Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The spirit of Cricket

It’s a difficult thing to define. But although it’s difficult to articulate just exactly what “the spirit of cricket” is, we all seem to know when that spirit is lacking. Hence the term "It's just not circket", I guess.

Take Jardine for instance. He and in particular Harold Larwood, did nothing outside the rules of the game during the “Bodyline” series. Jardine’s idea was to bowl a fast short length delivery that targeted the body and not the stumps. He also stacked the field on the leg side so that any attempt to fend the ball off would result in the batsman being caught. A perfectly legal delivery and field, but at the time none of Jardine’s “chums” at the Marylebone CC would do it because it “wasn’t within the spirit of the game”. Larwood however, was a poor Yorkshire coal miner who did what the “gentleman” told him to do if he wanted to keep his position in the team.

The tactic, when it was employed against Australia in the summer of 1932-33 against the Australian batsmen, and in particular Don Bradman himself, shocked not only the Australians, but the British as well. One man was knocked unconscious, one ended up with a fractured skull (Bert Oldfield - that's him after the offending ball in the image above, although he always maintained it was his own poor footwork that caused it) and plenty of others took some very nasty blows. Bill Woodfull, hit a number of times and once over his heart that nearly felled him (that's him after the offending ball in the image below), was reported to have said to the English manager, “Plum” Warner when he came to the Australian dressing rooms to apologise, “I don’t want to see you Mr. Warner. There are two sides out there. One is trying to play cricket, one is not. The game is too good to be spoilt. It is time some people got out of it.” Harsh words indeed, for their day.

So what is it about the game and in particular, how it’s played, that gets people so riled up. Sportsmanship, honour, integrity, it’s all those things and more. In short, it is a game that “is too good to be spoilt,” as Mr. Woodfull said, all those years ago. The concept of “sportsmanship” is so integral to the game in fact that back in 1933, the chiefs of the MCC were called to Downing street to explain themselves, an event which overshadowed Hitler’s dissolution of the Reichstag in the London papers, and Canberra took the Australian Board of Control to task over its accusations of “unsportsmanlike behaviour”, which actually threatened international relations with England. As Allen said at the time, “Nobody calls an Englishman unsporting and gets away with it.”

I bring all this up because recently, or so it seems, the Australian cricket team has been guilty of unsportsmanlike behaviour itself. Worse than that, it was our captain that made the worst exhibition of it that I’ve ever seen in an Australian cricket team.

Dismissed, he stood his ground and was given not out, then spat the dummy when he was given out erroneously, some 30 runs later. Not only did he throw a tantrum on the field which continued into the dressing room long after his dismissal, he and others indulged themselves in an appalling display, saying “UP YOURS” to all and sundry when they finally won the game with just 9 minutes to spare. Then to add insult to injury, he didn’t bother to shake the hand of the opposing captain at the end of the game. It’s unfortunate that his shame for that action reflects on the nation as a whole, but that’s the nature of cricket in this country. He’s not THE captain, he’s OUR Captain.

For that by itself, Ponting should be censured, suffer at least a one match (Test) suspension and be fined. There is no other gesture, on the field or off, that more embodies “the spirit of the game”, win lose or draw. It was good enough for Bradman to shake Jardine’s hand after all and it is England, not India, that is our arch nemesis (with New Zealand a very close second) in this sport.

I also think that Symonds is quite wrong when he says that you get good decisions and bad decisions, it all works out in the end so stand your ground. That’s all very well and good for the pyjama game (one day and 20twenty) but what he should do during a test is cop the bad decisions on the chin, umpires are only human after all, and walk when he knows he is out. That would be the honourable thing to do and the only way in which to gain an honourable victory, or to be defeated with honour, is to play with honour.

This is what we failed to do in the last test I think, so let’s see if we can put our differences aside and finish playing this series in the spirit the game is meant to be played. I for one shall be seriously annoyed if India go home and I don’t get to see Ganguly, Laxman or Tendulkar bat again this season.


Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

I don't bother with Cricket since we got so good. No fun watching us beat the shit out of other teams

Plonka said...

That was one of the things that annoyed me Sean. For once we had an excellent competition shaping up and Ponting (and others) had to go and ruin it.

Dikkii said...

I've been off cricket for some time. It's very difficult to like the Australian cricket team - they've had this reputation for some time. I think you put it best on my blog actually, when you suggested that it started with Allan Border.

I don't think that the ICC have done themselves any good by caving into India over Bucknor, but if truth be told, his performances have been getting worse for some time.

Ponting should be disciplined, and Cricket Australia needs to wake up to themselves.

Plonka said...

Yes, I think I did...:)

It did get reigned in quite a bit with Waugh though. But I never really did like Ponting as a choice of captain. I was hoping Gilly would get it and I don't think we would have seen that sort of display had he been in charge. He'd at least have shaken Kumble's hand, I'm sure.

I have to agree about Bucknor, he's not what he once was, but...

Dikkii said...

It's ironic that Steve Waugh reined in the gamesmanship under his rule as skipper. He had quite a reputation for sledging out the corner of his mouth.

I remember a story of a kid from the sticks who idolised Waugh and had his posters on the wall etc.

This kid got the call up to play in the Sydney first grade competition, and first game that he played was against St George, Waugh's club.

Apparently he copped such hard sledging from Waugh who was fielding in the slips that he went home that day and ripped all the posters down in anger.

Waugh was a champion, but there was a dark side to him which was a bit unsavoury.

Plonka said...

He had quite a reputation for sledging out the corner of his mouth.

Well... Sledging is different and it's an integral part of the game. I don't mean the personal insults that the Australian's (Hearly in particular) tend to go for, that just shows a lack of imagination and intelligence, but a good jibe about the batting or bowling or how bad the tea they provided was, never goes astray...:)

Gorilla Bananas said...

Australian cricketers have always behaved like baboons - it's what's expected of them. Cricket hasn't been the same since the Nawab of Pataudi retired.

Plonka said...

Gorilla Bananas:

Australian cricketers have always behaved like baboons - it's what's expected of them.

Not true. I could run through names but won't bother, just look up Bill Woodfull. You can work all the way back from there and won't find a "baboon", but working forwards you'll definitely have to stop at Border or maybe even the Chappell brothers.

I agree about the Nawab of Pataudi Sr though. Let's have a look. In the first test in 1932, he made 102 for England (on debut) in 317 minutes off 380 balls. Thoroughly boring by the sound of things, even Boycott scored faster than that!

But when he refused to move to the leg side for the second time during the first test in 1932, Jardine said "I see we have a conscientious objector" and didn't pick him again for the rest of the tour. Sadly, he never played another test.

Or were you talking about the Nawab of Pataudi Jr? He only played for India (1961 - 67) and only toured once (to England) outside that country. His highest score was 203 (not out) in 430 minutes.

Dikkii said...

Wasn't the Nawab of Pataudi Jr the one who Billy "The 12th Man" Birmingham once lampooned as Haffiz Handmissing?

Plonka said...

I think you might be right Dikkii but to be honest that was one that I never worked out...

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