London — CRICKET enjoys a well-earned reputation as a placid game. But nowadays it has a habit of sparking controversy on the field and off. Mike Gatting - captain of the England team for the past two years - has been sacked from the captaincy. In the midst of a test (international) match against the West Indies, he had entertained a woman in his hotel room late at night. Although it was established that nothing improper had occurred, cricket's administrators decided that Mr. Gatting had to go.
Much of the comment that followed adopted a high moral tone, ``Gatting is a schoolboys' hero and should remain above reproach - like Caeser's wife,'' one pundit sniffed. But the real point about Gatting's sacking is that in the past few years cricket has been changing.
With rare exceptions, test cricketers today play for money - sometimes big money - and the games they play appear live on television. Good test players may undertake two or three long and exhausting foreign tours a year. Sometimes they play in fierce summer temperatures that add to the stress.
The sun was beating down in Pakistan last year when Gatting publicly challenged an umpire and accused him of unfair decisions. The England captain was forced to apologize, but not before millions of viewers had watched ``Caeser's wife'' have a tantrum on the field.
Was Gatting fit to be captain? Evidently at that stage the selectors thought so: They reap-pointed him captain for the next series against the West Indies.
Enter London's tabloid newspapers. It was mass-circulation papers like the Sun and the Daily Mirror that initially - and erroneously - accused Gatting of personal misconduct during the first West Indies test. The England selectors, by then preparing to choose a team for the second test, took a tip from the tabloids, and got rid of the skipper.
Unfortunately for Gatting, he was already batting on a sticky wicket. He had written a book about last year's Pakistan tour. Despite an undertaking to the cricket authorities not to mention the umpiring incident, one chapter described it in detail. So when the new allegations were published, he was in a poor position to defend himself.
Is there a moral to the story? Some say Gatting indeed failed to observe expected standards of behavior. Others argue that past standards are old hat.
The latter may have a point. The day after Gatting's dismissal the audience on a BBC discussion program was asked if the cricket authorities had acted correctly. Only two people out of over 100 thought they had.