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Does the Spirit of Cricket Have a Place in Sport?

on Tuesday, 22 October 2013. Posted in Kent Seniors, Adult Participation, Other News

Does the Spirit of Cricket Have a Place in Sport?

Do you remember the Ashes and ‘that incident’?  It sparked off another vigorous debate surrounding ‘The Spirit of Cricket’. The scene was the 3rd Day of the 2013 First Ashes Test match at Trent Bridge and the man in question was Stuart Broad who edged a ball from Ashton Agar and was caught by Michael Clarke at first slip. 

The umpire Aleem Dar did not adjudge Broad to have hit the ball however, and ruled that Broad was not out. Australia, with no reviews left was unable to call for the Decision Review System and so the decision stood. 
The decision with regards to whether a batman is ‘Out’ or ‘Not Out’ rests with the umpire. A batsman has no obligation to ‘walk’ i.e. give himself out. However, the existence of the “Spirit of the Game” in the Preamble to the ‘Laws of the Game’ muddies the water because it brings into question the concepts of morality and ethics. 
The problem with this is that sport is not guided by morals or ethics. Sport is guided (depending on the sport) by points, goals, runs, baskets, etc. All sports have a mathematical premise, and any moral obligation that may exist will, especially at the professional level, be superseded by the very fact that winning is the primary purpose of the initial competition.

It is very easy for journalists in press boxes, commentators on nice salaries, and fans from the comfort of their living room to say that “morally” Broad should have “walked”. And in fact, Broad, when later asked if he was “morally right” to do what he did, said no.  But out in the middle at Trent Bridge, in the heat of the moment, with 20,000 people spectators, millions watching on TV, an Ashes Test match on the line, having fought for years to play for England, with Broad’s innings, and runs he could score in the balance, it is more than understandable if his moral compass was thrown slightly out of kilter!

The Spirit of the Game is a very colloquial concept and one that is often abused by cricket in sanctimonious fashion over other sports such as football. But the fact of the matter is, the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ as it is more regularly referred to, is a concept that is increasingly being abused at all levels of the sport. In almost every match the guidelines laid out by the Spirit of Cricket are pushed to the limit and increasingly they are over-stepped. 

The reason for the Spirit of Cricket becoming increasingly debunk is that professional sport appears more pressurized than ever before. Whilst Stuart Broad’s wicket in 2013 is technically no more valuable than Gower’s 25 years before, or Bradman’s 80 years before, or WG Grace’s 110 years before - when Broad is out in the middle, with an enormous TV audience, cameras aimed at him, 24 hour news coverage to report replays and interviews, millions of column inches to be filled, Stuart Broad’s wicket to Stuart Broad feels more valuable than individuals’ wickets from bygone eras felt to them. 
Sport’s own sense of self-importance has been inflated over time and as we have entered the information age it has reached a staggering level. Cricketers feel that their wicket is worth so much that issues of morality pale into insignificance in the pursuit of victory and to be brutally honest, whether we are talking about 2013, 1913 or 1893, this is understandable. Sport is about winning; not about making friends. However, just because in crunch moments of professional cricket the concepts of morality and ethics are forsaken, that is not to say that the Spirit of Cricket should be removed from the Laws. The Spirit of Cricket remains a valuable part of cricket merely because its presence reminds players of the behaviour they should adhere to. Not to mention the fact that the way it is applied being open to interpretation means each and every violation can be judged on a case-by-case basis, which for the issues that it so often throws up is the perfect way for it to be policed. With the Spirit of Cricket no violation is exactly the same; every violation is different. 

In a perfect world Broad would have walked off that day and given himself out, but as has been demonstrated more and more often in recent times sportsmen are not perfect and morality will regularly be abandoned in pursuit of winning. But to remove the Spirit of Cricket from the sport would be tantamount to giving the go ahead to abusing the principles of the Spirit of Cricket making the sport a free-house for unsportsmanlike behaviour; something that all fans of cricket would dearly like to avoid. 
Too often the Spirit of Cricket is viewed as a romantic fad that is out-dated and antiquated when in fact the principles it attempts to uphold are ones that all supporters would hope their players would adhere to for the majority of the time. Punishments for abusing it should be harsh but fair, for over-stepping the line is best avoided but entirely understandable.

The Spirit of Cricket clashes with the core principle of winning, but the two are not mutually exclusive. And although their twin presence will throw up the occasional controversy, cricket with The Spirit of Cricket is a far more appealing prospect that cricket without it.

An article by cricket correspondent Freddie Wilde

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