16 February 2015

Is it cricket or is it not?

I remember reading in a Trinity College souvenir put out for the Bradby some decades ago an interesting comparison of cricket and rugby football: ‘Cricket is a gentlemen’s game played by rowdies; rugger is a rowdy’s game played by gentlemen.’  Over the years I’ve come to realize that this is rubbish; all sports have the same proportion of decent players and ‘rowdies’.  Two things though have given cricket that ‘decent’ aura.

First, it’s a clean game.  White flannels with a little bit of red taken off the ball and the occasional green-brown that a desperate dive to save a boundary might deposit on the pants seem saintly-clean when viewed against the sweat-soaked, mud-caked rugger jersey. Rugger is an all-weather sport. Cricket is wimpy; the players sprint into the pavilion at the first sign of a shower as though terrified they might catch a cold. 

The second reason is the adage ‘that’s just not cricket’.  The full version is ‘I say, old chap, that’s just not cricket’ and it is used as an exclamation to indicate displeasure or disapproval about something which is considered unfair, unbalanced or even wrong.  It does not necessarily indicate that the course of action commented on is illegal, but that somehow certain accepted values or norms have been violated.  It indicates rupture of what might be called ‘spirit of the game’.   The assumption has been that cricket is played by those who are committed to upholding the game’s spirit, not just playing within the rules but in thought, word and deed considering the game to be more important that result. 

The phrase has been used outside cricketing contexts quite frequently, especially and paradoxically by those who hardly ‘play cricket’ in the matter of just and fair conduct.  The British, after all, are experts at retiring laws, norms, values and morals when it comes to furthering self-interest including theft, outright plunder, securing access to resources and markets, although quite ready to throw the it’s-not-cricket at their opponents, whether such dismissals are justified or not. 

We know that ‘cricket’ is the exception, the rule being ‘non-cricket’.  Interestingly, we have come to a point where there’s little ‘cricket’ (in terms of the phrase) in cricket.  A friend of mine, a Sri Lankan domiciled in the USA, who is here right now to watch the World Cup made some observations recently.

Dr. Lal De Silva said that there’s little appreciation of how far we’ve come as a nation.  He recalled going to see a visiting Windies team way back in the sixties.  The ticket was Rs. 5 and carried a note of caution to the effect that the authorities would not take responsibility if the hastily constructed tiered seating contraption collapsed.  Lal Aiya, who I’ve known for more than twenty years now, also opined that winning the World Cup in 1996 would have given a great boost in inculcating a we-can-do attitude among our people.

He talked about cricket and not-cricket too.  He had watched Sanga and his men come short against Pakistan. He did not mind the loss and he told me why. 

‘I watched Sri Lanka play Australia in 2004.  We had lost the first ODI and the Aussies were well on their way to reaching a modest Sri Lankan total of 245.  With ten overs left, Australia needed 50 odd runs more with 6 wickets in hand. Gilchrist was batting with Symonds when Kumar Dharmasena won an lbw decision against the latter.  The umpire had second thoughts, consulted his colleague and decided that Symonds had got a touch with the bat before the ball hit his pad.  Marvan Atapattu the Sri Lanka skipper was consulted and the batsman was called back.  Sri Lanka won the match by a single run thanks to a wonderful last over of 6 yorker length deliveries by Chaminda Vaas. This is what makes me come for these matches.’

He admitted that while you do need money to keep developing the game it seems that commercialism has taken something out of it.  The match fixing and spot fixing scandals and the huge salaries and income from endorsements that players enjoy have compromised the image of 22 men in white flannels playing the game according to the book, i.e. of culture, decency and civilization.  A few months ago I warned that there could be sinister moves to demoralize Sanga and his team with match fixing charges.  It happened and one wonders if such charges/insinuations themselves have price-tags attached to them. 

It has come to a point when even a good game of cricket leaves a few question marks hanging.  Not many would have bet on England tying with India or Ireland beating India.  Those who bet against the run of play would have scored some big hits.  I like to think that there’s cricket in cricket, although the evidence suggests otherwise, whether or not there’s any truth in match-fixing allegations. 

People talk of the glorious uncertainties of cricket.  Well, this is possible only if there are no scripts to what happens on the field.  I am not sure any more if all cricketers play cricket, even though they don pads, gloves and helmets and so on and know how to polish the red cherry on their shirt fronts.  Bucks have got in the way.  Sledging is mainstream.  Gamesmanship overrides sportsmanship.  I watch for script-flips, when that which even the most competent script-writers employed by the bookies cannot predict.  Like that 50 ball 100 by Ireland’s O’Brian.  Or what Marvan did on February 22, 2004 at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium.  They’ve both given some oxygen to ‘that’s not cricket’.  I am not sure if it’s enough though.

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Nation’ and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com.  This article was published in the 'Daily News' of March 8, 2011.  


Jack Point said...

I think that quote was originally about football and rugger, not cricket and rugger. It fits better.