Extra police will be on stand-by at a Twenty20 cricket match between Australia and India in Melbourne tonight following a series of incidents that have marred the Indian tour.
The Australian Governor-General, Sir Michael Jeffrey, who rarely comments on public issues, delivered an impassioned speech this week deploring "the reduction in the grace and courtesies that are being shown on the cricketing fields".
Those sentiments were echoed by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who called for "a return to civility in the game".
The soul-searching over a sport that was once a byword for good manners was sparked by a confrontation between Australia's Andrew Symonds and India's Harbhajan Singh during a Test match in Sydney last month. Symonds' admission during the same Test that he did not walk midway to scoring a century, despite knowing he was out, also shocked many fans.
The Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, yesterday hit back at the critics, who he said were "still living in the 1950s". Ponting denied that his team were guilty of unsportsmanlike behaviour, and said: "It's now a fully professional game. It's not a game of just going out there and having a bit of a bat and a bowl, and having a laugh and giggle with the opposition."
But the critics are unlikely to be silenced. The Sydney Morning Herald led its front page yesterday with an article headlined: "Whatever became of the gentlemen's game?".
The article condemned, among other things, the choice of attire – T-shirts and sunglasses – by Australian cricketers who appeared before an International Cricket Commission (ICC) hearing in Adelaide this week. Harbhajan was charged with racial abuse after allegedly calling Symonds, who is of English-West Indian origin, a "big monkey".
The charge was downgraded to offensive language, and the ICC appeals commissioner who heard the case, Justice John Hansen, concluded Symonds provoked Harbhajan by attacking him for congratulating Australia's Brett Lee on "an excellent yorker". At the hearing, Symonds retorted that "a Test match is no place to be friendly to an opposition player".
Judge Hansen said: "If that is his view, I hope it is not shared by all international cricketers. It would be a sad day for cricket if it is."
The judge criticised all the players involved in the incident, saying "their actions do not reflect well on them or the game".
The Governor-General described the on-field sniping as "un-Australian", and also expressed concern about its impact on young players.
"Every 14-year-old who plays cricket in Australia models himself or herself on our Test players," Mr Jeffrey told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Their example is absolutely critical to the wellbeing of cricket and sportsmanship in this country."
More scathing words were directed at the cricketers by a veteran of the sport, Neil Harvey, a former member of Sir Donald Bradman's legendary Invincibles team.
"I can't see any reason why they should carry on like a pack of morons," Harvey said. "Australia's been getting away with this for too long, and I admire India for the way they stood up and gave a bit back to them."
The chief executive of the ICC, Malcolm Speed, described the Symonds-Harbhajan episode as a "wake-up call".
He said: "One thing that has come out of this is the need for players to review their on-field behaviour. In this case, it is clear that Harbhajan Singh verbally abused an opponent, having been provoked to do so by that opponent. This is not acceptable behaviour on the cricket field."
Police, meanwhile, have warned fans to behave well at tonight's match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. With many Australians angry that Harbhajan Singh escaped suspension, mainly because Judge Hansen had not made aware of his previous offences, inflammatory text messages are rumoured to be circulating.Reuse content