Is the spirit of cricket dead?

“Get ready for a broken (expletive) arm” barked Australian captain Michael Clarke at confused English fast bowler James Anderson at the back end of the First Ashes test in 2013. Tempers had flared over the course of the test and gotten so severe that Michael Clarke uttered the now famous words as a word of warning to Anderson and the rest of the English players. Cordial handshakes and congratulations were bandied around after the game; however, it was obvious that the damage had been done. The impact was far reaching and was a long way from the former test series between Australia and England where it would be a hard fought battle out on the field, before both sides would happily share a beer and conversation afterwards (sometimes long into the night, in the case of the Touring English team of 1986/87 led by David Gower).
This made me beg the question. Is the spirit of cricket dead? I mean, the game has been played for such a long time that the spirit it was supposed to be played in back in 1877 when the first ever test was played could be and probably is a lot different to what is happening in 2016. The game of cricket was based on gentleman’s rules. The spirit of cricket states:
Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains.
The Spirit of the Game involves RESPECT for:
Your opponents
Your own captain
The roles of the umpires
If you hit the ball and were caught you would walk, you would congratulate a player if he reached a milestone and you most definitely would not make derogatory remarks about a player or a member of his family, which has become commonplace now.
If we delve into the history books, then the first instance of “poor sportsmanship” or not playing the game in the spirit of cricket has to be the English cricket team and the Bodyline series in 1932-33. The English, desperate to find a solution to the run machine that was Don Bradman, employed a “fast leg theory” that is: bowling short deliveries at the body of the batsman and having fielders crowded around the bat in close proximity. English captain Douglas Jardine was the mastermind behind it and showed no regard for the health of the Australian players. The idea of playing the game in the spirit had seemingly dissipated and it was win at all costs, something that cricket has turned in to in the later years. As a direct consequence, the MCC (Marlebone Cricket Club) announced a change in rules that made “bodyline” bowling illegal.
However, that was not the end of cricket not being played within the spirit of the law. Throughout the 1960’s the Ian Chappell led Australian sides would constantly berate opposition sides to knock them off their game. It seemingly worked as Chappell recorded many victories as captain including regaining the Ashes in 1974-75. Chappell on more than one occasion came to verbal blows with English counterpart Ian Botham as the aggression from the field boiled over. It was at this time that respect was starting to be lost for the Australian team. However, it was not just the Australian’s who were being described as the “bastards of cricket”. The West Indies aggressive and unrelenting attitude towards fast bowling tactics and opposition sides was seen as not showing respect for their opponents.
It is my opinion that at this time the spirit of cricket was fading from the game of cricket. It got worse in the 1990’s as the win at all cost was not just being pursued by the Australian’s but by every team playing test cricket. Steve Waugh was publicly criticised for the sledging that he let slide under his watch as captain and the mental degradation that applied to opposition teams. The more professional it has become, the worse the spirit has become. There may be friendships on the field still but the game of cricket has changed immensely and with those words of Michael Clarke ringing in my ears, I can only think that the lack of sportsmanship has seen the spirit of cricket die.


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