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November 11, 2008

Samir Chopra

What's the spirit of cricket?

Samir Chopra

My favorite kind of philosophical discussion involves one where after a lengthy argument about some X, a participant finally throws up his hands and says, "I don't think we have a determinate concept of X".

After many attempts to process the sound and fury generated by Dhoni's 8-1 field placings (day three) and Ponting's bowler handling (day four) in the Nagpur test, I'm starting to think we don't have a determinate concept of "the spirit of cricket". For what else can explain the simultaneous blasting of both captains, one for violating the spirit of cricket, and the other for not?

Let me try and explain my puzzlement at this state of affairs. Dhoni was castigated for violating Clause 2.3 (a) of the Spirit of Cricket, which reads "Thou shalt not set fields that inhibit scoring excessively for doing so may lead to spectator boredom, opposing captain (and fan) disenchantment, and the demise of test cricket." (And bring the wrath of Peter Roebuck and Malcolm Conn down upon your head)

Ponting was castigated for NOT violating Clause 3.7 (b) of the Spirit of Cricket, which reads "Thou shalt always strive to maximize over-rates in Test cricket because failure to do so will lead to spectator boredom, opposing captain (and fan) disenchantment, and the demise of test cricket." (And besides Christopher Martin-Jenkins told us many years ago that the West Indian quicks were destroying all cricket with their dastardly over-rates)

Dhoni was lambasted for playing within the rules of the game, but playing excessively hard and being cynical, for saying "The hell with balanced fields, I've got a series to save, a trophy to win" (Whatever happened to the wonderful land of Hard-But-Fair? Why was Dhoni denied even a tourist visa for that wonderful place?)

Ponting was lambasted for not playing harder, for not saying "The hell with the damn over-rates, I've got a match to win here, goddamnit, a series to square, a trophy to win". Sure, a lot of the hostility directed at Ponting suggested he was merely trying to save his own skin, to not suffer the humiliation of a ban for over-rates. But Ponting was trying to up the over-rates. Why wasn't he praised for sacrificing his team on the altar of the Spirit of Cricket[tm]? The Spirit of Cricket seemed to demand that of Dhoni, didn't it?

I know that the anger directed at Ponting has to do with his general slackness in maintaining over-rates. On which point I agree, he needs to stop his endless waffling on about field placings, his desire to hold lengthy consultations with bowlers and so on. But still, I thought everyone had agreed that over-rates were a Good Thing At All Costs. So Ponting was slack about it. So he fell behind. So he tried to bring them back on board, even at the cost of his team's fortunes (and the enhancement of his own in terms of being able to play against New Zealand next week). But that's not cool. Because one thing captains should not do is sacrifice their team's fortunes for the sake of the Spirit of Cricket. Or should they?

So should Dhoni have messed with India's chances of trying to regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy by not setting the fields that he thought gave him the best chance of messing with Australia's strategy? And over-rates are only a Good Thing till the point they start messing with your chances of winning a game? And at that point all worry about the spectators, the demise of test cricket and so on, goes out the window?

Do we have a determinate concept of the Spirit of Cricket?

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Imran on (November 23, 2008, 6:26 GMT)

In all these comments (talking about spirit of the game) why did no one mentioned the Sydney test?

Australians only choke on "the spirit of the game" when its suits them.

Posted by Michael on (November 18, 2008, 5:46 GMT)

Tegger, you have hit the spot. Much has been said about Australian sportsmanship etc, but relatively little on the accountability of team India.

With the Indians obviously on the rise, one of their challenges will be to assess their OWN behaviour (no matter what others do). This is called accepting RESPONSIBILITY and MATURITY, epitomised by Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Hussey, S. Clark, Symonds.

This is unlikely to happen until the Indian cricket media stops the unnecessary and sensational hyperbole and acquires cricket writing talent to the tune of the Benauds or Chappells who forego destructive nationalism for writing about the good of the whole game/accountability.

How else do you explain the reaction to Dhoni's tactics, and Ghambir's ban? Dhoni's tactics were obviously within the rules of the game, but not within the spirit. I fell asleep watching the 3rd day, and it's staggering to see how many people speak of the Australians' negativity, which all came from India in this Test.

Posted by R. Jagannathan on (November 13, 2008, 11:31 GMT)

My dear Jondavluc, you can't fool around anyone by saying Ponting has rectified himself for his wrong doing, and engaged the part-time bowlers to maintain the spirit of the game. The fact is that he put his selfish motive (of escaping ban of one test) above the team's interests. Where that his so called "spirit of the game" had gone during Sydney fiasco or when his mates Hayden, Katich, Watson, Johnson sledge the batsmen when they can't get them out.

Posted by Cricpundit on (November 13, 2008, 5:43 GMT)

Excellent article. You have fully exposed the double standards most Aussie Commentators and players have shown. I had great respect for Ian's cricketing genius but I fail to understand how he is criticizing 8-1 field, which I am sure he himself would have done what Dhoni di

Posted by Looch on (November 13, 2008, 1:42 GMT)

Sant Great post, I agree with you 100%!

Posted by sam on (November 12, 2008, 19:21 GMT)

peter writes 3 columns everyday on the same day's play and all are different, with 7-2 field it was fine but with 8-1 it's not, i guess that's what they are saying, conn i just read him for sheer entertainment value and see how much of worng propaganda he is feeding to poor aussies, ponting did not do right but if australia had won it would have been alrite, remember cricket is unpredictable it doesnot follow norms and this romantics wants it to play as they predict which will never happen, if it was roebuck in charge india wud've been back after sydney and ponting wud've been sacked so he's better be an armchair critic 'cause out of that chair he's more dangerous;lol

Posted by sant on (November 12, 2008, 8:59 GMT)

Once all the blaming dies down and you cut all the gobblygook to bare essentials, all that remains is that both ponting and dhoni were slack in allowing the over-rate to get out of hand and its only because of this that they should be blamed. Not because ponting tried to change the situation putting his team at a disadvantage or because dhoni 'did not' try to change the situation putting his team at an advantage.

Posted by Shane Legge on (November 12, 2008, 2:55 GMT)

The spirit of cricket is not etched in stone and therefore is open to interpretation. Indian fans obviously see everything that Australia does as breaching it and everything India does as perfectly legitimate. I have an issue with this. If you are unable to criticise your own team in any circumstance then you have nothing to add to these discussions. Please do us a favour and keep your opinions to yourself. In my opinion, neither captain broke the rules at all. What Dhoni did was terribly annoying but perfectly legitimate. I ask the Indian fans: if the shoe was on the other foot would you be jumping up and down about Ponting doing the same thing? As for Ponting, I have no idea how he contravened the rules or the spirit of the game. He was guilty of shooting himself in the foot by not monitoring the over rates. He tried to fix that, fair enough but he is criticised for it. If he didn't try to fix it and bowled his quicks he still would have been criricised. He had already dug the hole.

Posted by Pratik on (November 12, 2008, 1:56 GMT)

@ Tegger:

"The aim of the game is to bowl at the stumps and not make the batsman go to you."

By the same token the outcutter that drops just outside the off stump, befuddles the batsman in going for a stroke and and edging to the slip is against the aim of the game. So, McGrath, you are guilty :)

The arm ball outside the off stump which confuses the batsman preparing for a ripping off-break is against the aim of the game. Kerjza - gulity!

Heck, then even Mitchell Johnson bowling continuously a foot outside the stump and waiting for the hopelessly out of form Dravid to go at it is also against the aim of the game. How is it that Johnson escapes censure?

Aussies sledged - that's hard and fair. Indians hit back and that's against spirit of the game.

Aussies spread out field and stopped attacking right from test #1. That's strategy. Indians choked Aussies only for a day in the last test. That's against spirit of the game.

Fine spirit this, that seems to burn only in Aussie souls!

Posted by Rastawookie on (November 12, 2008, 0:04 GMT)

Hmmm, interesting. As a captain of a club side, and a proud Australian, I find myself siding my Dhoni's actions much more than Ponting's. Dhoni did what it takes to win the match and series without breaching the rules of cricket. An act that great Australian captains like Waugh or Taylor would have also done. Beating the best ranked team in the world by playing within the rules should never disappoint an audience. Ponting on the other hand should never have let himself get 9 overs down in the first place. Bowling the part-timers isn't the problem, its the symptom of the problem. Ponting spends a massive amount of time setting his fields and talking to his bowlers, and his team doesn't push between overs. Better player management would have allowed him to bowl whoever he wanted at that stage. The damage was already done. As for 'the spirit of the game', well just because cricket is 'ugly' doesn't mean it isn't enthrauling. Captains shouldn't be punished for supporter ignorance.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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