Ben Stokes became the second Englishman caught ‘using an audible obscenity’ during the fourth Test at the Wanderers and the second member of the squad to offer a qualified apology.
Stokes offered an apology to others who may have heard his explosion at a fan who the all-rounder claims was repeatedly abusing him.
Jos Buttler had also apologised for the string of expletives he volleyed at Vernon Philander during the Newlands Test, but who are the players apologising to and are the public mea culpas really necessary?
Almost every player to have ever played the game has issued or been on the receiving end of some spicy language. Still, cricket is the ‘gentleman’s game’, so if an outburst is heard on a broadcast, the offenders are marched out to give public apologies like schoolboys.
Perhaps Stokes’ background means that he should be more careful than most when it comes to losing his temper, especially if there is a suggestion that he intends to get physical with a fan or opponent.
The ICC and cricket boards have driven stricter controls on fans and warnings are customarily displayed on big screens ahead of matches. Fans can be ejected from the ground for directing any form of abuse at players, but the letter of the law is seldom applied, leaving players open to ‘sledging’ from spectators.
In 1994, Merv Hughes was sanctioned for smashing his bat into a barrier that separated him from fans at the Wanderers, but players rarely, if ever, respond to fan abuse.
If you have been to a cricket match, you have probably heard a player being loudly abused by fans, but unless the abuse is deemed particularly awful, action take against spectators is rare.
The fan who was having a go at Stokes got what he wanted, a reaction out of the England firebrand and he got to be part of the action. The England all-rounder lost 15% of his match fee for having a natural response to being taunted.
The fines imposed on players are sufficient, and the apologies they issue are an insult to the intelligence of cricket fans.
Players know they will be sanctioned if they are heard ‘using audible obscenities’, but everyone knows there is no remorse, nor should there be. They may be professional sportsmen, but cricketers are adults engaged in competition and the odd expletive hidden among hours of cricket coverage isn’t going to harm anyone.
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