ICC targets sledging in conduct crackdown

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The England captain Nasser Hussain and wicketkeeper Jamie Foster can consider themselves lucky to have got off so lightly following the confrontation with Zimbabwe's Andy Flower during Sunday's third one-day international.

The International Cricket Council intends to introduce a crackdown on players' on-field behaviour, including sledging, at its executive meeting in Kuala Lumpur at the end of next week. Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive officer, announced the new hard line on players' conduct at Lord's yesterday. "What we seek is to remove sledging and excessive appealing from the game entirely," he said.

"International cricket is fiercely competitive – dog eat dog with big dogs – we do not seek to change that. We are not going to take the banter out of the game, or the hard edge and toughness. But we want to take personal and offensive sledging out of the game."

And the ICC is backing that up with the introduction of tougher penalties. At the moment match referees are limited to fining players up to a maximum 75 per cent of their match fee or banning them for six one-day internationals or three tests. Referees will also be stripped of discretionary powers to impose a suspended sentence. "That is a soft option that has been used far too often in the past," Speed added.

Mike Denness, a former England captain and one of more than 20 international match referees, welcomed the move. "I think the most important thing for referees is consistency. And I am all for banning players who step over the line," he said.

Denness may find himself out of a job though, because there are plans to reduce the number of referees to a panel of just five. There will also be an ICC Elite Panel of eight umpires. All officials will be contracted full-time to the ICC and both umpires and referees will receive on-going training and coaching.

However, while the future of the game and the ICC was on the agenda at Lord's, where the governing body's new logo was unveiled, its president, Malcolm Gray, also acknowledged that the present political situation overshadowed plans to expand and improve the game.

Just three months ago Afghanistan became the latest affiliated member of the ICC and a match had even been planned against Pakistan – scheduled to take place sometime this month. In the light of current events that match must be in doubt.

However, Gray declared: "It is extremely important to keep the cricket show on the road. Ideally all ICC members should be free to play against each other, unconstrained by events and decisions outside their control. In reality however international cricket in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe is currently being affected by political decisions and horrific uncertainties.

"The knock-on effect of this extends beyond cancelled tours and tournaments, to the finances and viability of the game. Pakistan has been badly affected in recent months. This whole area is one in which the ICC has to play a more central role, offering advice, using influence at government level where appropriate and providing solutions where possible."