County players could be sent off as ECB gets tough

Umpires in England's professional game have been given new powers Associated Press

Professional cricketers in England could be sent off this season for on-field offences following confirmation from the ECB that they will adopt new MCC Laws on player behaviour.

Serious offences such as intimidating or threatening an umpire or player will result in five penalty runs and the removal of the player from the field, either temporarily or for the rest of the match.

It remains to be seen whether first-class umpires, many of whom are quietly concerned about deteriorating standards of behaviour, will take the risk of leading the way in implementing the sort of powers that could have an unknown effect on the county game.

But a time when "not crossing the line" has become a controversial topic, the ECB has backed the MCC in attempting to show, at least in part, where that line exists.

Alan Fordham, the ECB's operations manager, suggested that the new powers had been adopted to protect cricket's generally good behavioural standards rather than to address a gathering crisis.

"Approximately 20 Level 1 or 2 offences in 2017 from about 700 matches reflects a good overall standard of behaviour but we are not complacent," Fordham said. "The new Laws are an opportunity to continue the good work and we are keen also to support the recreational game through applying the same Laws and hopefully setting a good example."

The MCC announced a year ago that umpires will have the authority to send players off for serious breaches of behaviour under updated Laws of the game which came into operation in October last year.

The four levels of offence introduced under Law 42, and the punishments for them, will now be introduced in their entirety in all four professional competitions this season.

At the lowest level, if a player is judged by the umpires to have committed a Level 1 offence, the entire team will receive an official warning that applies for the rest of the match. A further Level 1 offence in the match by any player from that team would then bring an automatic five-run penalty.

A Level 2 offence would incur an immediate five-run penalty.

Level 3 and Level 4 offences would lead to players being sent from the field, either temporarily or for the rest of the match, in addition to five-run penalties.

International cricket has so far taken a more leniant view with the MCC Laws only adopted for Level 4 offences.

But the ECB will adopt the new Laws alongside their current disciplinary regulations for all professional cricket under their control. Therefore a Level 1 offence will still incur a reprimand; a Level 2 offence continues to carry a three-point penalty; a Level 3 offence six points; and a Level 4 offence nine points. These can lead to hearings, and punishment, including fines and suspension.

The level of off-field punishments will not automatically be at the same level as the original on-field sanction.

The ECB said: "After the umpires have reported a disciplinary breach, the Cricket Liaison Officer will convene a meeting involving the umpires, the player and their coach. The level of disciplinary breach will then be determined by the CLO which may be a different level to that ruled by the umpires on the field - either higher or lower. They may have additional evidence that was not available to the umpires."

The possibility that an umpire's decision could be watered down by a Cricket Liaison officer while the match is still going on - particularly likely during a four-day Championship match - might also leave umpires fearing that their decision could be overturned at a critical time.

There will be much relief in the recreational game, however, that county cricket has adopted the new MCC Laws. Many contend that cricket's success in self-policing its behavioural standards at amateur level is under pressure with dissent and sledging at an all-time high - and research backs up that view.