Ed Smith
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Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman; writer for the New Statesman

The incredibly malleable spirit of cricket

It's possible for two people to argue for hours about someone "crossing the line" without anyone knowing what or where the line is

Ed Smith

June 17, 2014

Comments: 43 | Text size: A | A

Ian Bell vents his frustration during the confusion before tea, England v India, 2nd npower Test, Trent Bridge, 3rd day, July 31, 2011
Ian Bell was out in the Trent Bridge Test against India in 2011... until he wasn't © PA Photos
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Two British satirists, the late John Fortune and John Bird, mastered the art of explaining slippery subjects through humour. They would take a major news story and apparently merely knock it about in a light, spontaneous chat on TV. But their mischievous dialogues often took us closer to the heart of the matter than acres of self-important newsprint. (Here they are in a famous sketch from 2007 about the financial crisis)

How I would have loved them to address cricket's confusion about the "spirit of cricket". The old controversy was reignited this month when Sri Lanka "Mankaded" Jos Buttler. In the spirit of admiration rather than emulation, in this piece I imagine a conversion between the two great satirists, reflecting on Mankading and cricket's odd attitudes towards morality...

"So what is it, this spirit of cricket thing? Presumably it's about behaving with dignity out on the pitch and that kind of stuff?"

"Oh no, not really. Most players can get away with swearing at each other non-stop for five days without contravening the spirit of cricket. We don't get involved morally at that level. Better to turn a blind eye."

"You mean sledging - that's the right term isn't it? - does not contravene the spirit of cricket?"

"Not really. No, cricket tends to celebrate verbal abuse as "banter", even though it's very rarely funny. Let's put it this way. If someone sledges you all day in a Test match, the correct response in modern cricket is to go up to him at the end of play and say, "I loved the way you showed real passion about playing for your country, you seem like a champion cricketer, can I buy you a drink, as I'm sure you're a great bloke off the pitch."

"So the appropriate response to someone calling you a "f****** ****" for seven hours is to say, 'Thanks, can I buy you a beer?'"

"Exactly."

"Now I'm confused. So abusing someone who is simply doing his job is fine. But when an opponent performs a run-out, entirely within the laws of the game, he has broken the spirit of cricket, and the crowd starts booing and the whole occasion is apparently demeaned?"

"You are beginning to understand how the phrase "spirit of cricket" can be thrown around."

"But what could Sri Lanka have done to avoid the Mankading? Other than the threat of a Mankad, there's no other way of preventing a batsman setting off for a run from an advanced position is there?"

"Not really."

"And I suppose, in the heat of battle in elite sport, no one offers warnings before acting within the laws, do they?"

"Well, actually Sri Lanka offered two warnings."

"So they offered two warnings to an opponent who was - deliberately or, in this instance, accidentally - gaining an illegal advantage, and yet they still broke the spirit of cricket?"

"According to lots of people, yes."

 
 
Everything up to and including my actions are "within the spirit of cricket". Anything I don't like about the actions of other players is "against the spirit of cricket"
 

"So if acting within the laws is against the spirit of cricket, what does upholding the spirit of cricket look like?"

"It's about not taking advantage of the fact that a man can lose his mind immediately before eating a slice of cake."

"I'm sorry, you've lost me."

"Back in 2011, poor Ian Bell offered a plea of temporary insanity brought about by the immediate temptation of a slice of cake. The 'spirit of cricket' jury gave him a reprieve, effectively a second life as a batsman."

"You're joking, right?"

"Deadly serious. Ian Bell made a brilliant hundred at Trent Bridge against India. But after the last ball before tea, he lapsed in concentration and assumed that the ball had crossed the boundary when in fact it hadn't. As he sauntered off for tea, the Indian team dislodged the bails, and Bell was run out. That is indeed out, according to the laws. But after an English delegation went to the Indian dressing room to complain, India retracted their appeal.

"That is, they invited Bell to bat again. Not because he wasn't out, but because they now realised that the prospect of tea had clearly clouded Bell's mind. Pundits agreed that everyone had behaved superbly. After all, how could a man be expected to remember the laws of the game when he can already sniff the aroma of chocolate cake in his nostrils?"

"This spirit of cricket is incredibly complex and malleable, isn't it? It looks as though you can explain or condemn almost anything using the rhetoric of the spirit of cricket."

"Exactly. That's the magic of it. It's all about not crossing a line."

"Whose line?"

"My line."

"What do you mean your line?"

"Everything up to and including my actions are 'within the spirit of cricket'. Anything I don't like about the actions of other players is 'against the spirit of cricket'."

"So it's possible for two people to argue for hours about someone 'crossing the line' without anyone knowing what or where the line is?"

"Exactly. That's the brilliance of the idea."

"Let's go back to the Mankading controversy. Wasn't there some background controversy about the bowling action of Senanayake, the bowler who performed the Mankading?"

"Senanayake's action has been reported as suspicious by several officials - i.e. it may be deemed a throw rather than a bowl. He will have to go to Cardiff to have his action specially filmed and analysed to see if it is legal after all."

"But isn't there a risk, when spin bowlers have to attend special testing, that they will simply bowl with a slightly different and 'more legal' action during the forensic examination?"

"What do you mean 'risk'? Basically, almost everyone who is tested eventually gets cleared. Think of the whole thing as a cooling off process."

"But what about the bowlers who don't have questionable actions? Aren't they placed at an unfair disadvantage by having to bowl in the traditional manner?"

"What do you think this is, a charity? This is cut-throat, elite sport. There is no room for sentimentality."

"Except the spirit of cricket?"

"Except for that, of course."

Ed Smith's latest book is Luck - A Fresh Look at Fortune. @edsmithwriter

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Sir_Francis on (June 21, 2014, 11:16 GMT)

Very well explained.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2014, 20:40 GMT)

It is normal practice for a bowler to give the non striker a warning about backing up, i.e. being out of his crease, before running him out. At the other end a striker who takes guard out of his crease has no such warning should he fail to get bat or foot behind the line after a swing and a miss. The wicket keeper will immediately appeal for a stumping. No second chance there. Perhaps all bowlers should stop warning non strikers about backing up. After all, the fielding side is trying to dismiss the batting side !!!

Posted by rizwan1981 on (June 18, 2014, 19:54 GMT)

tomhedley

Yes , you are correct - it was Harmison and not Anderson - I stand corrected

Posted by shane-oh on (June 18, 2014, 13:30 GMT)

It's a valid point, and humourously made - which is why players don't decide what's within the spirit, the umpires do.

The expectation to play within the spirit is something which sets cricket aside from other sports. Sadly, the arguments against this usually come from supporters of a team which has just gained an advantage from ignoring it, and the support from those that have been disadvantaged.

Posted by Kavum on (June 18, 2014, 12:27 GMT)

Take a lesson from baseball. The pitcher ostensibly winds up to pitch but is allowed to throw to first, second or third base if there is a runner attempting to "steal" a base. Taking a lead is legitimate and if you are caught out at the base you attempted to leave (let alone the base you are running to), you are OUT! If stumbling, bumbling, sauntering, sleepwalking, slithering, shuffling, sprinting or otherwise taking a start out of the crease before the ball is bowled, you are liable to be dismissed. This conforms with the law but is apparently against the so-called spirit. English bowlers bowling vicious bouncers at tail-enders, is all covered in Cook's own code of spiritual conduct, is it? Joe Root, et. al.'s incessant chirping (i.e. sledging by any other name) is also condoned by the code a la Cook. So is a former captain (from the same County) urging bowlers to crack open a champ spinner's fingers by bowling short into the body. Third grade tactics by a second rate team.

Posted by steve48 on (June 18, 2014, 11:14 GMT)

Nice to see I have stirred up a bit of feeling out there!. I am pro the 'mankad' form of dismissal, but feel that if a team chooses to break ranks with common practice, they should say so before the game rather than spring it on one individual during the match. I guarantee Buttler did not believe he had done anything wrong, or different to any other batsmen that day for his dismissal. And before anyone jumps back on their high horse, just imagine that instead of getting all haughty about it, England had started actively seeking to mankad all the Sri Lankans! As there is no penalty for failing to 'mankad' successfully, the game would easily be reduced to farce.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2014, 4:30 GMT)

wanna stop mankading. One way; allow it. As ian chappel said once batsman start getting out they will think twice before making the same mistake again. At the same time u will see them backing up properly. The whole concept of warning is ridiculous to be honest. batsman start taking advantage knowing they will be warned several times. Kartik and sachitra got the flak despite warning the batsmen twice I think. @steve: do u warn a batsman that u are about to ball a yorker or bouncer. So why warn him on mankading. Regarding norms: in medieval europe - domestic violence was more common than missing church on sunday. Does this mean missing church is worse. Norms change with time. So to judge an act based on its commonality is stupid.

Posted by ambsmams on (June 18, 2014, 3:31 GMT)

I would also like to understand England's position here in this test when they bowled 84 overs in a full day's play - thus bowling 6 overs short. Is this in the spirit of cricket? English Test players are known whiners and they will disregard all rules of cricket with the "spirit of cricket". With scientific reasoning now, isn't it time we dropped all forms of spirits from our game altogether?

Posted by Upyoursindia on (June 18, 2014, 1:53 GMT)

@steve48, So what you are saying is "Broad" is the authority on what is right and what is wrong, and a practice, which is morally wrong, and against the spirit of cricket, been carried on for generations, it s therefore a norm and has to be accepted, and something that is right and within the laws but not the "norm" should not be done (even after numerous warnings) Then sir you need to get your head examined.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2014, 1:51 GMT)

@steve48 Forget the word mankad as the action isn't illegal and batsman know they can be given out if they are out of their crease during play. It hasn't been acted on enough and so you have this problem of batsmen stealing runs because no one wants to" ManKad" , Utter nonsense,if this threat of removing a batsman had been used more regularly the current situation would not have eventuated The idea of putting England or any other team on notice about the potential "Mankad" situation is like saying,Your Adult sportsmen ,played this game since you were young but you don't know the rules so before we compete in this major sporting event lets explain the rules to you" Ed Smith's article nailed it. Just don't mention cake to Ian Bell.

Posted by DC75 on (June 18, 2014, 1:31 GMT)

Awesome mate, I like the part about definition of spirit of cricket - could not have been put better

Posted by   on (June 18, 2014, 1:31 GMT)

Whether English cricketers likes it or not , the run out of Butler is within the rules .Just because the Sri Lankan skipper supported his team mate this type of hue and cry .Other wise spineless ICC and their match referee would have imposed hefty fine on Sri Lankan bowler. Imagine if and if it is other way, then English bowler most intelligent under the sky. What a pity

Posted by lasfri on (June 18, 2014, 0:25 GMT)

Flexing the arm to 15 deg is about the only positive thing to happen for bowlers over the past decade of cricket. When you factor in the slew of changes favouring the batsman, from limiting bouncers to field restrictions, to unlimited bat widths, the flexing thing comes across but as a minor reprieve. Am all for slinging, doosra-ing bowlers to step in and keep at it. Makes the game more fun to watch.

Posted by tomhedley on (June 17, 2014, 23:06 GMT)

@rizwan1981 It was Harmison not Anderson

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 21:00 GMT)

Mankading is not allowed in junior cricket in our local association. What we have to do then, to bring the players in line, is the umpires (and the coaches) need to give guidance to the players as to what is and is not acceptable backing up. There is no other way - I have seen instances where some players know exactly what they are doing and are gaining an unfair advantage (players who otherwise could do with losing a few pounds and if they did they would make their ground easily.) And the parents seem to revel in what is, quite frankly, cheating. Thankfully my daughter (who captains one of the teams that I coach) is well aware of the Spirit of Cricket and she keeps on top of this sort of stuff. But I am seeing lots of kids coming through now who have no clue what it is about.

Posted by nursery_ender on (June 17, 2014, 20:01 GMT)

osted by Raj006 on (June 17, 2014, 17:48 GMT) Ed Smith was spot on until he mentioned the bowling action. "But isn't there a risk, when spin bowlers have to attend special testing, that they will simply bowl with a slightly different and 'more legal' action during the forensic examination?" I believe the videos at the test will be compared with the videos taken during a match. If the action is considerably different during testing, the bowler will fail the test. Can someone confirm this.

More to the point someone who has undergone remedial work on an illegal action is always liable to revert to his old habits due to match pressure, fatigue etc. Just ask anyone who has tried to change a golf swing.

Posted by DeepakDixit on (June 17, 2014, 18:22 GMT)

Spirit of cricket was actually gone for a toss

1. When England denied a runner to a visibly hurt Smith 2. Disgraceful Srilankan bowler denied Sehwag a century by intentionaly bowling a no ball 3. My own countryman Raina appealed for a run out againt Inzy who wasn't looking for any sort of run

Posted by Raj006 on (June 17, 2014, 17:48 GMT)

Ed Smith was spot on until he mentioned the bowling action.

"But isn't there a risk, when spin bowlers have to attend special testing, that they will simply bowl with a slightly different and 'more legal' action during the forensic examination?"

I believe the videos at the test will be compared with the videos taken during a match. If the action is considerably different during testing, the bowler will fail the test. Can someone confirm this.

Posted by cktspirit on (June 17, 2014, 17:26 GMT)

Hits the nail on the coffin, very good article w.r.t spirit. The spirit of cricket was left behind quite a long time, banter and playing off the field took over the game. What do they call it these days, professionalism!!

I remember Bishen Bedi's call to not let bowlers with suspect action bowl. Why can't they take recorded video of matches and analyze the action?

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 16:42 GMT)

You thump the ball to slip and you don't walk, and it is not a violation of spirit of cricket. However, you run a guy out after giving 2 warnings, which is of course is against the spirit of cricket . English and their cricket is so complex. No wonder we only have few countries playing cricket. It is so difficult to keep up with English spirit of cricket.

Posted by espncricinfomobile on (June 17, 2014, 15:36 GMT)

Great article this the the true Gentlemen's Game.

Posted by Andross on (June 17, 2014, 15:32 GMT)

It's ridiculous that Mankading is given such a bad rap, it's considered legal, and the bowlers have to give warnings for it, that should be the end of it (I think you shouldn't even have to give the warnings), The nonstriker is supposed to be within his ground until the ball is in play, and to be otherwise should be considered cheating. In that light, why do people get so high and mighty about them then being mankaded, it's absurd! The so called 'Spirit of Cricket' is a now antiquated concept which went out as soon as cricketers became professional sportsmen.

It's the same as the issue with walking. Batsmen's careers, and their teams results depend on them staying in and making runs. They are entitled to listen and abide by the umpires decision, and it's no more cheating than a team appealing when they're only half confident it's out, which teams to all the time. But then I seem to be about the only Aussie who thinks that Broad was perfectly legitimate in not walking.

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 14:35 GMT)

Such a wonderful piece of writing Ed Smith .

Posted by LSMKirkpatrick on (June 17, 2014, 13:06 GMT)

Dear Mr Smith,

Thank you. I could actually hear John Bird and John Fortune having the discussion above. Made my day.

For the record, Bell was out of his ground believing that play was over for Tea, India behaved admirably in that instance. Butler was out of his ground because he was advancing, albeit slowly, down the pitch. He had been warned once (the other warning was to Chris Jordan), he was out!

Why is it unfair to run-out the non-striker who is out of his ground but it wasnt unfair for Tendulkar to be run-out by Swann while backing up at Edgebaston. If you are out of your crease you are Out!.

Lawson Kirkpatrick

Posted by steve48 on (June 17, 2014, 10:54 GMT)

Such an interesting article, I had to post again! Ed, you highlighted one of the rare occasions when I was embarrassed to be an England supporter, the 'delegation' sent to the Indians dressing room to get Bell reinstated! What were they thinking? The other big debate is obviously the chucking one. The problem as I see it is hard to avoid now that we know everyone flexes their elbow, but the batsman now has the problem that bowlers legitimate 14 degree flex can suddenly, and easily become 20 degrees for a ball to gain extra spin/pace. With long, button down sleeves often such bowlers fashion choice, it would be a brave umpire to no-ball this occasional illegal delivery. I don't have a solution to this, would be interested to see if other posters do!

Posted by nursery_ender on (June 17, 2014, 10:47 GMT)

Posted by ramli on (June 17, 2014, 8:24 GMT) Mankading is just a run-out dismissal ... Sachin once had to jump with both legs and bat in air to avoid being hit by the throw coming towards him ... unfortunately the ball hit the stumps directly ... he was given out despite having reached the crease a few moments ago ... Sachin was just overtly careful about physical hurt while Buttler was scheming to steal an advantage ... Is Mankading worst than Sachin's dismissal? Both are run-out dismissals and both batsmen have to deem themselves unlucky

If the situation was as you described it, Sachin was VERY unlucky: if he had made his ground he shouldn't have been given out if he then left it to avoid injury.

Posted by rizwan1981 on (June 17, 2014, 10:45 GMT)

ramli

Inzamam was also runout in similar fashion when playing against England - INZI played the ball back to the bowler ( JIMMY Anderson ) and jumped up with both his feet off the ground and was declared out even though he never attempted a run !

Posted by michael.senthil on (June 17, 2014, 10:39 GMT)

as much as i love gamesmanship, this is a terrific article...

Posted by steve48 on (June 17, 2014, 10:22 GMT)

Great premise to this article, but for once, I believe Stuart Broad explained the mankad issue better than anyone else! He mentioned the word 'norms'. Sledging is ugly, but is a known part of the game, not 'walking' is now a norm. Mankadind the non striker is legal, but definitely not common practice, and the fact is, warnings not withstanding, Buttler was targeted in this instance, breaking the norm. How many other batsmen could have been dismissed this way during the match? This is where the stumping analogy becomes fatuous, the keeper will always stump the batsman if he can. If Sri Lanka had a problem with Buttler from the previous game, they should have put England on notice that they would be looking to mankad erring batsmen in future, no further warnings will be given, gloves are off, that will be the norm for this series! Both sides could then look at their 'backing up', a practice so common it has its own term, and play accordingly. All controversy avoided...

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 9:54 GMT)

I hope the England Team and Captain Cook in particular, read this excellent article

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 9:33 GMT)

I don't understand this idea of bowlers bowling differently in a lab compared to a match. In an ideal experiment it will be ensured that the delivery he bowls in a lab is identical to the one bowled in a match - interms of pace, spin/swing, control etc. With technology it is possible. So if a bowler is able to bowl, in this case a doosara, very similar to the ball in match situation without bending over the limit surely it means he is not chucking.

Posted by India_boy on (June 17, 2014, 9:28 GMT)

@ramli, I dont think that happened. Maybe you are talking about Misbah in whose case, the bat had not yet been grounded.

Posted by ramli on (June 17, 2014, 8:24 GMT)

Mankading is just a run-out dismissal ... Sachin once had to jump with both legs and bat in air to avoid being hit by the throw coming towards him ... unfortunately the ball hit the stumps directly ... he was given out despite having reached the crease a few moments ago ... Sachin was just overtly careful about physical hurt while Buttler was scheming to steal an advantage ... Is Mankading worst than Sachin's dismissal? Both are run-out dismissals and both batsmen have to deem themselves unlucky

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 7:54 GMT)

In the case of Mankading, the line is blurred by the fact that it is drawn in different places depending on which sort of match you are playing. So, in any match other than an international match, the way that this bowler aborted his action and took off the bails would not have been legitimate. In an international match, however, he could cleverly pull out of his action just at the point when the batsman (lookinig over his shoulder) would instinctively start to move, just enough to be stranded when the bowler Mankads him. It is this, not the running out after a couple of warnings that strays into the blurred area. In other words, having previously warned the batsman for relatively gross acts of backing up does not make the actual Mankading any less like sharp practice (in fact, carefully practised sharp practice).

Posted by Dysan25 on (June 17, 2014, 7:11 GMT)

Great Article indeed. Persistent Sledging has to be identified as a Non-Cricketing talent in any player, rather than just putting fines or suspensions. Ofcourse, some of my favourite players do sledge and it makes me lose interest in the game when they do it frequently. Mankading has to be purely seen as a run-out where the Non-striker wanted to get the better of the Bowler and the Bowler responded in kind.

Posted by jw76 on (June 17, 2014, 7:03 GMT)

There is a problem in that the line that should not be crossed is in different places for different people. Actions on the field which are quite fine to some players and teams are quite offensive to others. And KI think those who take a hard line ought to have a lot more respect for others with higher standards and refrain from doing anything that will really offend the opposition. That to me is the spirit of cricket, perhaps summed up in the word RESPECT. Not everyone agrees with your standards, so have respect for the other man's beliefs on how to play the game, just as you should have respect for his race or religion.

Posted by Crickyboy on (June 17, 2014, 6:05 GMT)

Brilliantly written. These two statements just sums it all up.

"If someone sledges you all day in a Test match, the correct response in modern cricket is to go up to him at the end of play and say, "I loved the way you showed real passion about playing for your country, you seem like a champion cricketer, can I buy you a drink, as I'm sure you're a great bloke off the pitch."

"Everything up to and including my actions are 'within the spirit of cricket'. Anything I don't like about the actions of other players is 'against the spirit of cricket'." lolz

Posted by Giffenman on (June 17, 2014, 5:24 GMT)

Brilliant piece Ed! "What does he know of cricket who does not know its spirits"?

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 5:15 GMT)

Terrific article. For the next time - in Australia, whatever the players did in their 'backyard cricket' which we all know was 'played hard but fair' is the spirit of the game. The rest of us are worthy of heaps of scorn if we do not understand it. And in today's day and age, this business of giving warning to the non-strikers before Mankading them is totally unfair to the fielding team.

Posted by JohnnyRook on (June 17, 2014, 4:46 GMT)

There was a time when batsmen were not looking actively for ones and twos. In that case, it might have been unsporting to run a non-striker off if he wandered out of the crease since he truely wasn't looking to take an unfair advantage, just being a little careless about something which was not a big deal.

But today things are different. Sport is a professional activity. Batsman is trying to gain as much of "fair advantage" as possible. In that attempt, if he crosses into boundaries of unfair, it is perfectly fair to run him out. And even if he was being careless, it is still fair to run him out because it is a professional sport. There is no room for carelessness.

So far in this episode, out of so many articles in cricinfo and other sites, I have rarely found anybody who has any sympathy for Butler. I wonder other than batting team and rule makers, who thinks that mankading is unfair.

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 4:26 GMT)

You've done great job writing this piece :) About the illegal actions. A bowler may change his action while testing but they also have the availability of real video of the bowler bowling in the match and they compare it with that video. Other than that Mankading .. SL did what was needed. They warned him twice.. He didn't care and got the fruit of it.. I'm in favor of it. Cook and any other captain would've doe same thing. :) Please publish.

Posted by inswing on (June 17, 2014, 4:21 GMT)

This is the best description of the travesty that is "sprit of cricket". Ed Smith gets it exactly right: "Everything up to and including my actions are 'within the spirit of cricket'. Anything I don't like about the actions of other players is 'against the spirit of cricket'." Routine bad behavior by English and Aus crickets has always been considered allright. Years ago English team ran out an Indian debutant just in this manner, while he was mistakenly walking off, and laughed at him saying that this was big boys cricket. On the last India tour, English slip fielders threw jelly beans on the pitch and claimed that it was a "joke". This should actually be a very serious offense.

Posted by   on (June 17, 2014, 3:58 GMT)

Why bother asking comedians to write a script when you've written one just now? Brilliant! The highlight of this article for me was the terrific comparison of sledging being totally ok when following the rules isn't

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