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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Gentleman's Game?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014
It feels like at least once a summer an incident happens that brings up debates over the fabled 'Spirit of Cricket'. This year we've already had a mankading incident in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, and against India the incident between Anderson and Jadeja has raised questions over the role and the nature of sledging in the game. Over the winter we had Michael Clarke's 'broken arm' comment, and in 2008 an altercation leading to a race row between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds. There are more positive examples too: on India's previous tour of England there was the incident involving Ian Bell, allowed back after being run out when strolling off for tea. One of the most famous events in recent history was of course that moment with Flintoff and Lee at the end of the 2005 Edgbaston test. Yet more and more it seems that when this 'spirit of the game' is discussed, it's been because something has happened against it.

The whole Anderson/Jadeja affair reached its conclusion this week (for now at least) with both players given not guilty verdicts on their respective charges, insufficient evidence available to conclusively prove either side of the story. The whole saga has left a sour taste; where attention should be on what is an intriguing full length test series, too often has the focus been on a series of events at Trent Bridge that are sounding ever more sound a playground spat. Whether or not Anderson did push Jadeja unprovoked, as is the Indian side of the story, or if it was a matter of self defence as the England camp are saying; the underlying matter of it all seems to be Anderson's use of sledging. I'm not against sledging and I like to see a bit of banter between sides in the heat of the game, just sometimes it gets overdone and a bit ridiculous really. It's best when humorous - Flintoff's infamous 'mind the windows' comment to Tino Best, and Sangakkara to Shaun Pollock are examples that come to my mind, both getting into a batsman's head whilst still being relatively light hearted. At the moment it seems like the fun and wit has gone and sledging has descended to downright abuse, just shouting and swearing. And Anderson is one of the worst culprits really, always having a word with the batsman - even in the most recent match he was warned by the umpires for his words to Rahane. Whether it's a way for him to get himself psyched up, or to give him an image of a no-nonsense fast bowler to the opposition, recently it has just all got a bit excessive. He should let his bowling do most of the talking, he's certainly good enough.

But whose responsibility should it be to keep the players in line? In the 'Spirit of Cricket' preamble to the laws, the responsibility for fair play is put on the shoulders of the captain. And largely, it is - in cases of a controversial dismissal, the umpires often ask the captains if they want their appeals upheld. It's seen when there are mankad incidents (though now the law has been changed so the batsman is just out), and at other times - the previously mentioned run out of Ian Bell an example of sportsmanship, and in 2008 against New Zealand Paul Collingwood upheld a controversial run out appeal after a bowler/batsman collision, a less positive example. More generally, as the leader of the team, captains are responsible for the behavior of their players on the pitch. But sometimes the captain himself sets a bad example - like Clarke's 'broken arm' comment in the winter and Ponting in the 2010/11 series arguing with the umpire following a review, both fined for their actions. Should it be the umpires, taking a firmer line and not letting it get as far as it has tended to do recently? Or is it down to the individual - playing on the highest international stage, setting an example for other players of all ages? In an age of stump microphones, what they say is more often than not picked up. Really it has to be a combination of all three - umpires should snuff such confrontations out before they reach such a stage as Anderson and Jadeja's did, but the captains and players should take more responsibility as well and leave a lot of the lip behind.

Maybe it's a reflection of the modern game - exhausting touring schedules see players competing against each other again and again in shorter periods of time, with back to back tests and back to back series meaning tempers are bound to flare somewhere down the line. Or maybe the past is being looked at with rose tinted glasses, cricket littered with controversies like WG Grace's gamesmanship, Bodyline, and the row between Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana. Is the spirit of the game real, or is it just a myth? Batsmen not walking, catches being claimed or contested, sledging - all are parts of the game, for better or for worse. Regardless, there has to be a line drawn at some point in regards to sledging and abuse or spats like these could become ever more common, and that fabled spirit of the game become harder to find.

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