The rules of cricket have gently evolved over the last century without any need for interference from the criminal law. But events of the last month show that this may need to change.
Four serious disturbances have fractured the serenity of the game since the NatWest triangular series began at Edgbaston on 7 June. In the most serious incident, Stephen Speight, a steward, was floored while protecting the stumps from souvenir-hunters. He sustained serious injury. A firecraker was tossed onto the field at Trent Bridge, and in the Australia/Pakistan final at the home of cricket, Lord's, on 22 June, Michael Bevan, the Australian all-rounder, was hit by a can of lager.
Cricket, like many other sports, has become an industry. Aficionados, once a panama-hatted conservative group, realise that today's game draws an eclectic crowd, a predictable by-product of commercialisation. Disorderly behaviour is a disturbing counterpart to off-pitch scandals that have beset the game recently. Hanse Kronje's disgrace was widely reported.
In April, Sir Paul Condon's report into corruption described a rich seam of dishonesty on the international cricket circuit. Greed, bribery and conspiracy are apparently rife. Sir Paul, who was appointed director of the International Cricket Council's (ICC) anti- corruption unit last June, referred to a "climate of silence, apathy, ignorance and fear". It is to be hoped that full cooperation with the ICC and tighter security will restore the sport's tarnished reputation. On 26 June, Alec Stewart, England's caretaker captain, was interviewed by the anti-corruption unit, silencing suggestions that he was unwilling to answer questions relating to an Indian investigation.
Unlike football, domestic cricket has not been associated with physical violence or large-scale pitch invasions. Even now it is tempting to dismiss this summer's outbursts as over-exuberance, not mindless criminality. Complacency might be mistaken. At a grass- roots level, whose job is it to police crowds? The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), cricket's governing body, believes some change is warranted. Mark Hodgson, ECB's media relations officer, confirms that events have made it important to "look at the whole safety policy". One proposal they will be examining is "bringing in legislation to make it a fineable offence to come onto the pitch". He refers to successful measures in Australia, designed partly to deter streakers. Pitch incursion is not a criminal offence here.
While the ECB is responsible at national level for overseeing the game and is involved in legislative initiatives, it is up to clubs to implement safety precautions. The myriad laws of cricket only govern rules of play. Safety issues are particularly relevant in Test Matches and one-day internationals, which attract the largest crowds. After the Hillsborough stadium tragedy, permanent fences cannot be erected to keep people off the grass. Temporary plastic fencing was raised at Trent Bridge on 19 June. In the main, orderly events rely on well-trained ground staff patrolling inner perimeters, backed up by stewards.
Safety also involves policing issues. If there is trouble, ground staff need their back-up. In turn there must be appropriate offences with which marauding fans can be prosecuted. …