Beyond the Boundary – Jack Rimmington asks: what does the ‘spirit of the game’ truly mean?

Please be aware that any opinions are my own and not representative of any North Wales League official, player or club (especially Llandudno CC)

The Spirit of Cricket

In case people didn’t know, I absolutely love cricket. To me, it is the greatest sport on the planet for so many reasons.

It requires enormous levels of skill to be able to play the game. Even at club level, the technique required is extraordinary.

I always say to people that somebody could not just walk off the street, pick up a bat and start playing a league cricket match. They would be way out of their depth instantly. There are skills on show, that have been developed and honed with years of training and experience.

Cricket also teaches so many life skills that are imperative to success in the ‘real’ world. Team work, communication, leadership, concentration and discipline are skills used inadvertently throughout our sport and can be developed within the fields of play.

It is a sport that is filled with drama. A match that takes the best part of a day to play out can change within a matter of minutes. Quick wickets in a run chase. Or an over that goes for 16 to get a side back in the game. One slip of concentration can cost your team dearly.

Then there are the cricketing “gods”, who are brilliant at teaching players humility. Someone who has just blazed back-to-back centuries and feels on top of the world, will often get an absolute snorter first up in the following game to bring them crashing down to earth.

Or a bowler gets a little bit of luck, after weeks of plugging away for no wickets, then ripping through and grabbing 5-fer. We have all been there and we all know that a change of fortunes is just one ball away.

This is probably what players of other sports would say as well, even darts players! Skills are transferable and nothing highlighted above distinguishes cricket from other sports. However, there is one thing that sets cricket apart from all the others. The unwritten etiquette of the Spirit of Cricket.

We live in a time where cyclists and athletes are caught doping regularly, footballers are diving and rolling on the floor, pretending to be injured to try and force the referee to send an opponent off. They will claim they are trying to do whatever they can to gain an advantage, but it is plain cheating.

Cricket on the other hand has a way of almost self-policing potentially controversial incidents. “It is just not in the spirit of the game” is a quote often heard, where something may not be against the laws of the game, but is morally not right.

But, is it a genuine way of approaching the game, or is it an idealistic concept that can murky the lines of the black and white laws of the game?

Whilst there will always be moments of indiscretion within the sport, like the Aussies attempting to give the ball a ‘DIY SOS’ makeover with some sandpaper, they are few and far between.

We have batsmen who walk when they have nicked the ball behind, fielders will signal 4 if a piece of fielding doesn’t quite go to plan and captains have even withdrawn appeals when a genuine mistake has been made by an umpire.

Every player who takes the field has every intention of upholding the spirit of the game and playing in the right manner.

However, Ravi Ashwin copped a full load of abuse for “Mankading” Jos Buttler at the IPL earlier in the year, when the Lancashire batsman was clubbing the ball to all parts.

However, he was acting within the rules of the sport, but against the spirit of cricket. It divided opinion in every club and bar in the land and sparked a huge debate.

I am a player who does not walk, but that does not make me a cheat. I believe an umpire is there to make a decision within the game and over the course of the season, decisions will even themselves out. I call it Cricket Karma. You get some that go for you and some that go against, that is just how it is.

But why does walking only apply to caught behinds? Why don’t batsmen walk when they are LBW? A batsman knows when they are plumb but still wait for an umpires decision. Is that not the same?

There was a debate on the radio this week regarding the spirit of cricket. If your team needed 2 runs to win and you were the last batsman, would you walk? Everyone would probably sit in their armchairs or in the pub and say “yes I would walk”, however, in the heat of battle everything changes.

When the sight of glory is so near, what would you do? Darren Gough openly admitted he nicked the ball when on 99 and stood there. He was given not out and then went on to make 121. He had worked so hard to get a 100 that he wanted the umpire to give him out rather than walk. The umpire didn’t, so he carried on. Within the laws, but against the spirit of the game. Which is the right way?

There is also the sticky issue of sledging. To me, chat is part of the game but there is absolutely a line that should not be crossed. When I am batting, I fully expect to get some stick for my ability (I am a poor batsman) or coming into the pressure of a match situation.

When I am bowling, I will let a batsman know if I think he has played a particularly poor shot or that “I am too good for him”, to try and draw a false shot or distract them from what they should be doing mentally.

I do not expect to hear anything personal about any players’ off-field circumstances or appearance. There are players within our league who will dish this out on a cricket field. The people who use these personal slurs are idiots and are often mentally weak individuals who have nothing better to contribute and it has no place on the field of play.

But, all these points do not take away from the spirit of our game. Every player should be doing all they can to ensure the spirit of cricket is upheld.

Whether allowing a 12th man when injury strikes, to clapping an opposition batsman’s half century, or walking off the field without dissent at a poor decision, we should be carrying the flag for fair play throughout our sport and creating a positive environment in which to play.

When the game is done, teams should be able to have a beer afterwards and reflect on what has been a great day’s cricket.

If that means you are upholding the spirit of our great game and others are not, well then so be it. Hopefully the example you set will be the inspiration for others to follow in the future.

The spirit of cricket works if everyone is in the same boat and singing from the same hymn sheet.

There will always be players who will do anything they can to win, even at amateur level where there are no financial implications whatsoever, but if they experience a piece of good sportsmanship, hopefully they are more inclined to repeat the feat in future events for someone else.

So while we sit and watch footballers (at all levels) screaming abuse at referees over decisions, diving and producing general ‘shithousery’, let’s remember that the spirit of cricket is what sets us apart from them.

It is certainly something we should be continuing to pass onto the next generation, especially at club level, to protect the integrity of our great sport.

Yes we all want to win, but surely we all want to win in the right way?

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