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No more a gentle game!

Updated on: 21 February,2024 06:18 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Michael Jeh |

The Spirit of Cricket is a legacy we should honour as a work of art, but has it outlived its time?

No more a gentle game!

Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews (left) has a word with the Bangladesh players after being timed out during their ODI World Cup match in New Delhi last November. Pic/Getty Images

Michael JehIf there was any doubt that the Spirit of Cricket is an anachronism in the modern professional game, recent events around the world have put paid to that debate.
Don’t mention England and wicketkeepers…we’ve had the incident in the U-19 World Cup where an England batsman was given out handled the ball when he picked it up and handed it to the Zimbabwe wicketkeeper. Prior to that, we had the Jonny Bairstow run-out at Lord’s which led to rowdy scenes in the Long Room. Let’s not forget Angelo Mathews being timed out in the World Cup for having a faulty helmet strap.

Australia have had questions asked about why their fast bowlers keep going off the field for a refreshing shower and a cool drink after bowling three-over spells. The over-rate in Test cricket is a joke— that comes back to numerous drinks breaks, glove changes and other stoppages that make a mockery of Tests as a test of endurance as much as skill.

Clear case of obstruction

In a Sheffield Shield match recently between NSW and Western Australia, the batsman (Chris Green) was standing out of his crease when the bowler shied at the stumps.  The batsman swatted it away —a clear case of obstruction. But the umpires didn’t have the courage to play by the rules,  referring to that hoary old chestnut, Spirit of Cricket.
Cricket remains the only sport that remains wedded to an antiquated concept that is out of step with the hard-nosed reality of the contemporary game. No other mainstream sport needs an elusive and flighty concept built around an invisible spirit. We don’t have a Spirit of Football, Rugby, Tennis, Basketball… so why does cricket still hang on to this outdated notion that leads to hypocrites claiming ephemeral occupation of moral high grounds?

Also Read: Everybody’s talking

The same people who refer to the Spirit of Cricket if they are run-out backing up too far (cheating?) at the non-striker’s end see no problem with foul-mouthed sledging.  The recently concluded U-19 World Cup was an unedifying sight.  It is clear that the stars of tomorrow have no thought for the gentlemanly niceties of cricket played in the days of the Raj.  Throughout the world, perhaps with the exception of the admirable Kiwis, there is no room for maudlin sentimentalism. So why not just play strictly by the rules?

Accept the umpire’s decision

The caveat to that of course is that players must learn to accept the umpire’s decision without resorting to indignant questions about ethereal spirits that died a long time ago.  

By all means play by the rules, bend them if you must, take risks if you have the guts, but just accept that there is no room in the Laws of Cricket for getting caught doing the wrong thing.  Even golf, a sport with a long history of honour and honesty, encourages players to err on the side of self-sacrifice if they accidentally breach the ancient laws.

If cricket can embrace DRS, Powerplays, concussion substitutes, free hit no-balls and a host of other innovations, it can also dispense with any hope that it remains a gentleman’s game.  

There was a time in a bygone era when the Spirit of Cricket was the glue that bound us to a game that gave us common sayings like, “it’s just not cricket” and “play a straight bat.” The Spirit of Cricket is a historical legacy that we should honour as a work of art but has it outlived its time? Most professional (or aspiring) professional cricketers will tell you that it’s about as useful as an inflatable dartboard or an ashtray on a motorbike!

Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class cricketer

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