England cricket August 31, 2012

Spirit of cricket invoked too easily

Imagine your favourite player was on 70. It's a flat pitch. The bowlers are tired. The batsman is flying. And a hundred is certainly on the cards

Imagine your favourite player was on 70. It's a flat pitch. The bowlers are tired. The batsman is flying. And a hundred is certainly on the cards. Then, in a moment of nothing short of pure stupidity, the batsman is not deceived by the bowler, or out thought by the captain, he just half hits one and is caught on the long on boundary.

It was stupid, dozy and was clearly a mistake.

Now imagine the umpire went over to the captain and said, "Look, it was clearly just a stupid error, he didn't mean it, I'm offering you the chance to call him back".

Under the laws of cricket, he's out. But it's a rubbish way to go out, and really, it was an absent-minded mistake. No one would call him back though. Because his mistake was something that happens in cricket every day.

Alex Barrow's mistake was different. Barrow repeatedly left his crease before the ball was bowled, which under the laws of cricket is out if the bowler takes the bails off. He was warned about this by Murali Kartik, and still he repeated it. Kartik probably doesn't warn batsmen that if they keep playing across the line, they'll probably miss one.

For those who believe this is a moral issue, and point to the spirit of cricket, Barrow broke the spirit of cricket before Kartik did. Most notably "To indulge in cheating or any sharp practice". Barrow had left his ground early, more than once, he was cheating a few extra yards, flouting the laws of the game, questioning the spirit of the game, and he got run out.

Steve Snell said he was shocked, but how could he be? Barrow had been warned, don't cheat or I'll run you out. He did it again.

Batsmen have been backing up terribly for years. At the end of T20 matches, you can see batsmen more than a metre from their crease as the bowler delivers the ball. It means that the bowler, who is bowling with the laws and spirit of the game, is more likely to concede a run. Barrow's offence was probably absent-mindedness, but he was still out of his ground before the ball was bowled, giving him a greater chance of taking a run.

To run a batsman out for this cheating is against the spirit of the game according to many people. It's not written anywhere in the laws, or even in the spirit preamble. But the lawmakers did take time to allow a batsman to be run out for leaving his ground before the ball is delivered. We should forget that though, and only apply the vague spirit of cricket phrases.

And if we are to take the spirit of cricket literally, one of the sharp practices it mentions is appealing knowing the batsman is not out. That means that the spirit of cricket is broken on a minute-by-minute basis all around the world. Where is the outcry of emotion that Kartik has had when an international bowler appeals, but then tells his captain not to refer it?

Cricket fans need to remember that the phrase spirit of cricket came from a time when the game was sexist, racist and the laws of the game were shaped by betting. Amateurs were separated from professionals, white captains led the West Indies and Aboriginal fast bowlers were called for chucking. The spirit of cricket phrase was lip service for what was often a grubby disgusting sport.

The real spirit of cricket isn't a bunch of pious words written by some champion batsman, it's Basil D'Oliveira wanting to play against his own country who didn't want him, Bob Blair walking out to avoid the follow on after his fiancé had died, Rick McCosker batting with a broken jaw, the arm bands of Henry Olonga and Andy Flower and the fact that Thilan Samaraweera plays on despite being shot by a terrorist while representing his country.

I'm pretty sure the spirit of cricket, real or imagined, can handle a batsman being run out for leaving his ground a bit early.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com