Heat of Battle: Different point of view as players get too close

Controversy is inevitable but it fizzles out if one team pull away
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The Independent Online

It is amazing there are not more off-field confrontations similar to that between the England captain, Michael Vaughan, and South Africa's AB de Villiers on the opening day of the Second Test. No game forces the players of competing teams to spend so much time sharing the same rooms at a sporting venue and it is inevitable, in a high-emotionzone, that there is the occasionaldisagreement.

At every Test ground in England teams use the same facilities at lunch, often queuing up at the same counter for their pasta, and occasionally – at Headingley and Edgbaston – they are even required to share the same viewing area. Who has the right to occupy the prime seats on the players' balcony caused a minor disturbance on Friday, when England refused to budge while South Africa were batting, believing it was the domain of the home side.

But really it should be the batting side who have the right of way, as it offers them the only outdoor seats in the vicinity and batsmen want to get their eyes used to natural light before batting. Yesterday morning the matter seemed to have been resolved, with South Africa occupying the players' balcony while Peter Moores, the England coach, and his backroom staff sought a decent view perched among the television cameras at the top of the Football Stand.

It all sounds rather childish, and it is, a bit like the legend that German families arise with their towels at the crack of dawn in order to reserve the best seats by a hotel swimming pool. But sportsmen are extremely territorial animals who do not like to show the slightest sign of weakness in front of their opponents, especially in a public place.

Ricky Ponting's four-letter heated exchange with Duncan Fletcher at Trent Bridge over England's substitute policy highlighted how volatile players can be, and it was just as well the Australian captain did not have to pass the England dressing-room on the way to his own. He may have been tempted to slip in.

There was an ugly incident in a one-day international I played in Barbados when Gladstone Small, one of the nicest men to play cricket for England, pointed to the dressing room when he dismissed Gordon Greenidge, the rather angry West Indian batsman. At the Kensington Oval the dressing rooms are divided by a narrow walkway, and at the end of the match an England player stuck his head in our room to inform us that an irate Greenidge had Small by the throat.

Devon Malcolm exploded out of his seat and ran to the door to help his team-mate. Fortunately the confrontation had been broken up. Had Malcolm got there sooner, Greenidge might have realised the error of his ways.

There was also a famous confrontation in the players' dining room at Lord's during a Benson & Hedges Cup final between Derbyshire and Lancashire. In a game between the same sides earlier that season there had been a disagreement, and in the final Wasim Akram, the former Pakistan and Lancashire fast bowler, bowled a beamer at Chris Adams, the former Derbyshire batsman. It struck Adams on the back. During the interval Adams confronted Akram about the illegal delivery and a heated verbal exchange ensued.

Thankfully, the ill feeling generated on Friday failed to resurface yesterday, but that probably had more to do with the one-sided nature of the contest. When one side, on this occasion South Africa, are totally in control there often seems little point in kicking up a fuss. An attitude of "que sera, sera" tends to prevail.

South Africa's batting in their second innings at Lord's won them few admirers but it has had the desired affect. How Moores must have secretly hoped for another moment of controversy, if only to fire up his misfiring bowling attack.

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