Michael Jeh December 20, 2009

The true spirit of cricket

The spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Cricket: two abstract concepts that are more about misty-eyed, mushy sentimentalism than about anything you can actually see and touch and feel

Was Suleiman Benn that much more at fault than Brad Haddin or Mitchell Johnson? © Getty Images

The spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Cricket: two abstract concepts that are more about misty-eyed, mushy sentimentalism than about anything you can actually see and touch and feel. Humbug!

The ‘spirit’ of Christmas seems to be a very literal interpretation in Australia, with a record number of drunk drivers getting arrested on the way home from Christmas parties, presumably celebrating the season’s goodwill and peace to all men. Clearly, that goodwill doesn’t extend to anyone sharing the road with them!

Likewise, the cricket scene too is full of little incidents that show up the Spirit of Cricket for the joke that it is. Administered by an ICC that bumbles about in its own inconsistency, handing out vastly differing punishments for similar offences and new playing conditions that have been poorly thought out (or not enforced), the sport cannot make up its mind about where it sits – is it a business, is it a gentleman’s game, is it a war between countries or is it about setting good examples for young children? It certainly can’t be all things to all people.

Let’s start in Perth – Sulieman Benn, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson are all involved in an unseemly incident, all of them with varying degrees of blame and totally contrasting punishments. Regardless of who pleaded guilty or not, if Johnson was fined 10% of his match fee (which in itself is a joke), even if Benn was deemed to be ten times more culpable, his punishment should then have been 100% of his match fee. Was Benn that much more at fault than Haddin or Johnson where his penalty could be equated to twenty or thirty times more (in rough terms) when you think of what a match suspension really counts for? Is that meant to be justice?

The commentators keep talking about the passion and pride of playing for one’s country when excusing childish acts of petulance like Doug Bollinger’s behaviour in Adelaide. Why is it then that only one team is allowed that leeway? Surely all cricketers can show pride and passion, in whatever way their culture deems appropriate? Looks more like pride and prejudice to me!

Ian Healy keeps talking about setting an example to young kids (with the Benn/Haddin/Johnson incident) and I agree totally with him. What do those young kids make of the penalties then? Different strokes for different folks? What do they make of Shane Watson’s childish behaviour, offset by a 15% match fee penalty? Gosh, that’s really going to hurt him! Just about everyone at my cricket club last night, watching Watson’s performance, cringed in embarrassment. Yet, Chris Broad deems it worthy of docking him some pocket money. If that had been Harbhajan Singh or Shoaib Akhtar or Benn himself, would the match referee have applied the same penalty? We’ll never know but I reckon there’s more chance of Santa Claus going on a diet.

Billy Bowden, faster than a speeding reindeer when it comes to theatrics and showmanship, took far too long to intervene and hose down the Perth incident before it got to the ‘push’n’shove’ stage. What was he thinking? Didn't he realise the cameras would be on him?

Across the Indian Ocean in Pretoria, England made a mockery of the review system by calling for a referral when the last wicket fell, just because they had one up their sleeve, in the hope that it may have been a no-ball. That’s just corrupting something that was created for an entirely honourable purpose: to eliminate the absolute shockers from the game. Perhaps England was still seething over the delayed Stuart Broad referral when the South Africans waited forever to get a signal from the dressing room before they asked for a review. Commentators are now talking about teams using their quota of referrals on a strategic basis - when they desperately need a wicket or a partnership, rather than the original purpose of rectifying major errors.

To cap off the spirit of Christmas, I read today that Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke are apparently no longer on speaking terms, presumably after Symonds’ much celebrated love of distilled spirits led to a dilution of the many things they apparently had in common (anyone who’s seen the mischievous emails will know what I mean when I refer to their little ‘bingle’ – an Aussie term for minor accident!). If Symonds is to be taken seriously, the Australian cricket scene is in danger of losing its characters because they’re too concerned with a squeaky-clean public image. More drinking, jostling, sledging, turning up drunk to games etc please – presumably that’s what he means by ‘character’?

Spirit of Cricket indeed - pigs might fly first. Or was that just Santa flitting past, on his way to Perth to collect the donations from Haddin, Johnson, Benn and Watson? He can rely on the impartial match referee to tell him who’s been naughty and nice!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane