Weird Dismissals: Coincidence Or Something Else?

To bungle one odd dismissal may be regarded as a misfortune; to make a hash of two looks like carelessness

A different kind of catching

LeRoy is a sleepy town of around seven and a half thousand people and falling in Western New York State. On a road trip from Manhattan to Niagara Falls, you would breeze past it on the left and Rochester on your right.

You probably wouldn’t stop, unless you had a strange fascination with gelatin-based desserts; of the two things LeRoy is famous for, the first one is that it is the home of the Jell-O Museum.

The second is vocal tics. Starting in August 2011, in quick succession 14 students at the local high school reported a bizarre set of medical issues. They included verbal outbursts, tics, seizure activity and speech difficulty. Amidst growing interest from the media, and a flurry of local and national interviews, patients’ symptoms worsened and the ‘illness’ spread to six further locals.

Doctors found no physiological causes. Environmental activists, including Erin Brockovich, unearthed no pollutants in the area. It was a mystery.

In the end, doctors encouraged those affected to stay out of the spotlight, media attention died out, and (surprise, surprise) everyone got better. One girl was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. It is now thought that she was the unwitting cause of an outbreak not of serious medical problems, but something much stranger; mass psychogenic illness.
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A trans-Tasman outbreak

In last week’s Hurricanes-Heat BBL game, Alex Ross was famously, or infamously, dismissed for obstructing the field, diving for his ground while ostensibly avoiding a flat, hard throw on the bounce. Hurricanes captain George Bailey appealed, the umpires concurred. Brendon McCullum chuntered, Twitter flared, opinions were aired.

But in the whirlwind of a T20 tournament, the next headline swiftly came along. The end.

Or is it?

Yesterday, exactly a week after the Ross incident, the U-19 World Cup threw up another example of a rarely-seen dismissal; handled the ball. Playing against the West Indies, South Africa opener Jiveshan Pillay was given out obstructing the field after narrowly avoiding chopping a delivery onto his stumps. He brought the ball to a full stop with his bat, before picking it up and tossing it to the wicket keeper.
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Cue appeal, enter on-field and TV umpires, another controversial dismissal, sit back and enjoy another furore. Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

In the age of social media, controversies travel around the world in less time than it takes you to find the hashtag key on your mobile phone. It’s not an heroic assumption that the Windies players were aware of Ross’ dismissal not so far away across the water from their own tournament in New Zealand. What is unclear, however, is whether it had a direct effect on their decision to appeal for Pillay’s wicket.

Cricket’s own case of mass hysteria?

Controversial incidents have been a feature of cricket’s long history: six-averse underarm bowling, dismissal by underhand mankading, saccharine shining of the ball. However, the proximity of such similar cases, and the reactions provoked, sounds an alarm for cricket’s status as the gentleman’s game.
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Add into the mix too that the West Indians in question are at a formative stage in their development as professional cricketers. Are they acting by example? We are faced with the uncomfortable question of whether this could be the start of a wider epidemic.

Cricket finds itself at the conflux of several aggravating factors. Tournaments are televised globally and have million dollar rights packages. There is greater debate on social channels. Players come under increasing pressure to win as the game welcomes the Afghanistans and Irelands of the world to the top table.

Amidst the money in the game and a desire to push on as a leading ‘challenger’ sport around the globe, cricket’s rich heritage is what sets it apart from its rivals. Every player, from club cricketer to international superstar, has the responsibility to uphold those traditions, but this may be getting more and more difficult in the heat of the moment.

Kill or cure

Some responsibility has to be taken by the cricketing authorities; lawmakers have attempted to add clarity to the rules on obstructing the field and handled the ball dismissals, but they are still open to an uncomfortable level of interpretation.

In the absence of a soothing linctus prescribed by Lords’ or Dubai, cricket may do well to look to some more natural remedies closer to home. The laws also state that captains, not umpires, bear the brunt of the responsibility to ensure that everyone plays the game in a fair spirit. By now, a captain should be an effective locum; that these appeals were not retracted is just as big a problem.

Let’s just hope that this is a minor health scare rather than the start of a terminal illness in the game. We wouldn’t want to see cricket suffer a permanent stutter.

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