Friday, 18 July 2014

Column 20, 2014 – The Spirit of Cricket

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 92, Friday July 18, 2014.
[Full text below]

The spirit of cricket usually only gets dusted off when people behave badly or contentiously. This happens roughly once a year, to conveniently remind us that a) there is a spirit of cricket, and b) no one is entirely sure what it is.

This year we’ve had the Butler-Mankad brouhaha. Last summer, there was the startlingly hypocritical Broad-not-walking commotion. And the last time India were over, we had the Bell run-out-and-reinstatement kerfuffle.

Since 2000 the spirit of cricket is enshrined in MCC’s Laws as a ‘preamble’. This in itself is controversial, many believing that to attempt to pin it down is to miss the point. I’ve just re-read it, and if the preamble is the best we can do, I am inclined to agree.

Golf has an unofficial code of conduct which is both memorable and followable: “Play the course as you find it and the ball as it lies. If you can’t do either, do what’s fair.” Isn’t that splendidly concise? There’s a lot of ground covered there.

Maybe cricket would benefit from something similarly pithy. But cricket generally prefers to be ambiguous and waffley, which ultimately perhaps is part of its charm.

Usually the spirit of cricket is only brought up when called into question. Rarely is it arbitrarily celebrated. Well, I seem to have inadvertently spent the weekend doing just that.

In our Saturday league game I had a hugely enjoyable duel with a left arm over quick bowling with a 7-2 offside field and a packed slip cordon. Very infrequently he over-pitched and I drove him straight, but mostly he had the better of the exchange.

Eventually I drove at one that wasn’t quite there and snicked a textbook edge to second slip. The bowler ran up as I trudged off, grinning from ear to ear, put an arm round my shoulders and said “Batted mate! You and I could have done that all day, eh? That was great fun!” Grinning back despite myself, I had to agree.

And there, I thought, is the spirit of cricket.

What an excellent attitude. That’s what we’re doing here. When the ball is live, we are enemies. When the ball is dead, we are comrades, united by a shared obsession.

This was my one weekend a year when I was given special spousal dispensation to play both days. Sunday, a friend’s schoolmates, Old Purleians CC, came down the M3. One of cricket’s great strengths is that it is just as pleasurable as a process as it is as a contest. In friendly matches, winning comes a distant second to a good close game. Brilliantly, the game was tied, after which we sat in the pub garden, drank beer and swapped cricket stories until the sun went down.

In conclusion I am happy to report that, contrary to reports of its demise, the spirit of cricket is alive and well and living in the country.

- ends 485 words -

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