Michael Jeh August 22, 2010

What cricket can learn from golf

For a non-gifted sportsman like myself, frustratingly, golf and cricket seem to have diametrically opposed plans for me

A deliberate no-ball denied Virender Sehwag a ODI century against Sri Lanka © AFP

For a non-gifted sportsman like myself, frustratingly, golf and cricket seem to have diametrically opposed plans for me. Despite my best intentions, I tend to finish a round of golf having played far more strokes than is ideal. A regular round of 18 holes has me consistently beating Bradman's famed batting average, whereas in cricket I rarely ever fulfil the plan to play lots of shots or post a big score. I justify the golf score by convincing myself that I'm actually getting value for money by playing as many shots as possible but I can't quite come up with a good enough excuse for my all-too-regular low scores with bat in hand.

I've always felt that golf has so much to teach us about life and about cricket. What is most remarkable about golf is that it is utterly unremarkable that players are expected to police themselves, even when the truth is only between themselves and their conscience. It is a game that is entirely founded on integrity, honesty and manners, much like the way cricket was allegedly played in a bygone era. In golf, you count your own strokes, play the ball where it lies, penalise yourself even if you're playing alone or nobody's watching, bad luck is accompanied by a philosophical shrug, bunkers are raked, players keep quiet whilst their partners are playing - the list of good manners and etiquette goes on.

In the last week, where international cricket confronted a few unusual and delicate issues around the spirit of cricket, golf has just continued doing what it always does best - playing fair without even expecting accolades for it. We've had the Sehwag/Randiv/deliberate no-ball incident and it is to the credit of Sri Lankan cricket that they acted so swiftly to punish their own, even when the cricket world was split down the middle about the heinousness of the crime. I've read many of the blogs on the topic, including Sambit Bal's excellent piece a few days ago, and it's clear that whilst most people agree that it was a mean-spirited thing to do, it hardly ranks up there amongst the worst excesses on a cricket field in recent times. Yet, Sri Lanka Cricket, regardless of their motives (as some bloggers were keen to allude to), were proactive in salvaging some pride from an incident which they felt tarnished their reputation as upholders of the spirit of cricket.

This same week, a golfer at the PGA event in Whistling Straits penalised himself for an offence that no one else may have witnessed. It barely rated a mention - such acts of honesty are replayed hundreds of times every day on golf courses around the world, hackers and professionals alike. There is no allowance made for a major event as compared to a weekend thrash around some overgrown golf course. It's just taken for granted that this is the minimum expected of you when you walk up to that first tee, alone on a bush course in the outback or on front of a packed gallery at Augusta. It doesn't matter if the stakes are for the Ryder Cup or a quiet beer with only yourself for company - golf has managed to create a code of ethics that requires nothing more than a look in the mirror.

We've also had the unusual situation where Kyle Mills was given a "30 minute ban" for bowling a warm up ball on the pitch, a technicality which may have some good reason for existing but is hardly the crime of the century. If that constitutes a temporary 'red card', golfing enthusiasts must indeed wonder why some of the vicious sledging, head-butting, shoulder charging, spitting, ball-throwing at batsmen and appalling manners on the field is allowed to happen with a token slap on the wrist at a post-match hearing with the Match Referee. Whilst golf is essentially a singular pursuit, one still wonders why cricket can justify outright boorishness solely on the basis of pathetic excuses like "pressure, competitiveness, man's game, heat of the moment". Life itself is full of such pressures but we generally don't condone crude, rude and obnoxious behaviour because of it.

Can you imagine a golfer whispering to his playing partner that his wife/mother/sister etc was less than virtuous last night and then taking pleasure in the duffed shot that follows? That would be seen as tantamount to cheating, let alone the complete abrogation of honour and decency. Golfers would view that as a hollow victory, a moment not worthy of revelling in, their reputation on the 'circuit' damaged beyond repair.

Yet cricket often legitimises such gamesmanship, even go so far as to celebrate the exponents of these practices as being "hard men" who can mix it with the toughest of competitors. Their reputation on the circuit actually is enhanced because of it! I suspect that serious golfers, hardened men amongst that lot too, would be appalled that a sportsman could actually derive any pleasure from winning under those circumstances. What's even more ironic is that many cricketers who play their game with this so-called 'uncompromising' attitude can actually play outstanding golf as perfect gentlemen, thereby negating the very essence of their own argument that they need the adrenalin surge of the 'niggle' to bring out the best in them.

No one doubts that cricket and golf are totally unique and will naturally bring out very different physical and mental skills. Even allowing for that, it is almost a shame that the two sports, both of which are now hyper-professional (in fact, the money at stake in golf makes cricket look like a joke) have diverged so far from common values that were rooted in olde worlde manners and courtesies. It probably boils down to a cultural value set that is now so firmly entrenched in golf that it is now second nature to anyone playing that sport, at any level. It's almost become an unwritten rule of the game where to observe the rule is merely your duty whereas to transgress it would be a shameful act of treachery. And that's probably where cricket has moved away from its original reputation as a true gentleman's game - it is now the case where batsmen who walk when they nick it or keepers that don't appeal when they know it missed the edge or fielders who refuse to claim dubious catches are now celebrated as wonderful sportsmen worthy of special mention. In golf, that sort of behaviour is a moral obligation.

In the 1925 US Open in Massachusetts, the great Bobby Jones called a shot on himself for a moving ball. He went on to lose by a single stroke but was genuinely surprised by the fuss that was made of his honesty. "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank" he said.

That's just not cricket! Not today anyway. Perhaps in village cricket but not at the top. And I think the game is all the poorer for it.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fanedlive on September 1, 2010, 18:20 GMT

    Golf isn't the only sport where players are prepared to admit to fouls not apparent to anyone else. It happens in snooker too, and life golf has a lot of money at the top, but, unlike golf, the players are predominantly from less monied origins. Team game or not, I don't see any justification for cheating and certain well-known cheats are not universally applauded.

  • fanedlive on August 23, 2010, 23:06 GMT

    Norman, with respect, I can't agree with you one iota. To think that the article is about finding solace for my lack of cricketing skill is to miss the point totally. That was just self-depracating (albeit all-too-often-true) humour. I hardly ever play golf, perhaps once a year at most, so I'm not trying promote the sport for any of the ridiculous reasons you suggest.

    Astounded to see though that you think testosterone explains a fair bit of it. Obviously the rest of our lives are meant to be lived without it impacting negatively on our behaviour? Dear me.....

  • fanedlive on August 23, 2010, 12:14 GMT

    I'm sorry Micheal, but this article is way off the mark. First of all, how can you compare two sports which are poles apart, in their composition, game play and pace. While it's alright to criticize the sledging and attempts to deceive the umpire in cricket; it's utterly out of sync to compare it with virtues of golf. If you want to compare golf with any other sport, try snooker. The whole point of the article seems to be taking out your grudge against the fact that cricket doesn't allow you more strokes for being mediocre, while golf does; so you present golf as a holier than thou sport. It would be akin to comparing soccer with cricket and then shower praises on the virtues of cricket, while blasting soccer for its lack of morals, when soccer is a continuous contact sport while cricket is a non-contact ball-by-ball sport. (Despite the fact soccer has its genuine problems with cheating)

    P.S. heat of the moment does exist, especially when you've got testosterone in your body

  • fanedlive on August 23, 2010, 10:45 GMT

    once i was watching a game of rugby......

  • fanedlive on August 23, 2010, 10:08 GMT

    @ Mac, you've got it bang on, the question is not of culture or character its about the willingness to stem the rot, That sadly is lacking in the powers that be.

    Some say sledging is ok some others say hurling the ball at a non running batsman is ok because someone is a good bloke in the dressing room etc.

    It will not stop unless there is a uniformity with respect to code of conduct, crime and punishment.

    Soccer in this case does a good job, does not matter if its a Zidane or Rooney or Drogba or Kewell or Song etc if you do the crime you will get carded and maybe even Red Carded.

    In cricket one can get away on technicalities such as Maa Ki v Monkey etc and you have retired justices required to dole out verdicts.

    So I guess we've got it wrong when it comes to setting behaviour codes therefore automatic adherence is not going to happen

  • fanedlive on August 23, 2010, 7:14 GMT

    Golf has as many badly behaved players as cricket, atleast in the amateur Indian club circuit. A good sport is a good sport irrespective of the game. In team sport the adrnaline rush is greater, in individual sport like Golf the fear of failure makes you very nervy and therefore the jingoism in cricket. However lets all celebrate ARJUN ATWALs PGA tour victory last night. He is only the 6th Asian to win on the PGA Tour and 1st Indian and to think he lost his tour card last week... Now that is a class act. Lets hope people across sport understand that you dont need to be rude or cheat to be a tough guy on the field and eventually a winner.

  • fanedlive on August 23, 2010, 6:46 GMT

    Pranav, I like where you're going with your point, even though I can't necessarily agree or disagree with the notion that golf may have been a rich man's sport. Even if it was, does that mean that rich men (upper class) are inherently more prone to higher standards of behaviour/ethics/manners?

    I keep coming back to the point that the very same cricketer who might cuss, swear, sledge on the cricket pitch will play a round of golf and still maintain his competitiveness without feeling the need to employ any of those emotions. So that suggests to me that golf almost has an unwritten code that 'infects' the player and forces him to behave according to golf's traditions. And it's a shame that cricket has lost that tradition (or perhaps we never had it). I think most of the poor behaviour in cricket happens because it is allowable. Why does a cat lick itself? Because it can!!!

  • fanedlive on August 23, 2010, 5:23 GMT

    Mac, with due respect, you may have it wrong. The notion of 'the professional golfer as upper class gent' is outdated. I may not be able to speak for the rest of the world, but in India a caddie (not a college student doing a summer job but someone from the so-called 'lower classes' earning his living) becoming a pro and going on to win big tournaments is no longer a matter of amazement. It's happened often enough. The question is about what standards a sport holds its practitioners to, not the social strata to which they belong. Having said that, any sport that involves an action-reaction interplay which pits opponents against each other in a direct sense (I bowl, you hit) is likely to be more aggressive than one where the interplay is psychological (I hit a good shot, you match/better it).

  • fanedlive on August 22, 2010, 19:59 GMT

    I like this article. I think too many people are of the impression that cricket has a monopoly on issues of fair play, sportsmanship, etc., while only choosing to believe the worst about other sports. Cricket isn't the only sport in the world (neither should it be), and it's our loss if we blind ourselves to everything we can learn from other forms of competition.

  • fanedlive on August 22, 2010, 19:02 GMT

    Michael, the answer to the difference in values may lie among the educational and socio-economic background of the players. Professional golf players rarely come from even middle-class families, they are born into rich societies. The culture of golf is inherently aligned with the social mores of the privileged. No wonder the "ye olde days" you refer to when cricket was played in good spirits was also the era when most cricket players (at least the ones who were leaders in the game, the English) were derived from the higher strata of society.

    Now, none of us would argue that the "de-gentrification" of cricket is a bad thing. If we are now seeing more brash players play the game, what we need is a better enforcement of the rules of conduct. Turning up the stump mic volume might be a step in the right direction to prevent sledging. It is so much more pleasing to hear the mid-pitch conversations, rather than the drivel that the sales agents masquerading as commentators spew nowadays.

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