The many shades of Cricket ………………….. (A conversation between two old timers, Bill Williams and Bob Roberts at the Club.)

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“Hey Bill, what do you think about this Murali business?” asks Bob.

“Why what happened. Is he playing again? Diabolical action. I don’t know how they allowed him to keep bowling,” says Bill.

“No he has retired. But Cricket Australia has contracted him to help our spinners.”

“Wonderful choice. Great bowler. Didn’t he get about a thousand wickets or something?”

“He got 800. The most by any bowler,” says Bob.

“Great bowler. I mean even our Shane Warne didn’t get that did he?” asks Bill.

“Yes he couldn’t quite get there, but then he didn’t play test cricket for a while.”

“Yes yes. He took some sleeping tablets or something and didn’t get up for about one and a half years or something isn’t it?”

“He took some diuretics. Apparently it helped him improve his looks.”

“Good on him. He needed it. Even if it meant sleeping for that long,” agrees Bill.

“So what about Murali working with the Australian bowlers?”

“What about it. Great bowler,” says Bill. “We can learn a thing or two from him.”

“But we reported his action to the powers that be at the time.”

“Diabolical action”, says Bill.

“And we boooed him from the roof tops and called him a chucker and all sorts of names,” counters Bob.

“Did we?” asks Bill.

“Yes. Well not from the roof tops but from Bay 13. That’s as high as we go.”

“Yes yes. You always get these …….. what did that former Prime Minister call them ………………… recalcitrants. You always get some recalcitrants in a crowd.”

“But you also said he had a suspect action Bill.”

“Yes but that was when he was bowling against us. We couldn’t play the bloke remember?”

“So how does he now become a great bowler?”

“Well didn’t you say he got 800 wickets?”

“With a suspect action.”

“Diabolical action.”

“So is it alright for Cricket Australia to engage him to coach our players?”

“Well if he can get 800 wickets, what’s wrong with our players trying to get a piece of the action?”

“I don’t know Bill. We crucify the bloke while he’s playing and then recruit him to tell us how to do it.”

“Hey Wayne,”  (Bill calling the waiter), “get us another round will you?”

“What do you think of ‘mankading’?”

“Isn’t that an Indian thing?”

“Well it was an Indian cricketer who first ran a batsman out at the non striker’s end.”

“Diabolical. Where is the spirit of cricket these days?”

“Well that happened about 50 years ago.”

“Diabolical.”

“So do you agree with it?” asks Bob.

“Well it depends. Who was it done to?”

“Most recently to a batsman called Buttler, an Englishman.”

“Who else would have a name like that. That’s alright then.”

“What’s alright?”

“That it was done to an Englishman. Who did it?”

“A Sri Lankan. Another one with a suspect action.”

“Diabolical. That’s the problem these days. These new cricketing nations. They are starting to get better than the English and us Aussies. We have got to find a way to keep them at the bottom of the table.”

“Well the English reported this bowler just before the final game in their ODI series. Thought they could throw the Sri Lankans off.”

“Did they?” asked Bill.

“No. The Lankans won the series. Sri Lankans are at the top of the one day international table I think.”

“Unbelievable. That’s without Murali as well.”

“Yes, they are a talented bunch.”

“Well we got Murali now. Let’s see how they face us next time.”

“But Murali won’t coach the Aussies against Sri Lanka.”

“Hmmmm. That’s a bit of a problem. Maybe we can poach their coach then.”

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The myth of the Spirit of Cricket

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Yesterday’s (3 June 2014) run out of Jos Buttler in the game between England and Sri Lanka at Edgebaston, has brought all the tweeters out to air their respective opinions. Many of them resorted to the adage of the “Spirit of Cricket”, to by and large voice their point of view on the matter.

Reading through some of them, I began to wonder what this “Spirit of Cricket” is.

My understanding, gathered through some very quick research and cutting through the verbiage, is that the game of cricket should be “played in a truly sportsman like manner”

In addition to remaining responsible for the Laws of Cricket, MCC has also long believed that the game should be played in accordance with its traditional ‘spirit’.
In the late 1990s, two distinguished MCC members (and ex-England captains), Ted Dexter and Lord (Colin) Cowdrey, sought to enshrine the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ in the game’s Laws.

This would remind players of their responsibility for ensuring that cricket is always played in a truly sportsmanlike manner.

To recount what happened in this particular game,
Sachitra Senanayake in the course of one over, twice brought to the attention of the standing umpire and Jos Buttler, that Buttler was leaving his crease at the non striker’s end too early and gaining an advantage of a couple of yards in running between the wickets.
In the following over, Buttler continued leaving the crease early and Senanayake ran the batsman out.

It is generally accepted that what Senanayake did was well within the laws of the game. The question that it raised was whether such an action was within the spirit of the game.

The action that precipitated the run out was that Buttler kept taking an early start at the non strikers end. It is ironic that the pundits have chosen to ignore the fact that Buttler’s act is considered “taking an unfair advantage”. Yet the consequent action by the bowler, which is part and parcel of the game, is derided as being against the spirit of cricket.

One of the commentators quoted a law which presumably stated that the batsman should be in the act of taking a run to be run out in that manner. If Buttler was not taking the steps towards starting a run, what he was doing wandering out of his crease as the bowler was coming into bowl!

If the Spirit of Cricket promotes the “playing of the game in a sportsman like manner”, I wonder if “unfair” play, as exhibited by Buttler in this instance, conforms to the spirit of cricket.

Playing in the spirit of the game raises some other thoughts that bear mentioning.

One of my favourite bug bears with the game, the way it is played in recent times, is sledging.

I have always been under the impression, that the game involves the use of skills in bowling to dismiss a batsman or restrain him from scoring. On the other hand, the batsman is expected to use his skills in scoring as many runs off the bowler and avoid getting out to him.

Cricket has always been played with occasional comments being passed by the bowler to the batsman, generally in jest, on the ability of the batsman to play the bowling. These have been humorous on most occasions and have added some colour to a game that can go on for 5 days and not produce a result.

Unfortunately over the last 30 years or so, the team on the field has resorted to directing comments (not so much in jest) to the batsmen in order to ruffle their feathers and cause a break in their concentration. Some of these comments and the inevitable retorts by the batsmen, have necessitated the umpires becoming involved to prevent what could have turned out to be ugly physical altercations. Obviously the purpose has been to divert the attention of the batsman away from his batting and thus create an advantage to the fielding side in their quest to get him out. In other words, when the skills of the bowler fail him, he and his team mates resort to working on the emotions of the batsman, verbally.

I have shown the fielding side to be the instigator of these comments as it is rare to find the batsmen starting this kind of “conversation”. None of the sides involved at the top level is exempt from these practices with some sides more vocal than others.

Sportsman like? Spirit of Cricket?

A fresh approach to batting has been brought about by the introduction of the Reverse sweep to the batsman’s repertoire of strokes. While the “Dilscoop” which involves hitting the ball over the wicket keeper’s head is adding a bit of spice to the game, the reverse sweep however is another kettle of fish.

It has long been a practice (and maybe even a requirement) that the batsman is informed of the arm the bowler employs in delivering the ball and the side of the wicket from which it is being delivered (eg. right arm over or left arm round etc). The umpire calls this out at the beginning of a spell of bowling. It is inconceivable for the bowler to inform the umpire how and from where he is going to be bowling (right arm round for example) and in the course of the run up change his mind and deliver from an alternate spot – right arm over or indeed left arm round. In fact it may even be illegal (not sure about that).

However, there is no requirement for the batsman to follow these similar rules. He is apparently free to change his stance from right hand to left hand while the bowler is running up to bowl or even a little bit later. So while the bowler is trying to maintain a line outside off stump, the batsman is able to suddenly transform that line to one that is outside what is now effectively a leg stump.

There has been no attempt to address this anomaly and is now an accepted part of the game that confers an unfair advantage to the batsman.

Sportsman like? Spirit of Cricket?

There is another practice in the game that belies the principle of “fair play” and has become acknowledged as part and parcel of the game. This relates to the constant replacement of fielders on the field with substitutes, just because the fielder needs to take a rest, get a rub down or for whatever inane reason. This practice is constantly tolerated by umpires and is abused by certain teams more than others.

Sportsman like? Spirit of Cricket?

The start of yesterday’s game was marred with the news that Sachitra Senanayake was reported for a suspect action. This came as no surprise, as many observers of the game have felt that his action looked abnormal.

However, what was disturbing was the timing of the announcement.

This bowler has been bowling with the same action for a number of years, with a number of different umpires officiating at the various games. There were (presumably) no reports on its legality. Senanayake appeared to have come into his own on this tour to England and was indeed the leading wicket taker in the one day series just concluded. The batsmen facing him were having difficulty reading his deliveries and they were also finding it difficult to score off him. 4 matches into the series and on the eve of the deciding match, it is revealed that Senanayake’s action is being reported. Could the announcement not have been delayed for a day? Makes you wonder!

Sportsman like? Spirit of Cricket?

It is very easy to get on the pedestal of the Spirit of Cricket and be very vocal on different media outlets that are available these days. I believe the sanctimonious commentators who are quick to jump on this bandwagon need some introspection on the various practices that appear to be “unfair” and have become accepted parts of the game, before they rise up in arms about an incident that appears to be completely fair and has been executed fairly.

South Africa, the rest of Africa and Elections

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The fifth democratic elections in South Africa have just been concluded fairly and successfully.

Fairly and successfully? How is that synonymous with elections in Africa? Yes that sounds like a generalisation.

However, I have worked in three different countries in Africa over a cumulative period of about twenty years. I think that gives me a reasonable idea of how politics is conducted in this region.

Going back many years, when the conquerors of the west were out and about accumulating other people’s countries into their empires, most of the countries in the continent of Africa were colonised by mainly the British and the French. In the course of their reign the captors subjugated the local African and invoked their own methods of government. For the most part the locals were confined to menial tasks, under educated (to keep them from knowing any better) and were indoctrinated to believing they were less than human. In the process, they were also introduced to Christianity and were taught the religion with, a believe or be damned approach.

Bye and bye, from around the 1950s, when the tide of public opinion was turning against colonisation and the colonists, the empires were gradually dismantled and African nations, governed by Africans, were born. Ghana (known previously as the Gold Coast) is generally believed to be the first African country to receive independence from the British. In fact, South Africa (1910) Egypt (1922), Libya (1951) and Sudan (1956) received their independence from Britain prior to that. However the momentum for independence began in earnest in the period after the second world-war.

The domino effect soon took place and over the next twenty years or so, all colonised nations in Africa were relieved of their shackles and declared free to conduct their own affairs. Amidst much fan-fare and exultation, elections were conducted, constitutions, in the main, along the lines of the Westminister form of government were drawn up and new governments took charge.

The first ten years of government were generally found to be exemplary. In many instances, the first leaders of these newly formed nations, who were at the forefront of agitation for independence and were in fact the more educated, continued to govern for extended periods. The lack of education amongst the general populace, prevented meaningful opposition parties being formed and therefore the original parties that were elected kept on being elected into government.

The politicians in these parties began to taste the fruits of victory and control. And soon the nectar of power began to intoxicate the leaders. So much so, the second ten years of independent rule saw the deterioration of democratic government into one man one party rule. The absence of opposition parties was one of the main factors in the degeneration of benevolent governments into dictatorships.

In the guise of democracy, elections continued to be held where there was only one party to vote for. In some instances, some brave individuals formed opposing parties to contest these elections. They were soon obliterated either by the physical elimination of their leaders or the destruction of whatever votes were cast for them. In short, elections were a farce and democracy died.

In some instances, the military took it on themselves, on the one hand, to address the lack of fair government and on the other, to enjoy the trappings of power. They conducted coups d’etat to topple the current governments and assumed power in their own right. The claims made in their initial broadcasts to the people gave the impression that they were the saviours who were in power temporarily, only until such time as orderly democratic elections were able to be conducted.
These temporary assumptions of power became less and less temporary and more and more permanent. The Generals now imbibed with absolute power became defenceless against their own greed and self-indulgence.

And the story continued in much the same way.

While all this was going on, one country in the south of the African continent, thumbed their nose at the rest of the world and a minority of the populace continued to oppress the majority of the people with their own form of government, termed apartheid. In South Africa, only the white population enjoyed civic rights and were free to go anywhere and do anything they wanted. Everyone else was subject to draconian controls governing their lives.

Through the agitation of many brave, patriotic and enlightened leaders of the local communities, the pressure of trade sanctions imposed by the rest of the world and consigning the country to a pariah status, the oppressors finally relented and true democracy was given birth in 1994.

Elections soon followed and a government elected by the majority of the people in South Africa was formed.

What is interesting is that twenty years on from holding the first election and very unlike empirical evidence of other countries, the form and content of government remains essentially democratic. Even more admirable are the controls (checks and balances) that are practiced in the electoral process.

The printing of ballot papers, is strictly controlled by numbers. The number printed is independently verified by a private accounting firm.

When citizens go to cast their vote, they need to carry their Identification documents. The bar code on the ID document is scanned to confirm that the individual is entitled to vote. The database is updated to reflect that this individual has now cast his vote and is no longer eligible to vote again. Prevents duplicate votes being cast.

In addition, a mark on his thumb is made with indelible ink.

The vote is then cast.

After polling closes, the votes are counted at the polling station. Independent observers and auditors are present at the counting and the total number of votes is reconciled with the total number of people who were scanned as having entered the polling station to vote.

The votes are then tallied against the individuals and parties that received the votes. The tally is also reconciled to the total number of votes. These figures are then entered into a common database. The accuracy of the entry is confirmed by independent auditors.

The entire process is subject to controls each step of the way. Importantly, these controls are effected by independent audit firms (generally the Big 4) and are scrutinised to ensure accuracy.

What is most commendable is that the process has not been interfered with, over these last twenty years, by those in power. Whether it continues in this manner into the future is anyone’s guess. But it augurs well that twenty years since the inception of democratic government in South Africa, it stands tall as a bastion of free government and strong supporters of the principle of one man one vote.

There are many countries, not only in Africa, but indeed around the world who could take a leaf out of the electoral process followed by the world’s newest democracy and implement it in the interest of true independence and freedom.

There are governments around the world who have subverted the electoral process to make sure that they remain in power. These governments claim high levels of literacy and maturity. They are however no different to young African nations who have gone down the path of corrupting the process and are often treated with contempt. What the leaders of these recalcitrant nations are showing is a complete lack of confidence in their own abilities to run for office openly and transparently and face the verdict of the people. Their greed has consumed them to an extent where honesty and principles of integrity are no longer virtues. But indeed are considered irrelevant in their narcissistic pursuit of riches for themselves and their families.

Consequently, it is common to find the general citizen complain about the misdeeds of such governments and resign themselves to a lack of change. No amount of talk and grumbling is going to change the situation for the better. Active participation by the people is paramount in making sure that the rights of people are not taken away by the powerful few who find themselves in government.

It is therefore the responsibility of the people of these countries to actively exert their will in the pursuit of democratic government and the preservation of their freedom.