Microphone gimmicks are sending out wrong signals

Joshua Peck suggests player and stump mics cause more controversy than they are worth

Kevin Pietersen was recently fined 5,000 Australian dollars for comments he made while mic’d up live on the Big Bash coverage. Pietersen’s crime? Speaking his mind.

Having seen Perth Scorchers opener Sam Whiteman given not out when appearing to edge behind, Melbourne Stars batsman Pietersen made a comment to the BBL’s commentary team.

The exiled England man said to them: “That was a shocker, an absolute shocker. He (the umpire) says it could have been glove or pad, and I said, ‘well, he’s got big gloves and big pads to reach that’. Massive nick.”

Cricket Australia said Pietersen “was reported for breaching CA’s Code of Conduct Article 2.2.3 – public or media comment that is detrimental to the interests of cricket, irrespective of when or where such comment is made – a level 2 offence. As per the CA Code of Conduct procedure, the match referee, David Talalla, considered the umpires’ written report, and the proposed sanction was a $5000 fine.”

This incident came just a couple of weeks after a Cricket Australia integrity unit investigated Big Bash commentators.

There was an on-air exchange between commentator Mark Howard and Adelaide Strikers skipper Brad Hodge when Hodge, speaking to Network Ten pundits during the clash between the Strikers and Sydney Thunder, was told of Ben Laughlin’s impressive recent bowling record against Shane Watson.

Laughlin had dismissed Watson twice in his previous eight deliveries to the Thunder captain. “Really?” Hodge said. “I’ll leave that with you skipper,” Howard replied. Hodge added he would bring Laughlin on next over and that was exactly what happened.

These two incidents ask a serious question. Is cricket putting entertainment ahead of integrity?

There will be plenty who say T20 cricket, which is where commentator Howard and Pietersen fell foul, is all about providing fun for spectators whether in the ground or on TV. But others say a line has been crossed.

Pietersen and Hodge would have been asked pre-game if they would wear a microphone when fielding so that the broadcasting team would be able to communicate with them as and when they please.

Obviously it does provide some insight into the game with fielders telling the viewers how they feel the game is going, and give some pointers as to what will happen next. Not that it always works out as they suggest!

But if a question is asked, can a player be expected just to brush over the answer rather than give the honest opinion that is being requested? When a decision like Whiteman’s goes so clearly against a team, and a reaction is demanded immediately, should the player be punished as Pietersen has been?

Cricket Australia surely can’t have it both ways.  They are allowing players to wear mics for the brodcasters and then act with horror when they give an honest reaction.

The Big Bash, who seem to be the king of all things gimmick, also mic up batsmen. Pietersen is again a regular contributor/offender (delete as you deem fit!) with Andrew Flintoff also providing the entertainment that those Down Under want.

But you can’t help feeling that it is more about racking up the YouTube views than enhancing the quality of product. Flintoff was the Big Bash’s man of the moment a couple of years back, with his rendition of Elvis Presley’s In the Ghetto while fielding at deep mid-wicket, a clip watched by more than 150,000 people. And the English all-rounder’s commentary while at the non-striker’s end has been viewed by almost half a million.

The stump mic picks up bits and pieces that viewers surely don’t need to hear to enhance their viewing.

Such as Michael Clarke tell Jimmy Anderson to ‘get ready for a broken effin’ arm’ or  Flintoff (him again) gives Tino Best a warning about ‘minding the windows’.

Ten years ago, then England coach Peter Moores expressed his desire for stump microphones to be turned down during Tests so players could sledge each other without the audience hearing.

Moores said: “There must be some things that are left on the field to be fair to the players. They should be allowed to go out there and play the game without being worried that everything they actually say is going to be broadcast.

“It’s something we’ve discussed as a management team and we’ve spoken to the match referee about it.

“There’s an issue as to whether stump mics should be on quite as loudly at times, so people can play their sport.

“Sport is a battle and that’s what makes it so enthralling to watch. If people weren’t bothered about it or didn’t get so emotionally involved then it might become quite bland to watch.”

The ICC rule that stump mics be turned on, available for all to hear, whenever a ball is live –  from when a batsman takes guard right up until the ball reaches or passes a batsman, and from the time a fielder throws the ball back to a team-mate or onto the stumps.

The only real reason, in terms of aiding the game, that stump mics should be used is to determine whether the batsman has nicked it behind or not. So surely, that means it’s only needed for the third umpire, and not the hundreds of thousands tuning in.

Both stump mic and player mics cause controversy the game can do without.  So let’s banish these gimmicks and be enthralled by the battle between leather and willow alone.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, February 24 2017

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