TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE “Spirit of Cricket”, which has been a preamble to published versions of the laws of cricket since 2000, is 405 words of mission statement – a splodge of sentiment about how the game should, apparently, be played.
If it was taken seriously, cricket would not be the game we know. For instance: “It is against the Spirit of the Game: to dispute an umpire’s decision by word, action or gesture, to direct abusive language towards an opponent or umpire, to indulge in cheating or any sharp practice, for instance: (a) to appeal knowing that the batsman is not out, (b) to advance towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing, (c) to seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment with persistent clapping or unnecessary noise under the guise of enthusiasm and motivation of one’s own side.”
All of this happens routinely in every match and has always been central to the drama of cricket.
Yet the howls of horror from Lord’s, where Ben Stokes was given out for obstructing the field in the second one-day international against Australia on Saturday, echo with the argument that the Englishman’s fate was a violation of the “spirit of the game”.
Was Stokes trying to protect himself from being struck by the ball, an action that would have spared his wicket, when Mitchell Starc threw it at him or his stumps? The third umpire, Joel Wilson, determined that was not the case and gave him out.
Anyone who watches video of the incident would struggle to differ with Wilson. Stokes clearly watches the approaching ball closely until the moment he swats it away with his left hand and spins around to try and make his ground.
So what’s the fuss? That Steve Smith, Australia’s captain, did not withdraw the appeal. Patently, Smith had no reason to do so, but that cut no ice with the pink gin brigade sprawled flabbily in the Lord’s Long Room.
Perhaps this is about a residual spurt of triumphalism in the wake of England’s rousing victory in this year’s Ashes. Perhaps it is about an institution, Lord’s, that imagines itself the home of a game that is run from India and resides, officially, in Dubai.
Perhaps it is about the wrongheadedness of “The Spirit of Cricket”. Consider that bowlers who do not turn and face the umpire when they appeal will be fined. Consider, too, that no punishment will be meted out to the same bowler if he aims a bouncer at a batsman’s head, hits him, and kills him.
And that despite “The Spirit of Cricket” decreeing that, “There is no place for violence on the field of play.”
How’s this, meanwhile, for fuzzy logic: “Captains and umpires together set the tone for the conduct of a cricket match. Every player is expected to make an important contribution towards this.”
So, is the “tone for the conduct of a cricket match” set by the captains and umpires or by the players? And what, pray tell, is the “tone of the conduct of a cricket match”?
If any of this was true or relevant or even made sense, cricket could really be the gentleman’s game. It would also be Macbeth without Lady Macbeth: bloodless and boring. Just like she wanted that damned spot to be, Stokes was out.
“The Spirit of Cricket”, too, should be ruled out – it is obstructing the game.