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Cricket: Still a gentleman's game?

  • Story Highlights
  • Cricket has reputation as a sport "played by gentlemen"
  • Reputation tarnished by Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds controversy
  • Indian spinner Singh denied racially insulting Australian Symonds
  • Indian coaches say they teach aspiring players etiquette from a young age
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By CNN's Mallika Kapur
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- It's 6.30 a.m. on a rainy morning in New Delhi. Modern School is closed for the summer, but its sports fields are bursting with energy. Around 30 boys, between the ages of seven and 17 are running around, some swinging bats in the air, others practicing their bowling. They come here five days a week to attend a cricket coaching camp. "Cricket takes commitment," says the star student here, 17-year-old Arjun Gupta.

The row between India's Harbhajan Singh (left) and Australia's Andrew Symonds has turned the spotlight on "sledging" in cricket.

The row between India's Harbhajan Singh (left) and Australia's Andrew Symonds has turned the spotlight on "sledging" in cricket.

Gupta is passionate about the game. He's already representing the state of Delhi in the under-17 category. He dreams of playing for his country one day. His coaches, Uday Gupte and Navin Chopra say he has the talent to do that. He also has the right attitude.

"Cricket is played by a gentleman," says Gupte, adding that the sport requires tremendous discipline, both on and off the field.

Some question whether cricket still deserves that reputation -- after an incident on the cricket pitch in January escalated into a bitter racial row between India and Australia.

The incident took place during a test match in Sydney. Indian player Harbhajan Singh allegedly called Australia's Andrew Symonds "big monkey" -- an allegation the Indians did not take lightly.

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The incident created unprecedented controversy in both cricket-loving countries. But there was no conclusive proof that Singh racially insulted Symonds, says Chetan Chauhan, who was the manager of the Indian cricket team at that time. India threatened to quit the tour if Australia found Singh guilty of racial vilification.

Eventually Singh pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of using abusive language. The International Cricket Council overturned an initial three-test ban, replacing it with a financial penalty and the tour went on.

Six months later, the so called 'monkey" incident is still a sensitive issue in India. Few believe Singh said the word monkey -- and even if he did -- they doubt he meant it as a racial insult. In India, the word monkey has a different context, explains Chauhan. "It's used to describe someone who has extra energy, or is cheeky."

Exactly what went on or which words were used during a heated exchange between Singh and Symonds is still unclear. What the incident did, though, is turn the spotlight on "sledging" in cricket -- which until then, was a sport known for its tolerance and civil on-the-field behaviour. Should "sledging" be banned? Have you say

"There are two types of sledging," points out former cricket player, Imran Khan. "One is when in the heat of the moment players exchange hot words, swear at each other. There is this other sledging that I think should be stamped out, which is pre-planned and where it's almost clinical that somehow players plan to go and upset players by being abusive or saying things that are deeply offensive which would get a negative reaction." Video Watch Imran Khan discuss sledging in the sport »

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Players, professional and amateur, admit that some form of sledging takes place on the field. But cricket legend Colin Croft warns the ICC must step in when the attacks go too far. "All sportsmen at the top of the game, because they work harder, the adrenaline is pumping, they are going to try to get you off your game and sledging is I suppose intended to do that," he says. "But when it becomes too personal, too cultural, you've got to be very careful and that's where the ICC should come in and say, 'Look, if you cross a certain line you're gonna be put out of the game.' Simple as that."

Cricket has its own code of conduct, says Chopra, one of the Modern School coaches, adding it's never too early to start teaching aspiring cricketers the etiquette of the sport. "If some incident takes place, I tell my students, just avoid it. Don't answer back with your mouth. Get back at them with your game."

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Arjun Gupta says he tries to follow that advice. And that his fellow students and he live by one golden rule when playing cricket matches. "Off the field, we are friends," he says.

His coaches say that's what makes him a gentleman.

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