Sri Lanka the gentlest, most languorous country of Asia, where everybody smiles beguilingly – Arthur C Clarke thought it was the best place in the world from which to view the universe. Legend has it that this is where butterflies come to die. But currently Graeme Swann seems rather less enamoured with the country.
After a satisfactory opening match for the tourists, Swann confided afterwards that he “wanted to kill” Dilruwan Perera. He accused the Sri Lankan of cheating and questioning the integrity of the England captain. Perera had stood his ground after Andrew Strauss, at first slip, had claimed a catch off the bowling of Jimmy Anderson in the final innings of the warm-up game in Colombo. The umpire declined to raise his finger, there was no DRS in use, and, according to Swann, Perera “stood right next to me with a smug look on his face”. Swann lamented: “We live in an age where cheating is accepted.”
Swann, we know, can be a delight. He is an admirable cricketer, who plays the game in the right way. Afterwards he pitches up for press conferences with a smile and once they are over dutiful correspondents are rarely left scratching their heads for something to write. He likes to entertain; for him a good one-liner is as irresistible as a wide half-volley; he is prepared to speak his mind often with colourful images. And we are grateful.
But occasionally there is a downside. It may be candid – and we have all been there on a cricket field – but it is not helpful for Swann to say he “wanted to kill” Perera even though he sensed an injustice. There was surely enough time between the incident and Swann’s interview for him to choose his words more wisely. His remarks were inflammatory. We are not about to witness a boxing contest in Sri Lanka.
There is another danger: that England cricketers should traverse the old colonies pontificating about cheating as if it is a trait, which is beyond them and one that has only come to prominence in the era after Britannia ruled the waves. England cricketers are not in a position to be “holier than thou [or them]”. And Swann’s comments were heading in that direction.
The moral high ground is a precarious place to occupy. It was not so long ago that the saintly Alastair Cook was “questioning the integrity” of the Australian captain. In Brisbane 15 months ago Cook, on 209, declined to walk after Ricky Ponting had claimed a catch at midwicket (in that instance the third umpire could not verify the catch).
Ten years ago in Kandy there was a more unedifying incident when Sanath Jayasuriya was given out, caught at second slip by Graham Thorpe off the bowling of Andy Caddick. It was patently a “bump ball” and not out. As Jayasuriya headed back to the pavilion, trying to restrain his fury, the Brits in the posh seats above him bellowed at him, “You’re out! You’re out”. He wasn’t.
Often objectivity is hard to find. In December 1998 in Adelaide Mark Taylor claimed a catch at slip after Mike Atherton had prodded forward to a leg-break from Stuart MacGill. In this instance the batsman was given out – with remarkable haste – by the third umpire. There were two press boxes in the stands and opinion was divided. One, occupied by the Australian media, thought that the ball had carried; the other, inhabited by the English press, reckoned Taylor’s catch was dodgy.
The implications of Swann’s remarks are that the game is degenerating and that cheating is ever more prevalent. Even this assumption demands caution.
Think WG; then think 1946 and Brisbane again. Don Bradman edged to second slip where Jack Ikin took a comfortable catch. Bradman claimed that it was a bump ball and the umpire joined a small minority, who were of the same mind. “A fine fucking way to start the series,” said a lugubrious Wally Hammond from first slip.
Maybe Swann is pining for the good old days. But if that is the case he does so with a twist. “I’m just glad we live in an age where DRS is in place,” he says. Now, there are several reasons why he might think that, which includes the increase in the number of lbws for spin bowlers. In addition the system can expose malingerers.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the DRS,” says Swann. “Batsmen for years have been saying they are not out and it’s proved they actually are. If you know you are out, then you walk off the field.” But it is better to leave it to that system to expose the “cheats” than for the England players to take on that responsibility.
Andy Flower bemused by Swann’s outburst
Rex Clementine, in The Island, 20 March 2012
The media briefing by England Team Director Andy Flower yesterday gave you an indication that off-spinner Graeme Swann labeling a Sri Lankan player, ‘a cheat’ was his personal opinion and not that of the England team.
Flower looked bemused during yesterday’s media briefing, when he was informed of Swann’s comments the previous day, where he had accused Sri Lankan all-rounder Dilruwan Perera of ‘cheating’. “He is a moral standards bearer is he? Interesting, very interesting,” Flower, a veteran of 63 Tests told journalists, yesterday. “You’ve got to be very careful about taking a very high moral stance on issues, unless you are perfect yourself,” Flower, one of the best players of spin bowling during his playing days, added.
Although Swann spoke of taking the fielder’s word on contentious catches, England batsmen themselves have come under heavy criticism for not taking the fielder’s word as it happened during the last Ashes series. Flower, the former Zimbabwe captain, was asked whether he endorsed batsmen walking. “I wouldn’t, actually. I would be a hypocrite if I said so. I didn’t walk when I was playing.”
With SLC President’s XI sliding to an innings defeat at the R. Premadasa Stadium on Saturday in England’s warm-up game, an appeal for a catch at first slip by Andrew Strauss off James Anderson caused the exchange of words between the England fielders and Dilruwan Perera, the Sri Lankan batsman.
While the umpires claimed that they were unsighted and therefore weren’t sure of the catch, Perera decided to stand his ground and later claimed he had doubts about the catch. During the media briefing the next day, Swann accused Perera of cheating.
“I didn’t see the incident as I was out in the side nets. But I have heard about it. Look, there are a few things that I do know and number one, I am sure Strauss stepped in quite quickly to calm things down. Number two, we have to respect the umpire’s decision, even if we disagree with them, whether they are right or wrong. You do have to get on with the game thereafter,” he added.
England will play their second warm-up game starting today at the SSC. The first Test gets underway on Monday at the Galle International Stadium. The tourists won the first warm-up game at the R. Premadasa Stadium, by an innings. While England’s bowlers came up with a clinical display, their batting, the main reason for their 3-0 series whitewash against Pakistan in the first part of their winter tour, struggled with the exception of opener Alastair Cook. While the England vice-captain smashed an unbeaten 163, none of the other batsmen managed to score a half-century.
“That is the downside. Cook was outstanding and I thought Pietersen looked excellent. We need guys to spend some time in the middle, ahead of that first Test,” Flower added. Flower also said he had a fair idea of the combination he wanted to play in the first Test. England are expected to go into the Test with two spinners. “We’ve got a clear idea, but we aren’t absolutely certain. We need to see the conditions in Galle first. There has been quite a lot of talk about how dry it is and you know the history from the last Test match. We’ve got to have a look at the wicket first.”