Get ready for a broken F*&$!@% arm barks Michael Clarke at a bemused James Anderson in the latter part of the first ashes test between Australia and England. With those aggressive and crushing words the fire was lit between two of the longest standing rivals in cricket history. Never before had such volatile language been heard and translated to households across the world.
Cricket has long been valued and respected as a gentleman’s game with honour being given to the laws of cricket as well as in the way it is supposed to be played. Of course, that can be up for interpretation and as I don’t have a time machine to go back to the 1800’s when cricket was first played, it is almost impossible to see if it actually has changed since the beginning of time.
Marlebone Cricket Club (The MCC at Lord’s the spiritual home of cricket in London, England), states in the laws of the game that: “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”
What is the spirit of cricket though? It’s up for interpretation to each person and each individual will have a different opinion of it, but in basic terms the spirit of cricket involves respect for your opponents, the umpires, your own captain and the games traditional values. It also goes on to say that it is against the spirit of cricket to dispute any decision made by the umpire (with words or gesture), to direct abusive language towards a player or umpire or to indulge in cheating or any sharp practice to distract an opposition player.
However, the most recent tests series between arch-rivals Australia and India has thrown the spirit of cricket into discussion.
Indian captain Virat Kohli’s comments at the end of the fourth test threw into jeopardy the respect that was felt before between both sides.
Kohli stated that his feelings had changed towards the Australian’s after the series concluded “No, it has changed. I thought that was the case, but it has changed for sure. As I said, in the heat of the battle you want to be competitive but I’ve been proven wrong.”
“The thing I said before the first Test, that has certainly changed and you won’t hear me say that ever again.”
The test series had been hotly contested however Kohli’s comments put into focus that the old adage of “what happens on the field, stays on the field” was not true anymore.
Cheating, swearing, mental degradation were just some of the impacts that both sides felt during the four test series.
Focusing on the above words of the MCC, it is quite obvious that both sides didn’t play in the spirit of the game, but that’s just two teams out of ten test playing nations and small sample size out of many first class teams and players that play the game. Is that proof enough that the spirit of cricket is dead?
According to former Australian and New South Wales bowler Geoff Lawson the spirit of cricket is a difficult term to surmise and it’s not as simple as black and white.
“Firstly, you need to define the term the spirit of cricket. Because there is this mythical and almost hypothetical view of the spirit of cricket that everyone thinks has changed.
“Sledging and underhand tactics were around in the 1800’s when the first official games were played and no one batted an eye lid. Not much has changed since then.
The spirit of cricket is a great thing to attain to but will never be perfect.
The media’s compulsion with the aggressiveness of cricket and the international media’s obsession particularly with the aggression of the Australian team is not something new.
The Australian team of the 1980’s and early 1990’s was heavily criticised in all areas of the press for the way it conducted itself on and off the field in what was a tumultuous period for Australia.
Former Australian Captain Allan Border (affectionately nicknamed Captain Grumpy by the press) was as aggressive as they came on the field and his determination to win often spilled over to face-to-face confrontations that would make John McEnroe’s outbursts look like a tea party with the queen.
Border was known to like to get under the skin of opposition players via sledging and this rubbed off on his fellow players who thrived on the gladiatorial environment.
It has been the norm ever since for Australian teams including the current one led by the unassuming Steven Smith.
Lawson goes on to say that sledging has been and will continue to be part of the game, but there is a line you don’t cross and a show of respect to be shown once the match has finished, something that Virat Kohli has missed.
“When I played cricket for both Australia and New South Wales, we would go toe-to-toe for four, five days against some very tough teams. Once those matches were over though, we would have a drink with the opposition (often in their dressing room) and chat about a whole range of things, it was an unwritten rule. When that isn’t happening that is a cause for concern”
Kohli and the Indian cricket team aren’t alone in the battle against the spirit of the game, with reports aimed at Steven Smith and the Australian team for blatantly looking towards the dressing room with a DRS review during the third test.
Both sides failed to show the necessary respect for one another and there needs to be further training provided to players to ensure they understand the implications that not playing the game within the spirit can have.
The future of cricket still looks healthy despite the recent controversies. Cricket was able to bounce back from the Bodyline series of 1932-1933 where unsportsmanlike behaviour was prevalent and injuries common.
The spirit of cricket will continue to rest in the hands of the captains and until they can comprehend the importance of playing the game in the correct manner, these issues will inconsistently arise and plague cricket.