Cracking cricket's morality code

His minders may frown at his decision to have a drink before a game, but do fans care if Jesse Ryder's hydration levels were down a notch as long as he can still do magic with a bat?

Andrew Hughes

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For the religious believer, morality is a simple business. It's all there in black and white, there's a rule for every situation, and if you're stuck, a man in a robe will happily explain for you what God meant.

For the rest of us, it's a stickier business. We have to work out for ourselves what is naughty, what might be naughty in certain circumstances and what is not naughty as long as you take precautions, and then we have to negotiate with other people.

This can lead to multiple moralities. The moral code of traffic wardens, for instance, appears to demand of its adherents a dogged commitment to spreading misery and perturbation amongst the car-driving populace. Politicians too have a distinctive moral code, one that allows them the freedom to practice the ancient art of truth-massage, and to exercise their traditional skills of ethical flexibility and intellectual suppleness.

Even cricket has its own morality; a set of rules that can look as strange and ruthless to outsiders as the rituals of the Aztecs or the liturgy of the Church of Maradona. One cricket commandment states: "Thou shalt not cheat by pretending to have caught the ball", yet another decrees: "Thou may cheat by pretending not to have hit the ball." Screaming abuse at an opponent is okay, but shaking your head at an umpire is forbidden.

Cricket's code has been expanded in recent years to include the following edict: "Thou shalt not drink even a drop of alcohol on Test-match eve, for verily shall the breakers of this commandment be declared unprofessional and cast into outer darkness at the day of judgement, being the day upon which central contracts are bestowed upon the worthy."

Whereas once cricketers might be expected to drink before, during and after a Test match, those who break this new commandment and enjoy a little pre-match tipple are likely to find themselves on the wrong side of an outrage, as Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell can attest. Their Auckland soiree caused a furious backlash as the puritans of the cricket establishment and their acolytes in the cricket media denounced the two sinners:

"It does not go down well with players, coaches and selectors who pore over computer footage late at night while Ryder and Bracewell shout their hangers-on another round of bourbon and cokes."

Granted, that is pretty shocking. What kind of sick twisted individual pollutes their whiskey with coke? It should, however, be stated, that Ryder and Bracewell have only been accused of mixing their whiskey with a child's soft drink. There's no direct proof.

But let's look at the bigger picture. Which of the two groups have their work-life balance in order? The oddballs who sit up all night watching video footage of themselves playing 17 varieties of forward -defensive, or the two young men who relieve the pressure of having to perform in public by going out and having some fun.

Odder still than the reaction of the cricket professionals is the reaction of some non-cricket professionals. It may well be that the Church of Cricket demands such abstinence from its clergy. But why should journalists or fans meekly bow our heads?

I don't care whether the New Zealand team nutritionist believes that Jesse Ryder's going out for a drink the night before makes him 7.5% less efficient at the crease, or that a few pompous scribblers have decided that having a whiskey before a Test match is akin to treason. I want to see our planet's most gifted and exciting willow wavers at the crease, yet Jesse Ryder and Kevin Pietersen are not allowed to play for their countries because they are deemed by the cricket puritans to be of unsuitable character. Is our sport really so overblessed with charismatic performers that it can afford to be so sanctimonious and picky about those it allows to participate?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

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Posted by Simon on (February 24, 2014, 4:59 GMT)

The clerics of cricket have been running rampant with their 'process' based blandness for sometime now, but the Aussies broke the template. I don't know what Boofha said in his interview to King James & 'high performance in another sport manager' Howard, but I suspect he played them by telling them what they wanted to hear. Then his first press conference contained his true message; Let those who wish to enjoy their sport play on crickets green pastures. Verily, were Warner & Johnson accepted back into the fold. Verilier did they perform exceptionally and the masses exulted Boofha & his disciples. Performance has meant public pressure to cull more of King James 'support staff'. Yet amazingly the team continues to enjoy & WIN. Who would have thought? Well, all us actually. Except those on cricket contracts whose only onfield activity is to prop themselves at the back of the team for end of series photos!

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 23, 2014, 2:12 GMT)

I'm sick and tired of listening to morons who think having a drink, even have a few is bad before a game .... try telling David Boon, David Hookes, Marsh, Lillee or any player in the 60's, 70's 80's they couldnt have a drink and the coach would have been booted from the team. Ryder went out had a few drinks, may have even been drunk then scored a hundred playing for Otago when he should have been in the starting 11 but wasnt even in the team but on standby for Taylor. So those that see this as bad, cant take themselves are go back to kindy, where you all belong. In the long run the only team that loses out is NZ Blackcaps not having one of its best players playing, he is far better than most of the current batting line up bar McCullum, Taylor and Williamson but i would put him equal with those 3 in terms of how good this guy is .... has a better test average than them. Political Correctness has no place in the game of cricket or in any other sport .....

Posted by Aaron on (February 22, 2014, 22:42 GMT)

I Love this article, my thoughts exactly on the Ryder and KP situations. This shouldn't be on 'Page 2' I reckon this is how Andrew actually feels about this over regulated PC BS as do many cricket fans in civilised countries I am sure. Thanks Andrew

Posted by Steven on (February 22, 2014, 20:55 GMT)

Ian Botham wouldn't have 10 wickets to his name if the same rules were applied to him... Ryder is a different case, he clearly has a problem but NZ need him to get to the next level. Management, this is when you earn your money.

Posted by Ritvik on (February 22, 2014, 19:29 GMT)

"Sanctimonious and picky".. Exactly. When the sport's critical element of exhilaration comes from a handful, why not be more flexible in outlook and approach? Rigidity is hypocrisy. and for Ryder's sake..this kind of article should be in page 1 and maybe conveyed to NZC haha

Posted by aditya kumar on (February 22, 2014, 18:12 GMT)

Dear Andrew, I feel for you. I really do. After reading the comments it seems the underlying sentiment behind this article has been totally missed. Don't worry you have company, (I would like to say good company since I am in it, but that is not my place to judge). Regardless, I for one am getting sick and tired that good, great entertaining players are being rounded up and kicked out and we are being served media trained metronomes who care more about the grammar of their press conferences (this is a metaphor) than the artistry on the field. I cannot take it anymore. When Sehwag was booted from the team, I was upset partly because, well, the man is great, but mostly as I was going to miss his press conferences, one devoid of platitudes and non-statements. Whether it be going fishing during a team meeting (Symonds) or napping when you are next in to bat (VVS) the greatest artists on the fields are able to do such things because they do things which usual people don't do off the field.

Posted by Parthiban on (February 22, 2014, 17:42 GMT)

Hughes' ire hast taken the edge off his sarcasm.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 22, 2014, 14:57 GMT)

Poorly researched article. A quiet tipple, I think not. I wonder how many times a player, in this case, two players, have to show flagrant disregard for before action should be taken. Perhaps, the writer of this article is of old school mentality in which turning up to the crease, slightly hung over….is just a bloke being a bloke. Lets not forget that these players are on pretty reasonable contracts and are employees. They have a responsibility to be at there very best to perform for their country. Professionalism requires professional behavior and attitudes. These two had neither. NZC made the correct decision.

Posted by David on (February 22, 2014, 11:29 GMT)

@Steve - 'Sportsmen are children at heart, they play a game for a living!'

Are you serious mate???? THEY ARE GROWN MEN lol..... Though if you are right and they are kids at heart then treat them like kids.

I totally disagree mate, they are men. With any team or r whatever there has to be boundaries. Ryder keeps crossing them. Can you imagine if the entire team behaved like him?

McCullum said on the eve of getting his 302 he went out with his dad for a pint. That is fine, he can control himself. Ryder can't.

This has been going on for years with Ryder. He could have the world at his feet. Tons of runs for NZ, massive $$ from the IPL but instead he chooses to play up and blames everyone but himself.

Even his long term manager has had enough.

Ryder will look back on all of this stupid mistakes and will be very regretful one day.

Sick of people saying he is not at fault, let him do what he likes as he is so talented. Any one with half a brain knows that is not the answer.

Posted by Steve on (February 22, 2014, 11:12 GMT)

Agree with much of this article, but if they were next in line to play, its not good enough to get drunk on the eve of the game! Injuries and illness do happen on the morning of the game. However, as the article points out, the problem is that the strictness players are treated with causes rebellion in certain players. Sportsmen are children at heart, they play a game for a living! Be too strict on your kids and disaster is around the corner once they are out of your sight. Love the other point about the ridiculous morality of cricket etiquette. Never understood why it is 'wrong' to mankad a batsman stealing ground, for example!

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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Andrew Hughes Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73
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