The Spirit of Cricket and all That Nonsense!

Posted on July 3, 2023

Ah, the gentile gentleman’s game of cricket. You get none of this bad sportsmanship stuff you see them nasty footballers get up to. It is a game played in ‘The Spirit of Cricket’. Well, sometimes, anyway. Actually, it’s just like any other sport, some people play in the spirit of the game, others don’t. Most of us fluctuate between both, often regretting doing the right or wrong thing.

First Hand Experience

With regards to the Jonny Bairstow incident, it is something I can comment on with first hand knowledge. I was ‘out wandering’ twice last season, so I see how it happens. However, both incidents were entirely different in nature, even if the outcome was the same (trudging back to the pavilion).

The first incident revolved around me playing and missing a shot, then walking down the crease to talk to my partner. The wicketkeeper whipped off the bails and off I went, swearing and hurling my bat like it was a javelin. It was more fury at myself than anything. I was the number 11 batsmen holding up an end with reasonable ease as my partner was pumping the ball to all parts. I ruined his afternoon but fortunately we went on to defend the target.

The second was a game that we had in effect, already lost. I was last man in (again) but on this occasion we needed about 150 to win off 8 Overs. The bowler mistimed his delivery, I thrashed at it with all the grace of an octopus falling out of a tree and it clattered into the base of my ribcage. It hurt, so I walked around to catch my breath and one of the fielders ran me out and shouted, “Let’s go home”, right in my face. What a prick, and he wasn’t even Australian.

Bairstow Was Out

So, there you have two personal incidents. One that I could only really blame on myself, the other that was poor sportsmanship in a dead game. The one thing that was identical was the decisions. I was given out, wandering from my crease both times. If you are not totally aware of the rules of cricket, the one thing that is 100% cast iron fact, is that Johny Bairstow was out yesterday. Of that there is no debate, so there is little point bringing umpires into the equation.

So, now we move on to ‘The Spirit of Cricket’. It’s a bullshit term really, as it doesn’t have any rules to it. What it is supposed to mean is that if someone does something by accident that doesn’t affect the game, the opposition should let it go and win by fair means. It’s a grey area though and nearly everyone will see it differently. A poll we had on our club WhatsApp group was split and I expect it was the same everywhere else.

Impulse and Logic

Us humans are an impulsive bunch. When we get older, some of us stop acting on the first thing that comes into our head and use logic and experience to calculate our reactions. Our reactionary front cortex is dulled by other parts of our brain that demand we look at the bigger picture. My first reaction to the Bairstow decision was that Australian are a bunch of cheating pricks. After my anger subsided, I looked at the incident again and I felt differently. It was more a case of, “Ooh dear Australia, that won’t do your reputation much good”.

Possibly for the first time in history, Lords turned into a cauldron of hate. The commentators went through their obligatory performance of, “no one likes to see scenes like these”, when the opposite is almost always the case. Sport is more fun when it becomes a pantomime, and this was classic panto. Australia were the villains, Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad were the comic book heroes trying to dig out the unlikeliest of victories. Had they done so, it would have gone down as one of the great sporting spectacles.

Dark Arts Inspired England

Oddly, had Australia not used the dark arts to get Bairstow out, the game might not have evolved as it did. England were staring down the barrel of defeat even with him at the crease and his departure raised the decibels at a normally subdued Lords. England and Stokes in particular, seem to rise to that kind of occasion and had Australia lost, it may well have been because they poked the bear.

So, opinion will continue to be divided. It all comes down to where an individual sets their moral compass. Nearly everyone who has played or even supported sport has probably done things they regret on impulse. It may be lashing out at another footballer or rugby player, or not walking when edged to the keeper. It almost always ends up in a night of tossing and turning in your bed.

Personal Incidents

I can remember a couple of incidents in cricket that come into my mind. I will start with when I was outside of ‘The Spirit of the Game’. This was when my son was about 13 and was all set for a third successive duck. Fortunately, I was umpiring and didn’t give him out when he was plumb LBW. He went on to retire on 25 not out and we won the game. I got about 2 hours sleep that night. I felt awful.

Then there was the time I played within the spirit of the game. I was facing a bowler who was about 6’ 6”. One delivery fizzed passed my nose, then the next feathered the edge of my bat as I tried to fend it off and the keeper caught it. I looked up at the umpire and the finger didn’t go up, so I walked off (gave myself out). On my way back to the pavilion two opposition players approached me and shook my hand, congratulating me on my good sportsmanship.

What they didn’t know was that this act of sportsmanship was an act of cowardice. The bloke was bowling far too quick for me and because of his height, he was getting enough lift off the pitch to obliterate my face. When I edged the ball to the slips I had to battle hard to walk, not to sprint off in the hope I hadn’t shat myself. However, no matter how false my sporting departure was, the sense of well-being I got from being applauded for sportsmanship was quite special.

Doing the Wrong Thing Makes Great Theatre

If Australia had done the decent thing yesterday, they would have received worldwide plaudits and would have probably won the game anyway. However, this is professional sport where careers and big money are at stake. There is not a bigger Test series than The Ashes. Had Bairstow scored 150 and England had gone on to win, Australia may well have been lambasted back home for not sticking to the rules of the game and making Bairstow walk.

As it turned out, it made great unscripted theatre. When sport turns into a cauldron where the holier than thou good guys turn on the sinister villains it makes for a great spectacle. Seeing the daft old farts in the Long Room losing their shit when the Aussies came in for lunch, was hilarious. All the “hold me back” stuff in front of David Warner was proper pantomime.

Devious Meets Daft

Ultimately, what Australia did, did seem a bit spiteful to me. However, Johny Bairstow is well-paid professional cricketer, so he should really know all about the dark arts. It’s one thing me wandering from my crease in Hampshire County League 5, quite another when an England professional does it. Ultimately, Australian skipper, Pat Cummings, will have his own moral compass and the amount of sleep he got last night will be the only clue as to how he really feels.

Headingley will certainly be an interesting place to be on Thursday.

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