Fractured spirit of cricket

President Musharraf urged the teams to maintain the spirit of cricket, writes Amrit Mathur.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 12:53 IST

When President Musharraf met the teams in Pindi, his message to players ran along expected lines. The General lauded the heroic fightback by Akmal when Pakistan were 6 down for 39, and urged them to maintain the spirit of cricket.

The spirit of cricket has caught the attention of others besides Gen. Musharraf. The ICC, committed to preserving cricket's unique character, has already put detailed guidelines to follow. Cricket Australia makes polite noises about this but smiles as their players indulge in gamesmanship/sledging and their crowds direct racial taunts at South Africa and behave boorishly with Murali.

South Africa has set standards for its players, as part of the save-cricket's-spirit campaign, and instructions exist that they behave properly, dress decently and not refuse autographs to kids. But protecting cricket's spirit is an uphill task, mainly because it is difficult to define or identify the spirit in the first place. In broad terms the spirit consists of unwritten laws, convention and tradition that cover how the game should be played.

Not bringing the game into disrepute is the essence, but there are other components as well. One of the unsaid provisions is players should refrain from abusing an opponent or umpire, even if the two are difficult to distinguish on some occasions. Bouncers should not be bowled at tailenders; excessive or intimidatory appealing, directed at opponents or umpires, is not on; claiming a catch after grabbing the ball on the bounce is a serious sin.

However, regardless of noble intent, sharp practices continue on field, as they have since the days of Ranji. Cricket exits in a society that is competitive; success is everyone's goal and winning counts more than anything else. With much at stake, both monetary and others, goodness is secondary, and concern for the spirit for many is an irrelevance, an outdated concept from the past.

Knowing that appeals to uphold traditional values won't work, match referees have been appointed to impose fines, hand out bans, to make sure things don't deteriorate beyond a point. Still, not everything is within the purview of these policemen. Inzamam's bizarre attempt to avoid being runout does not involve the spirit of cricket, it only points to a flawed understanding— or ignorance, which is worse— of its laws.

The spirit of cricket says you play fairly, not that you play for the other team.

First Published: Feb 15, 2006 12:36 IST