More hypocrisy in the Samuels Salute saga

Blog Opinion

Marlon Samuels has been at the middle all the drama in this Test series between the West Indies and England. For the most part, it has been a pretty turgid and low intensity affair, but Marlon has managed to be at the centre of all the flashpoints in this series.

In his latest foray into upsetting the England team, he has done a salute. This was what is commonly known as a send-off. A few words or gestures to accompany the batsman back to the dressing room. It is one of those things that cricket has decided is out of order.

Steve James, writing in the Telegraph, said that "send-offs are the most cowardly acts on a cricket field." James goes on to say that he disapproves of sledging as well, but there are plenty who seem to think that it is OK to engage in a war of words with a batsman up to the exact moment that he gets out and then it becomes taboo.

This seems odd, especially in international cricket when the game is never really over. There is always another innings, another match and another series. The contest always continues.

There is little chance any of it actually working. By the time anyone is playing international cricket they have heard it all before. Twice. Samuels even said that being spoken to by the opposition helps to motivate him, although Graeme Swann disagrees.

Speaking on TMS, the former England spinner said that having played against Samuels many times, the batsman was saying it motivated him because it bothered him. It is like a mind game inside a mind game inside a mind game, like an ersatz Inception with shit banter and no Leonardo Di Caprio.

Some of those that think send-offs are crossing some imaginary barrier in the ethereal code that makes cricket unique felt that Samuels effort was OK because it was funny. It was certainly spontaneous and made those watching smile.

But because it was different from the norm it doesn't mean it is any better than a showering of invective from an opponent. The only difference is the subjective idea of amusement. What one person finds funny isn't the same as what tickles someone else. Surely personal amusement isn't the way you decide if something is acceptable. If it were, Andy Gray and Richard Keys would still be fronting Sky’s football coverage.

For the most part this kind of behaviour isn't funny or amusing. It is tired nonsense that involves putting a 'y' on the end of your teammate’s name. Steve James played professional cricket for 20 years and he states that he can remember one exchange that was funny. If we are to use hilarity as an excuse it will be a rare defence.

More than that, what Samuels did wasn't some sort of Dadaist brilliance that redefined on field behaviour. He did a salute. He isn't even the first player in the Caribbean to do so in celebration. Sheldon Cottrell of the now defunct Antigua Hawksbills has been celebrating that way for years.

During last year’s Caribbean Premier League Kevin O’Brien reciprocated the gesture when he caught the fast bowler on the boundary. Why Samuels is to be forgiven and other examples are not is a mystery.

Here’s the thing. Cricket doesn't exist in a vacuum of emotion. When people are playing a competitive sport it is inevitable that there will be an overspill of some kind. Whether that is before or after a wicket it is just a byproduct of people caring about who wins and loses. Perhaps in an ideal world players wouldn't swear at an opponent, but we all know that isn't going to happen.

On-field behaviour becomes an issue when it overspills into some sort of nastiness. When that does happens the officials, on and off the field, need to take the appropriate action. But that needs to be consistently applied, and applicable immediately when the confrontation becomes physical or involves a comment that is considered beyond the pale, with racism being an example.

You can think that sledging, banter and send-offs have no place in the game, but you cannot then excuse certain examples because you liked them. When you state with a morale certainty that a particular action is unacceptable you can't then change your mind and say it should be on a case by case basis.

For me sledging is more about motivating yourself and your team than it is about upsetting an opponent. I would rather it didn't happen and I certainly don't revel it when it does, but I do not feel that it damages the game, whether it happens before a dismissal or in its aftermath.

As ever, cricket is very good at being pious while having standards that are more two-faced than a Braavosi coin.

Peter Miller

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