Cricket Expert & Columnist
Mike Atherton: Players need more leeway in heat of the moment incidents
Last Updated: 25/01/20 5:10pm
Mike Atherton believes that players need to be given more "leeway" for incidents that happen in the heat of the moment.
Ben Stokes was fined 15 per cent of his match fee after cameras caught him swearing at a supporter during an exchange after he was dismissed on day one of England's Test against South Africa in Johannesburg.
It comes after Kagiso Rabada was given a demerit point and subsequently banned from the fourth Test for his exuberant celebration after bowling Joe Root in last week's match at Port Elizabeth.
Sky Sports pundits Atherton and Nasser Hussain gave their opinions on the Stokes incident at the Wanderers and explain why they believe often too much is made of them…
"In a sane and sensible world that would almost be forgotten. What happens is Ben Stokes gets out early, plays a poor shot, he's steaming when he comes off, a spectator comes down and gives him a bit of a spray - that's a bad moment to give a player a spray - the player turns and gives him a spray back. In any grown-up world, that would be the end of the matter. Quickly forgotten, move on.
"But, of course, we don't live in a sane and sensible world or a grown-up world, we live in a world in which there is a bit of a circus that follows the England team around, of which we are a part of, it must be said. So what happens is that you get a statement from Ben Stokes, an apology. You get a statement from Ashley Giles, who is here, talking about the abuse that the England support staff get from the crowd - not that it doesn't happen everywhere in the world including England, in front of the Hollies Stand or wherever.
"Then you'll get more action this morning from the match referee so the whole thing mushrooms from an incident that is, in the grand scheme of things, an irrelevance. I hate the fact that Kagiso Rabada is missing this game from a celebration which I thought was a little over-zealous and a little close to Joe Root but, in the end, was nothing serious. No swearing, no abuse, no sledging, no physical contact and a great player is missing this Test match.
"I hate the fact that we ended up talking about Jos Buttler at Newlands, who for 20 seconds in a six-hour day gave Vernon Philander a bit of a spray when the microphone should have been switched off in between deliveries, yet we're eavesdropping on what players say there.
"This is not the school playground, this is not the school classroom, things go on in the heat of the moment, in a highly pressurised sporting environment and we have to allow for things like that to happen, we have to have a bit of leeway for players in that situation and move on quickly.
"The world we live in is that the match referee today is going to hit Ben Stokes with a fine and a demerit point, he cannot not do that having done Kagiso Rabada and Jos Buttler. That is the world we live in, I think we all recognise that so the players have to all recognise that and somehow hold their tongue but I wish that that incident could just be quickly forgotten because to my mind it is a complete irrelevance."
"Sometimes I think we forget here as broadcast, written media, match referees, who have played the game, you forget the emotion of a Test match week, you forget the emotion of being an international cricketer. Last week it was Kagiso Rabada.
"The world is on his shoulders, South African cricket is on his shoulders, being that black cricketer who is leading their attack with Vernon Philander retiring, you saw the rest of their attack yesterday, he is their great hope and he showed a bit too much emotion.
"Ben Stokes walking off yesterday showed a bit too much emotion. What makes Ben the cricketer he is? What makes him produce what he did in that World Cup final? What makes him produce what he did at Headingley? It's because he's got a bit of ticker and a bit of passion. You keep knocking Rabada, you keep knocking Stokes and you'll keep knocking the game.
"What I worry about are the people who pay good money - I go to watch Arsenal against Manchester City and Raheem Sterling will come over to take a throw in and people who have paid good money to watch quality footballers will be abusing Sterling, will be giving hand signals to Sterling and I don't get that at all. I don't mean in the race way, I just mean why would you abuse someone who you have spent good money to go and watch? By definition, if you are paying to go and watch, you admire this person.
"That South African fan who came to watch Ben Stokes, must admire Ben Stokes. Now I completely agree, your team have got a wicket, when he gets out, get up out of your seat, cheer, high five the bloke next to you but why run down a flight of stairs to abuse someone doing something you can only dream of doing?
"I'm not condoning what Ben did but I don't know how we've got into this situation in life where just because you play your money, you think anyone in this amphitheatre is just open circus time and you can have a go at them.
"Every time Graham Gooch got out, he used to go and sit in the corner, he got mail from all around the world asking for his autograph. Every time he got out, he used to sit in the corner, sign his autographs, never threw his bat, never threw his gloves. Some people react differently, some people have that outward aggression like Stokes and Rabada, some have it inwardly. We need all sorts in this game, not just robots."
Watch day three of the fourth Test between South Africa and England from 7.30am, Sunday on Sky Sports Cricket.