Players have lost vital sense of perspective as Angelo Mathews dismissal demonstrates - Chris Waters
So wrote George Orwell in an essay entitled “The Sporting Spirit”, published in the Tribune in 1945.
Even Orwell, though, might have baulked at the depths to which Shakib Al Hasan and the Bangladesh cricket team sunk at the World Cup on Monday in condemning Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews to the first “timed out” dismissal in international cricket.
Although Mathews was not exactly quick to the crease, arriving shortly before the allotted two minutes were up, the strap on his helmet then broke as he tried to tighten it which meant that he was not ready in time to face his first ball.
Shakib appealed for “timed out” and, despite Mathews’ protestations, refused to withdraw the appeal, leading to what might be described as “scenes”.
The match – in its 25th over at the time – proceeded with an undercurrent of animosity and the sides did not shake hands at the end, an ugly finish to a fixture which Bangladesh won by three wickets.
Afterwards, Shakib explained himself thus at the post-match presentation.
“I feel like I was at a war so I had to take a decision to make sure my team wins, so whatever I needed to do, I had to do it,” he said.
Sanjay Manjrekar, the former Indian cricketer who was presiding over the presentation, responded by calling Shakib “brave”.
It was a window into how some players – and indeed quite a number of commentators/observers – have lost all sense of perspective when it comes to the fine but essential line between playing hard but playing fair too.
For leaving aside the apparent ineffectiveness of the on-field umpires (Dickie Bird would surely have knocked a few heads together), and the potential safety implications for a batsman with a damaged helmet (has the game forgotten Phillip Hughes?), the way that sports people conduct themselves must always be important.
Yes, one can always cite absolute adherence to the letter of the law – technically, Mathews was out of time just as, technically, Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow was out stumped during the Lord’s Ashes Test – but the law is an ass and there must be room for interpretation and common sense.
Mathews was not seeking to gain an advantage and the actions of the Bangladeshis were disgraceful in this judgement.
To be clear, this is not about “the spirit of cricket”, a nebulous concept that rarely applies, but about basic sportsmanship – a concept on which all sport must be founded even if sport is, as Orwell also noted, “an unfailing cause of ill-will” for all the good it may do.
It is why, and though it may be unfashionable to say so about a man who took 604 Test wickets for England, the career of Stuart Broad, brilliant though it was, will always be blighted by his unacceptable decision not to walk during the 2013 Trent Bridge Ashes Test when he clearly edged the ball to slip.
What’s the difference between that and the batsman who gets a thin feather on the ball through to the wicketkeeper yet chooses to stand his ground, you might ask.
Quite a lot, I would say. Although there are not many Adam Gilchrists around, almost paragons of sportsmanship, the thin feather example – however undesirable too – is at least the “rough-with-the-smooth” element of sport in which things tend to “even themselves out over the course of a season/Test series”, whereas the other is blatant cheating in full view of the watching world and a stain on the game.
There was surely no greater irony than when Broad remarked last summer to Alex Carey, the Australian wicketkeeper involved in the Bairstow incident, that “that’s all you’ll ever be remembered for”, a taunt for which the term “pots and kettles” might have been invented.
No, it won’t do.
We don’t want to watch players not walking when they blatantly edge the ball into slip’s hands.
We don’t want to see players appealing for “timed out” when there has been a legitimate equipment failure.
We don’t want to see obsequious commentators fawningly describing such actions as “brave”. We want to see people playing hard but fair and with some sort of understanding as to how their actions impact the wider game, the watching public and the impressionable young.
Sadly, it means far too much to some players now, their perspective on life sadly askew, not helped by the privileged, institutionalised environments in which they operate.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Shakib is now out of the World Cup after suffering a fractured finger during that Sri Lanka game.
Good riddance. Neither he nor his team – who finish off against Australia on Saturday – will be missed.