, but nor are cricket authorities

South Africa's batsman Kagiso Rabada leaves the field after being dismissed by Australia's bowler Mitchell Starc, for 3 runs on day two of the first cricket Test match between South Africa and Australia in Durban, South Africa. (AP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Players might not be perfect, but nor are cricket authorities

BANGALORE: On current form, Kagiso Rabada is the best fast bowler in the world. His numbers – 135 wickets at 21.45 and an astonishing strike-rate of 38.9 – suggest that he could be one of the finest there has ever been.
He has also been skirting the line when it comes to disciplinary issues. But just over a week after it was thought that he would miss the rest of the series against Australia — the third Test starts at Newlands in Cape Town tomorrow — the two-match ban was overturned on appeal.
Rabada’s appeal was motivated partly by the staggering inconsistency in the application of the rules. In the first Test of the series in Durban, Warner was fined 75 percent of his match fee and given three demerit points for almost coming to blows with Quinton de Kock in a stairwell leading to the dressing rooms.
South Africa felt, with some justification, that Rabada’s contact with Steve Smith’s shoulder — not deliberate according to them — was a lesser offense.
After a video conference that lasted more than six hours on Monday, Mike Heron, the ICC appeals commissioner, agreed with them. But the punishment of a fine of 25 percent of the match fee and one demerit point looked odd again when juxtaposed against Bangladesh’s appalling behavior in a Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka last week.
Furious over a no-ball that was not called in the last over, Shakib Al-Hasan (pictured), the captain, threatened to call his team back to the pavilion. Nurul Hasan, one of the reserve players, exchanged barbs with Thisara Perera, the Sri Lankan captain, and was involved in another ugly face-off after Bangladesh had won. One of the glass doors of their dressing room was also smashed in the aftermath of the victory.
Faced with such boorishness, all that the ICC did was fine both Shakib and Nurul 25 percent of their match fees and give them a demerit point apiece.
Rabada screaming in the batsman’s face after dismissing him is nothing new. But even in the current series, there have been other examples. Mitchell Starc did it repeatedly while slicing through the South African tail in Durban. The only difference was that he kept more of a distance between him and the batsmen.
Send-offs are one of the most unedifying aspects of modern cricket. Watch footage of when West Indies fast bowlers terrorized batsmen and you will barely see a word spoken. Sure, there were short-ball barrages and stares aplenty, but few words. As Michael Holding, one of the famed quartet, loves to say, “The ball did the talking.”
Rather than leave everything to the match referee, umpires need to be empowered to end such behavior at the outset. Persistent vile abuse from the slips and close-in fielders is often audible to the match officials. By not acting on it immediately, you create a fertile atmosphere for the Warner-de Kock situations that drag the game through the mud.
At least Rabada recognizes that he has a problem. “It’s going to have to stop,” he said after the second Test. “I can’t keep doing this because I am letting the team down and I am letting myself down.”
Officials who go soft on players, as happened in Colombo, also let the game down. As much as the players, they are the game’s custodians. It’s not an enviable job, but without consist-ency in the application of the laws, even repeat offenders like Rabada will find loopholes.


Liverpool's unfashionable midfield the support act for Mohamed Salah

Updated 33 min 50 sec ago
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Liverpool's unfashionable midfield the support act for Mohamed Salah

  • Egyptian now has a remarkable 43 goals for the season
  • But he was backed up by a combative midfield trio of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum

LIVERPOOL: When Liverpool was last making a charge at the Champions League title, its midfield had legitimate claims at being among the best in the world.
It was 2008 and Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano made up an engine room that had a bit of everything: Energy, vision, work rate, goals.
Fast forward a decade and Liverpool is back among Europe's elite with a rather more unfashionable and functional central midfield that is proving to be just as effective.
Mohamed Salah naturally hogged the headlines after scoring two goals and setting up two others in Liverpool's 5-2 win over Roma in the first leg of the semifinals on Tuesday. That made it 43 goals for the season for the Egypt winger, who has fast become the darling of Anfield and an icon back in his native country.
Yet Salah couldn't operate so effectively, and with such freedom, without the tireless and unselfish work of Liverpool's central-midfield three, which against Roma mainly comprised of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum.
That's the same Henderson who is often castigated and held up as a poster boy for the England national team's midfield woes in recent years. The same Milner who is now retired from England duty and has a parody Twitter account — "Boring James Milner" — named after him with 612,000 followers. The same Wijnaldum who was relegated from the Premier League with Newcastle two years ago.
This trio dominated the game against Roma, getting the better of Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman — arguably more illustrious counterparts — and laying the platform for Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to run amok further forward.
"We didn't give any space away," Klopp said, with a nod to his midfield. "We controlled the game in a very nice football way."
That was often an accusation against Klopp, that his midfield couldn't control games because the team was too gung-ho in attack, leaving Liverpool's defense exposed.
This time last year, Philippe Coutinho was playing as a deep-lying central midfielder. The Brazil playmaker played lethal through-balls and scored some high-quality goals from long range, but didn't have the discipline and awareness of a natural center midfielder.
Coutinho's departure to Barcelona in January robbed Liverpool of one of world soccer's most creative minds but has invariably helped to shore up Klopp's midfield. The midfield now consists of three of Emre Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain — all hard-working players who chip in with goals.
It's no surprise that Liverpool's defensive record has vastly improved as a result, especially with Virgil van Dijk a commanding presence at center back since joining for $99 million — a world-record fee for a defender — in January.
Milner, meanwhile, has emerged as something of a cult hero at Anfield — and an unlikely record-breaker in the Champions League.
When the 32-year-old Milner sent in a corner that was headed in by Firmino for Liverpool's fifth goal against Roma, he became the first player to have nine assists in a single Champions League campaign.
That sums him up, really, a player content to leave the glory to others. Milner was appreciated at Manchester City for his selflessness and versatility but he has blossomed further since his 2015 move to Liverpool, where he now is an out-and-out central midfielder after filling in at left back for most of last season.
Henderson is fully fit and is developing into a leader, albeit a more unassuming and less dynamic one than previous captain Gerrard. Wijnaldum has a knack of scoring big goals at Anfield and rarely lets Liverpool down, as shown against Roma when he replaced the injured Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 18th minute and slotted straight into his role.
With Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana potentially out for the rest of the season and Can also injured, Klopp is short of midfield cover outside of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum for Liverpool's final three Premier League games and, potentially, two more games in the Champions League.
Keeping Salah, Mane and Firmino fit has always been Klopp's priority this season. He'll be wrapping his three remaining senior midfielders in cotton for the final month now, too.