Cricket for Americans, Jan. 4 2019: The Spirit of Cricket

India’s Virat Kohli is just about the best batsman in world cricket. A couple other guys come close, but he’s probably the best. He’s the Captain of his country, he’s been successful in all formats, and he’s simply a joy to watch. In short: he’s a great cricketer.

Which is most likely why he was booed by Australian crowds during India’s current tour down under (he was also treated to a rousing chorus of “Kohli is a wanker” chants in Melbourne).

No biggie, right? That’s sports. People get booed. It’s how it works. Heroes get booed. Goats get booed. Villains get booed. It’s part of the fun, right?

Wrong. Not in cricket.

The Australian crowds’ behavior was slammed not by Indian officials, but by former Australian Captain, Ricky Ponting, as well as current Australian commentators and officials.

Reactions to the booing can be summed up using this quote from commentator Tim Lane: “I must say I thought the reception he was given as he came out was poor and it was graceless in that he is the captain of a visiting team.“

That, right there, is the spirt of cricket in a nutshell.

And that’s how cricket is different from every other sport, yet again. There are a series of rules — some written, some unwritten — that everyone involved in the sport must follow, otherwise there is pearl clutching from some and sanctions for others. One great example of this is what’s known as Mankading. In a nutshell, using the definition from Cricket Australia’s website, Mankading a batter is, “when a bowler runs out a batsman who has left their ground at the non-striker’s end during the bowler’s delivery stride.” Basically, the bowler pretends he is going to bowl, so the batter leaves his crease, only the bowler doesn’t bowl and instead knocks the bails off the wicket, so the batsman is out. It’s named after Indian bowler Vinoo Mankad, who deployed the method several times during India’s 1947 tour of Australia.

It is a perfectly legal way to record a wicket. Down to the letter of the law laid out in the Rules of Cricket, there’s nothing wrong with it in the slightest. Even the Spirit of Cricket laws don’t specifically mention anything about it.

Yet, if a bowler — gasp — happens to use the method to record an out, it is met with great consternation from the world of cricket the likes of which you have never seen. You would think the bowler had killed someone.

Another famous incident is when an Australian bowler bowled underarm to a New Zealand batsman, thereby making it impossible for the batsman to score the six runs needed to force a tie. There’s a great YouTube video of that.

Underarm bowling is now illegal, but at the time, in that competition, it wasn’t. But still: great consternation. (Watch the video all the way to the end.)

Cheating, and unsportsmanlike behavior, are of course frowned on in other sports. But for the most part, it’s against the rules and punished accordingly. But in cricket, there are unwritten rules that all must follow. It gives the game this secret lexicon, this secret code, that makes it feel like you are in a special club of people. It lends tradition and a polite pastoral feel to the game. It can be frustrating at times, but for the most part, I think it is one more bit of cricket that elevates it over other sports. What’s wrong with a wee bit of politeness and grace in this mad, mad, mad world?

And speaking of Indian batsmen: Pujara and Pant have pummeled the Australian bowlers and it looks like they will be going home with a series win — the first time that’s ever happened. Australia — who’ve won three out of the last four World Cups, appear to be in shambles. Sure, this is their Test side versus their One Day side, but losing like this on home soil is no way to kickoff a World Cup year. We shall see what happens in the rest of the tour.

Until tomorrow.

One Reply to “Cricket for Americans, Jan. 4 2019: The Spirit of Cricket”

  1. i send you a big WOOT as a fellow american who follows cricket. it is both nice to know that there is a fellow traveler on the internet as well as to see that i must have learned a decent amount as i now understand everything that you are writing. thanks for the work, here’s to hoping for more general interest in this country

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