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.