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Let Boys be Boys

Australia has won the 1st Test against New Zealand at a canter. While there were some memorable achievements by several players I thought it was a fairly unexciting Test, a letdown. I guess there should be no surprises as Brisbane has been the traditional execution site for almost all touring parties for decades. What I was surprised about is that Mitchell Starc was fined 50% of his match fee for a failed run out attempt. What rot.

New Zealand was nine wickets down and more than 200 runs behind. There were more than four hours’ play remaining and not a cloud in the sky. Australia was going to win. It should be noted that the final Kiwi pairing seemed in a relaxed state of mind and were smashing the ball to all corners of the ground during a period of pre-death self-abandonment. All bowlers were collared including Starc. In fact, Starc had just been hit for consecutive fours.

Starc bowled to Craig who smashed it straight back. Starc collected the ball in his follow through and hurled the ball at the stumps (I have no reason to believe that Starc had a different target in mind). The ball shot through at about shin high, narrowly missing the light-footed batsman, avoided the stumps and wicketkeeper and found itself at the fine leg boundary in no time. Another four to Craig. Another four against Starc and New Zealand were another four runs closer to victory. For me, that should have been the end of it. Starc (and Australia) had received just penalty for his carelessness.

But that was not the end of it. In a day when the world is at risk of being overrun with lentiginous whingers, civil libertarians and political correctness, cricket administration seems to be following suit. Starc has been fined for breaching Level 2 of ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel. I think the verdict is rather contentious. Firstly, it would be desirable to establish whether or not Starc was deliberately throwing the ball at the batsman. I don’t know how you would do that. Secondly, it is worth looking at whether there was the chance of a run out or not. The logical extension being that rationally, if there was no chance of a run out, there is no point attempting it. Looking at the replays, it seems that there was no realistic chance of a run out.

However, that is an easy assessment to make in slow motion, from the comfort of an armchair. Most of us have not experienced this so we need to try and imagine running in and bowling at 150 kpm, having the ball hit back with interest, skillfully and athletically collecting in your follow through and detecting the batsman moving in your peripheral vision. What is your next move? You don’t have time to think about it. The competitive instinct of an international sportsman, fast bowler at that, takes over: you have a shy at the stumps.

This is a storm in a teacup. The ball went through at shin height. It wasn’t a well-directed throw but the batsman wasn’t in danger either. I don’t believe Starc had any intention of hitting the batsman nor that he do did anything wrong. How many times do we see a fielder rush onto a ball, collect and throw at the stumps when there is no real need? That is there is no chance of a run out by the time the ball is collected by the committed fielder carries out the intent anyway. There are times when the ball goes for over throws and occasions when it goes near, or even hits the batsman. Should every occurrence of that receive a fine?

I will discuss another point and that is that Starc had just been hit for two boundaries and Australia was going through a frustrating period of not only being unable to take the final wicket but were being spanked. Naturally, there can be a perception that Starc was venting some frustration. This was actually backed up by some of Steve Smith’s comments in the post-match interview. He said, “I don’t think it was necessary … there wasn’t an opportunity for a run-out there.” He was disappointed with Starc’s actions and it had given away four runs when the ball did not need to be thrown. I would say that is true but runs simply did not matter at the time. Smith went on to say, “It was just a bit of frustration and I think he just needs to let it out in other ways. It was pretty disappointing. He’s done it a few times and I’m going to have a word to him when we get back to the sheds.” I like Smith and I think he is already transforming the attitude of the Australian team but I think he overstepped the mark with being too candid in a press conference. While it does stamp authority and gives clear direction, some of that detail should have been kept for the sheds.

The remark that Starc has done this before was interesting. Yes. All fast bowlers have. It is part of the game. I remember a time recently when Starc notably earned a wicket for Australia in similar circumstances. That was the handled ball dismissal of Ben Stokes earlier this year. Putting aside the controversy of whether Stokes should have been given out or not, Smith had no problems with Starc having a ping at the stumps that day. And looking further afield, I remember in days gone by bowlers doing it far more inappropriately. Without naming names, I have seen them steady and throw even when they have had time to assess that the batsman is stationary in his crease, in front of the stumps even. I have seen batsmen hit or fend the ball away. Perhaps that sort of stuff should be fined but I’m talking about the days when it wasn’t. Or perhaps that was back in a time when harmless, spirited behaviour was left on the field. I say, ‘Let boys be boys.’