Saturday, August 10, 2013

Defining the spirit of Cricket

Broad saga in ongoing Ashes series once again raised questions over the spirit of cricket.. Whether to walk or not is a debate in itself, but this incident proved that cricket has changed over the years and so has spirit of Cricket..

But the question is, what is this 'Spirit of Cricket' means. What is it in reality and are there any rules that defines it.. 

I was pondering over this expression, spirit of cricket and wondered if it could be defined. I gave up my effort at defining the term and came to the same conclusion as was drawn by Lord Tennyson, former England captain, in his book Sticky Wickets: "Cricket has more in it than mere efficiency. There is something called the spirit of cricket which can't be defined."

Though the expression does not lend itself to a satisfactory definition, the underlying meaning can be inferred from the observations of well known cricket writers who have written in praise of the game and from the action taking place on and off the field.

On his 80th birthday, Lord Harris, a cricket patriarch, was requested by the editor of London Times for his message to the cricket world. "You do well to love it, for it is more free from anything sordid, anything dishonorable, than any game in the world. To play it keenly, honorably, generously, self sacrificingly, is a moral lesson in itself, and the classroom is God's air and sunshine Foster it my brothers, so that it may attract all who can find time to play it, protect it from anything that would sully it, so that it may grow in favour with all men.. We are all comrades in the world of cricket" was the message, captioned as " a declaration of undying love for cricket and its fellowship." I n his last interview, Sir Donald Bradman quoted the same words as his message to cricketers the world over.

According to H.S. Altham, the famous cricket historian, "a cricket team should feel that they are playing with, as well as against their opponents. The true greatness of the game lies in combat and comradeship combined."

Andrew Lang, an English essayist who had passion for cricket writes : "Cricket is a very humanising game. It is simply the most catholic and diffused, the most innocent, kindly and manly of popular pleasures. And there is no talk, none so witty and brilliant, that is as good as cricket talk."

Now on to some incidents that define what this game is all about..

Courtney Walsh, the famous West Indian paceman, was about to send down one of his express deliveries. As he approached the crease he founds that the batsman at the non-striker's end, in the process of backing up, has already left the crease. All that Walsh had to do was to dislodge the balls and the batsman would be declared run out. But instead he stopped and warned the batsman not to repeat his mistake.

Gary Sobers picked up a snick from the batsman. The Batsman, believing that he is caught, started walking towards the pavilion. Sobers informed the umpire that the ball had touched the ground before he had caught it and he is therefore not appealing for a catch. The batsman resumed his inning.

In the deciding match of the 1939 Bombay Pentangulars, Muslims were struggling to save defeat as Vijay Merchant and Vinoo Mankad were well set and their side was in sight of victory. In sheer desperation, Syed Wazir Ali, the Muslim captain, asked Mohammed Nissar, their star pace bowler, to bowl at the batsmen's body and intimidate them. Nissar refused to oblige as he considered such tactics to be against the ethics of the game.

In the 1939 Ranji Trophy tie between Bombay and the Nawanagar, Vijay Merchant and R.F. Moss were at the crease. Merchant called for a run which is not there and was sure to be run out if Moss turned down the call. But realising that Merchant is a better batsman than himself. Moss in the interest of the team, took the run and sacrificed his wicket. Moss got a standing ovation from the crowd as he returned to the pavilion, after being run out for seven. 

UNFORGETTABLE GESTURE: England's Bob Taylor is recalled by Indian skipper G.R. Viswanath in the Golden Jubilee Test at Bombay in 1980
UNFORGETTABLE GESTURE: England's Bob Taylor is recalled by Indian skipper G.R. Viswanath in the Golden Jubilee Test at Bombay in 1980

During the ‘Jubilee Test' back in February, 1980, England was in dire straits when Taylor was adjudged caught behind by umpire Jiban Dhan Ghosh off Kapil Dev's bowling. However, captain Viswanath asked Taylor whether he had nicked the ball and the English batsman replied in the negative. The Indian captain then called him back. Taylor went to play a very important innings for his team. India lost the match and Vishwanath his captaincy but he never regretted that decision.. He later said, “For me spirit of the game is of paramount importance rather than winning or losing a Test. Obviously, as captain you play hard to win. But there are times when it's your inner call that tells you what is right.”
Almost a replay of that incident happened two years ago when Dhoni decided to withdraw the appeal when Bale was given out in a very bizarre fashion.. Eoin Morgan had played the ball down to long leg and Praveen Kumar made a diving attempt to stop the ball. The ball bounced off his leg as the fielder fell over the boundary. Kumar was clearly under the impression that the ball had gone for four, as he returned it forlornly to the square. It was taken by MS Dhoni who then gave it to the short-leg fielder, Abhinav Mukund, who broke the wicket. By this time Bell and Morgan, who appeared to think the umpire had called "over" were on their way back to the pavilion for their cup of tea. But to England's bafflement Bell – who should have played to the whistle and was guilty of being a bit dozy – was given out after replays had shown that the ball had not gone for four. The umpires were booed as they took the field but then the boos turned to cheers when Bell resumed his innings, Dhoni withdrawing the appeal over tea.
Of the incidents which have tarnished the image of the game, the Bodyline controversy must take the top place. There can never be any justification for a bowler to bowl with a view to intimidate a batsman and deliberately expose him to the risk of a serious injury. During this inglorious Test series, whenever the England captain fielded near the boundary, the crowd jeered him. The protest remarks heard were : "Do you call this sport"? And "why don't you play cricket Jardine"? Woodful, was badly hurt defending his wicket for three quarters of an hour for his score of 22. When P.F. Warner, the MCC manager, visited the Australian dressing room to show his concern, Woodful uttered those historic words : " I do not wish to discuss it Mr. Warner. There are two sides out there; one is playing cricket and the other is not. The game is too good to be spoilt. It is time some people got out of the game. Good Afternoon." 

Incidents that shamed Cricket

Even during the Bodyline Series there were a few incidents which redeemed the spirit of the game- Gubby Allen refusing to bowl at batsman's body, Nawab of Pataudi (Sr.) declining to field in the ring around the batsman and Eddie Paynter rising from sick bed in the hospital and rushing to the ground to bat when his side needed his services.
Match fixing scandal is equally shameful. If players indulge in betting and are in constant touch with bookies, the game becomes farcical. For the same reason the actions of Hansie Cronje , Salim Malik, Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohd Amir deserve to be condemned.
Miandad raising his bat to hit Lillee, The Monkeygate incident between Harbhajan singh and Andrew Symonds, Harbhajan slapping Sreeshanth in an IPL match, Ramdin dropping catch and still appealing, Ponting's cheating when he told umpire that Ganguly is out despite dropping the catch, the pub scuffle between Warner and Root, and Broad standing his ground are not pleasant sights on the field.
Likewise, sledging also violates the spirit of the game as it does not promote goodwill between the players.
Laws of Cricket were amended with the addition of a preamble with the caption - Spirit of Cricket. It reads as under :
"Cricket is a game that owes much to its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within the Laws, but also within the spirit of the game. Any action which is seen to abuse the spirit causes injury to the game itself.
The spirit of the game involves respect for :
  • Your opponents
  • Your own captain and team
  • The role of the umpires
  • The game's traditional values                            

It is against the spirit of the game : 
  • To dispute an umpire's decision by word, action or gesture. To direct abusive language towards an opponent or umpire.
  • To indulge in cheating or any sharp practice, for instance :
  1. To appeal knowing that the batsman is not out. (Ramdin boke this rule  recently..)
  2. To advance towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing.
  3. To seek or distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment.
  • There is no place for any violence on the field of play".

Spirit of cricket is thus an amalgam of several attributes such as sportsmanship, camaraderie, chivalry, courage in adversity, never say die attitude, nostalgia, humour and even pathos.
When the school boys in Sir Newbolt's poem. 'Vitai Lampada' echoed "Play up, Play up And play the Game," spirit of cricket became alive. Sad to say that of late the outlook on the game has changed. As Kapil Dev said few years ago. "The game is changing, the spirit of cricket is changing. It is now more competitive and ruthless on the ground. It is not the gentleman's game that it used to be 30-40 years ago".

Has Cricket really changed?? Was this change necessary?? Share your views friends....

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