In Pakistan in September Graeme Smith was fined lots of money and banned for a one-day international, which cost him lots more money. His crime, and he admits he was guilty, was verbal abuse of an opponent.
In the fifth game of the recently concluded one-day series against New Zealand, moments before the South African captain was about to face the first ball of South Africa’s run-chase innings in a match they had to win to keep the series alive, Black Caps captain Stephen Fleming launched into a tirade of invective abuse that caught even the abrasive Smith off guard.
In Pakistan, Smith had acted instinctively to intervene in an unsightly exchange of views between Andrew Hall and Yousuf Youhana. The Pakistani batsman received a smack on the wrist with a feather, while Hall and Smith were banned. No matter about ‘heat of the moment’, the law was the law.
Yet the brilliant Fleming was so smart (not to mention 12,000 kilometres from London and acting in the early hours of London’s morning) that his ugly attack on Smith went unnoticed, let alone unpunished. Remember it was the wise men in London that decided to punish Smith and Hall, not the match referee at the scene of the event, Clive Lloyd.
South African cricketers have a reputation for being confrontational, or at least for standing up for their rights. Sometimes they are seen as loud-mouthed and troublesome, but sometimes they are just trying to break the cycle of pre-conceived beliefs that condemns them to the less generous side of officialdom. Mostly, of course, this is a self-defeating exercise.
Graeme Smith waded into the defense of his fast bowler, Andre Nel, on the second day of the Test against New Zealand at Hamilton when the big man from Benoni was given an official warning for running on the wicket after his second delivery. His second delivery…
Zimbabwean umpire Russell Tiffin said after the first ball, according to the players, “you’re getting a bit close there.” Cricket law and etiquette stipulates that a bowler is given a “verbal warning” before an official one. Does Tiffin’s comment represent an official warning?
Even the abrasive, confrontational Kiwi coach John Bracewell admitted he had never seen a bowler warned officially after two balls. In fact, no one at Westpac Park in Hamilton had.
“Sometimes the match officials want to make an example of someone, and we have, maybe, been in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Smith after Nel’s bizarre caution. “But all we ask for is consistency. Just make it the same for all players. Andre could have been removed for the rest of the innings in four balls if the umpire had carried on at that rate, and that doesn’t seem to follow the letter or the spirit of the law.”
For Smith’s troubles, he was “spoken to” by the umpires – Tiffin and Australia’s Steve Davies – after the match. Another reprimand for seeking equal and fair treatment from the game’s officiators. He can either shrug his shoulders and move away, or steel his spirit to carry on fighting. He will follow the path trodden already by men like Viv Richards, Steve Waugh and, yes, well, obviously, Stephen Fleming.
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