Kieron Pollard-Mitchell Starc Scuffle in IPL 2014 Should Not Be Played Down

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Kieron Pollard-Mitchell Starc Scuffle in IPL 2014 Should Not Be Played Down
Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press

It was the 16th over of Royal Challengers Bangalore's chase of 188 against the Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, in the Indian Premier League on Tuesday.

Needing more than 12 runs an over, RCB batsmen Rilee Rossouw and Yuvraj Singh tried to scamper across for a quick single after the former mistimed a shot and the ball dropped a few yards away from the pitch.

The athletic Mumbai Indians all-rounder Kieron Pollard charged across toward the ball, and whether it was his quick-wittedness or pure laziness, he coolly kicked it toward the stumps.

It wasn't the first time that a player had attempted a direct kick, but the difference this time was that Pollard hit the bull's-eye, and it was not from a very near distance.

Pollard has achieved a superhero status over five seasons in the IPL playing for the Mumbai Indians, with his acrobatic efforts in the field and incredibly powerful blows with the bat. This particular incident, bringing out his seemingly adept football skills, should have been one of the main talking points of Mumbai's eventual win.

However, rather unfortunately for the sport, it was not his kick of the ball that made headlines, but his throw of the bat.

Earlier in the game, when Mumbai were batting, Pollard was involved in a rather ugly altercation with RCB's Mitchell Starc. The Australian had had a few words for Pollard when the latter failed to connect an attempted scoop over the wicketkeeper. The Trinidadian nonchalantly brushed Starc away with a dismissive wave of his hand.

The incident should have ended right there, but on the very next delivery, Pollard withdrew from his stance just as Starc was in his delivery stride. The Australian, not pleased with the rather delayed withdrawal, went ahead with the delivery and appeared to target Pollard who had walked away toward the leg umpire.

An incensed Pollard then waved his bat at Starc and almost threw it at him, before letting it slip from his hand. This was followed by a heated argument involving the two protagonists, the umpires and RCB skipper, Virat Kohli.

The incident brought back memories of a similar row between Pakistan's Javed Miandad and Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee at Perth in 1981.

While running across for a single, Miandad was obstructed by Lillee midway through the length of the pitch—something the Pakistani did not approve of. An altercation followed, and before you knew it, Lillee kicked Miandad on the thigh, which led to the latter waving his bat at the Australian and threatening to hit him with it, in a fashion similar to Pollard's.

If the umpires had not intervened then, it appeared highly likely that the two players would have come to trading blows. The Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1982 described the incident as "one of the most undignified" in the sport's history, per ESPN Cricinfo.

While Lillee was fined and banned from a couple of limited-overs matches by the Australian-team management, Miandad wasn't even fined a penny.

The 2012-13 Big Bash League also witnessed a similar incident when Shane Warne, one of the legends of the game, clashed with Marlon Samuels.

Following a heated exchange of words and some shirt-tugging, Warne threw the ball directly at Samuels after the latter attempted a run. Samuels was having none of it, as he flung his bat aimlessly in the air in anger, before other players intervened.

Warne was fined and banned for one match for his actions, per BBC, but Samuels got away scot-free.

Coming back to Tuesday's incident, the match referee is certain to fine both players and the two teams are bound to lose points in the tournament's fair-play ranking. However, should the two players be let off with just a rap on the knuckles? Or should they be banned for a game or two?

With all the adrenaline flowing through players' bodies during intense Twenty20 games, it can be argued that such fisticuffs are bound to occur in the heat of the moment. But such incidents, that border on violence, are certainly not ones that should be played down.

In today's multimedia era, the game is watched and followed by millions across the world, including tons of children. This is certainly not the kind of behaviour that you would want to advocate to kids by letting the errant players off lightly.

Tuesday's incident is not the first of its kind in the sport, let alone in the IPL. The glittering Indian league has seen its fair share of controversies over the years, including several bust-ups between rival players.

Last season, two captains, Kohli and Gautam Gambhir, had to be separated by their teammates after a heated argument. Pollard was himself involved in an altercation with Rajasthan Royals' Shane Watson in the same season. In the first season of the tournament, Harbhajan Singh's alleged slap directed at Indian teammate S Sreesanth had dominated headlines.

Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press
Harbhajan Singh (left) and S Sreesanth

While sledging and the occasional banter has been an accepted part of the sport for decades, incidents such as Pollard vs. Starc and Miandad vs. Lillee should be distinguished because they threaten to make the game physical and violent.

That's not to say that sledging and abusing on the field should be condoned, but cricket is by no means a contact sport and should remain that way.

Another argument is that such incidents play up to the popularity and interest in tournaments such as the IPL and Big Bash, which are more entertainment than sport. Nothing can be more ludicrous a suggestion since the IPL, or even the Big Bash for that matter, in no way lack drama and excitement in a purely cricketing sense.

Barely halfway through the current IPL season, we have already witnessed a successful chase of over 200, a tied game and a resulting Super Over which also ended in a tie, a hat-trick in two deliveries and an extraordinary collapse of six wickets in eight balls, along with several great knocks with the bat and impressive bowling performances.

The IPL could very well do without the drama from incidents involving players flinging bats at each other, and it's up the tournament officials to ensure that they are not in any way talked down, propagated or vindicated.

It is rather ironic that just two days prior to the Pollard-Starc scuffle, Sunrisers Hyderabad fast bowler Dale Steyn had gone up to RCB's AB de Villiers after the latter's whirlwind match-winning knock and shared a long hug with his fellow countryman.

MATT DUNHAM/Associated Press/Associated Press
Dale Steyn (left) and AB de Villiers.

This was even after de Villiers had snatched the game away from Hyderabad by pummelling Steyn for 23 runs in a single over. Steyn's gesture drew tremendous accolade from all over, as the world of cricket celebrated true sportsmanship.

It is rather regrettable that such a wonderful gesture had to be followed so closely by such an unsightly clash between two rival players.

Punishing Pollard and Starc with bans would be making an example out of them, and that is exactly what the game of cricket requires to preserve its image as a gentleman's sport.

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