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Cricket has come to be regarded as a gentleman’s game, but over time with the amount of commercialism and money that has entered the sport it has gradually lost that tag although it is still a tad ahead of sports like football and rugby.

The behaviour of Indian fast bowler Ishant Sharma during the third Test against Sri Lanka at the SSC was not only boorish but left a poor mark on the game that it is no longer being played by ‘gentlemen’ but by street fighters who have no regard for the sport from which they make their multimillion dollar earnings.

These days with the amount of money they earn fining players is not going to hurt them much, but banning them from a series of matches will no doubt not only affect his career but also the team he represents.

The ICC fined Sharma 65 percent of his match fee for his send-off conduct during the second Test at the P Sara Oval and banned him for one Test for his on-field rant in the third Test at the SSC, which one feels is insufficient if this sort of loutish behaviour is to be checked and discouraged.

By his actions on the field what sort of message is Sharma sending to budding young cricketers around the world who are watching the match live on television? They are imitating in their young vulnerable minds and they think they are copying a hero. But little do they realize that they are idolizing a player who seems destined to bring down the gentleman’s game.

India has the largest following in international cricket and the wide audience it generates globally is what makes broadcasters pump in millions of dollars for a series with them. So it is imperative that the Indian players set a good example on the field knowing that every action of theirs is being watched and imitated by youngsters.

More damning is that Sharma’s behaviour is supported by his captain, Virat Kohli, himself prone to fits of rage and ugly behaviour on and off the field.

“I was very happy with the incident (argument with Sri Lanka’s fast bowler Dhammika Prasad) when he was batting,” Kohli said after the match. “It happened at the right time for us because we had to bowl on Monday and they made him angry. It could not have happened at a better time for us.”

When the captain justifies and abets the bad behaviour of his players, in a mad pursuit for victory, it becomes a matter of serious concern. More alarming is the fact that few former players and commentators viewed Sharma’s behaviour as shameful. Is it because it is India?

India are the first team to make a hue and cry when the Australians sledge at them, but when one of their own players misbehaves on the field there is hardly any harsh criticism on his action.

A strong critic of the game is former Indian captain Bishen Singh Bedi who did not mince his words when he spoke.

“They talked about aggression and then Ishant gets banned for a match. Is this what you want on a cricket field?” Bedi told a news agency (see page 15 for full report). “This is pathetic display of aggression. And remember this has nothing to do with Virat’s aggression, who is just giving statement after statement and trying to sell his aggression through words.

“He (Kohli) did a very good job in the context of this series but he needs to control his agro. There is always one camera which is focused on the captain, so he has to be an exceptionally good role model. You be aggressive with your bat, ball and fielding not with your mouth. These are very early days as far as his captaincy is concerned,” Bedi added.
When Australian David Warner had an ugly confrontation with India’s Rohit Sharma in Melbourne early this year, Martin Crowe, the former New Zealand captain called on the ICC to take a serious look at this growing problem and take steps to curb it, if possible by making an example out of Warner, who he believes, is ‘one of the worst’.

“Warner can play, but he is the most juvenile cricketer I have ever seen on the field. I don’t care how good he is: if he continues to show all those watching that he doesn’t care, he must be removed, either by Cricket Australia or by the world governing body,” Crowe wrote.

According to Crowe behaviour like that exhibited by Warner, in the name of ‘hard cricket’ is destined to bring down the gentleman’s game and must be dealt with severely in order to preserve the sport’s sanctity, for the generations to follow.

The action of Ishant Sharma is no better and has to be nipped in the bud. The ICC has taken a firm stand on chuckers and match-fixers who are being shown the door, now it’s time for them to curb a new menace where players need to be dealt with severely on their on-field behaviour.