The resignation of Tim Paine from captaincy of Australia side hogged the cricketing news during the week that went by. More than the act of stepping down from this coveted post, it was the reason behind this move that attracted more attention. It has emerged that, sometime in 2017, Paine had sent some messages to a female co-worker which were explicit in nature. This matter was inquired into by authorities of Cricket Australia (CA) and Cricket Tasmania at that time and they found that there was nothing in these messages that involved breach of code of conduct insisted upon for players by these bodies. However, some days back, these messages started circulating again in the social media, prompting Paine to quit captaincy, a decision which was accepted quickly by CA.
The sudden decision by the Australian captain to step down from the post and the reason behind this surprised the followers of the game. Many questions arose in their minds after reading about this incident. Why should an incident involving exchange of messages done in 2017, which was inquired into and closed, force the resignation of the captain of national side? What should be the norms governing the conduct of national sporting figures in their public and private lives?
It should be appreciated that CA has always shown a zero tolerancetowards sexually inappropriate behaviour by captains of the national side. And their tough, no nonsense approach in this regard was clearly evident in the manner in which they dealt with the foibles of Shane Warne, who, besides being one of the greatest bowlers of all time also possessed a brilliant cricketing brain. Warne was appointed as deputy to Steve Waugh in 1998 and many considered him as the future skipper of Australia. However, when the controversy broke out over Warne indulging in dirty talk with a British nurse, he was removed from the post of vice-captain and Ricky Ponting appointed in his place.
There was no doubt that Warne would have become an outstanding captain if he was given the opportunity, as seen from his skills during the inaugural year of Indian Premier League (IPL) when he led an inexperienced Rajasthan Royals side to title triumph. This fact would have been known to Australian cricket authorities as well but they were firm in their stand that they would not have a tainted cricketer occupy the post of captain. While the selection to the national squad was based solely on merit where only the performance of the player mattered, when it came to choosing the captain, they were clear that the leader of the squad should neither cause any embarrassment by his actions nor be seen to set a bad example for the up and coming youngsters. Warne failed on both counts and was never considered for leading the national side after that. Now Paine also follows his footsteps though it might be argued that when compared to the “sins” of Warne, the deeds of the outgoing Test captain would amount to rather minor indiscretions!
The only other captain in international cricket to lose his job on account of sexcapades is Mike Gatting, former England skipper. Gatting was a popular and successful captain who had rallied the England side into a fighting unit with his bulldog type tenacity after the laid-back ways of David Gower. He led England to the final of the 1987 World Cup held in Indian sub continent and stood up to Shakoor Rana, the umpire from Pakistan, in a nasty exchange of words, which led to play being stopped for a considerable period of time till the England skipper finally tendered an apology. When West Indies toured England in 1988, the tabloids “Sun” and “Today” published reports that Gatting had entertained a barmaid in his hotel room during the first Test at Nottingham. Both Gatting and the barmaid in question denied the allegations but the skipper lost the job even though the authorities accepted his stand that they did not sleep together. The reason given by Peter May, then heading the selection committee for sacking Gatting was that it was inappropriate on the part of the captain to have invited the lady to his room!
It also merits being mentioned that not all countries have imposed the same standards on implementation of a strict moral code of conduct. When West Indies led by Gary Sobers toured India in 1966-67, new reports emerged that the skipper had got engaged to an Indian actress named Anju Mahendru. This did not develop into anything more significant as both went their separate ways once the series got over. Almost two decades later, Viv Richards, then the top batsman in the world, developed a close and intimate relationship with Neena Gupta, a leading Bollywood actress of those times. The West Indies Cricket Board did not act against either of these legendary players nor did they ask for any explanations from them. This probably has to something to do with the more liberal approach of the countries that are part of West Indian islands towards casual sex and friendships that cricketers develop with persons of the opposite sex.
Indian society has traditionally expressed revulsion towards extra marital affairs and one night stands and this is reflected in the approach of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on this aspect. It was rumoured that Ravi Shastri, who recently stepped down as coach, was not appointed as captain of national side, despite having been groomed for this post, on account of his bohemian lifestyle. The only captain who got away despite having a much publicised relationship outside his wedding was Mohammad Azharuddin. Though he was still wedded to his first wife when he developed close relationship with Sangeeta Bijlani, a former model whom he subsequently married, Azharuddin managed to retain his captaincy even after the news of the affair became public. But he lost his standing with the media and a considerable amount of popular support as well, on account of this liaison.
The BCCI also possesses the dubious distinction of taking action against a legendary cricketer for an act of indiscretion on the part of his room mate. During the third Test of the series against England in 1961-62 at Delhi, one Indian player asked out the receptionist of the hotel, where the team was staying, for coffee. The lady was outraged at this request and informed the BCCI officials who were also staying in the same hotel. The BCCI took prompt action; they not only suspended the player concerned from the squad for the next Test but also his room \mate who happened to be Subhash Gupte, then the best leg spin bowler in the world! Gupte was outraged, and rightly so, as he had not done any wrong other than being in the same room when the player made the call to the receptionist. But the BCCI was insistent that Gupte should also be punished and did not pick him for the tour of the West Indies that followed. Feeling humiliated, Gupte called it a day and announced his retirement from Test cricket. He proceeded to Trinidad islands where he spent the rest of his life till he left heavenwards in 2002. Thus the career of this all-time great bowler ended in an inglorious manner, thanks to the approach of the officialdom running Indian cricket at that time.
The Tim Paine episode should serve as an eye-opener not only to current cricketers but also to aspiring ones as acts of indiscretion committed even in early life can come back to hound one at a later date. In this age of social media when players are bestowed the status of celebrities, they need be on the guard to ensure that do nothing which brings a bad name either to them or to the game. The same constituency that crowns them as heroes will waste no time in bringing them down to earth. Hence there exists the need to exercise utmost discretion and care in handling the personal lives and matters related to it.
One hopes that the lessons of the Tim Paine incident are not lost on players in India as the public here also have started demanding high standards of probity and conduct from them. Celebrities would do well to remember that this status comes with the responsibility of being a role model to the younger generation, something that Hardik Pandya keeps forgetting, as indicated by the news reports about his attempt to evade payment of Customs duty. One of the tasks of Rahul Dravid in his new role as coach of the national side will be to ensure that all members of the squad meet with the expectations of the public not only in their performances on the field but in their conduct off it as well.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)