Cricket: Long hot summer reaches boiling point

Derek Pringle says that pitch battles have long been a part of the game
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Until the goings-on of the last seven days distorted public perception, cricket and hot tempers were not concepts that were readily associated with each other. But after last week's argy-bargy during an ill- tempered NatWest semi-final, and yesterday's first-innings ban on Kent's fast bowler Martin McCague, for deliberate intimidatory bowling, cricket's pristine image has begun to tarnish.

McCague, bowling for Kent in the first day of their County Championship match with Somerset at Taunton, was taken off after just 2.1 overs. Having received a warning in his first over for overdoing the bouncer, the umpire, Alan Whitehead, then ordered him off in his third; his final sequence being bouncer, bouncer, beamer, the last two being called no-ball.

Under Law 42.8, which deals with short-pitched bowling as a means of unfair play, the umpire, having already warned the bowler, is quite within his powers to order the captain to take him off. Whitehead had previously warned Ian Botham for much the same thing against Australia during the Headingley Test of 1985. Botham, however, did not transgress further, as McCague did yesterday.

With tiffs and skirmishes in general on the increase, due to the recent hot and humid weather, it would be tempting for cricket to lay the blame on the same doorstep. Convenient, were it not for the fact that, hidden from television - an option not available to Mark Ilott's and Robert Croft's shoving match last week - it has been going on for donkey's years.

Before the stripey ties at Lord's and elsewhere choke on their gin and tonics, aggression is not something that can be turned on and off at the flick of a switch. Unlike other team games, cricket can be distilled into a series of one to one duels. Unsurprisingly then, it can get personal, especially when one party is getting humiliated - as McCague was when Rob Turner took 22 runs off his first two overs.

While no one condones persistent law-breakers, there are punishments available and cricket must not get its knickers in a twist every time something out of the ordinary occurs.

As a game that was not so long ago described as elitist, exclusionist and dull, its recent notoriety will probably come as a relief to those who probably thought you first had to enrol at finishing school to play it.

Nobody wants to see yobbish behaviour on a grand scale, but if cricketers can't occasionally show they are human, how on earth are we going to popularise the game?