S.N. Don's blog

The Spirit of the Game

The recent rugby international between England and Italy got me thinking. Italy’s tactics at the breakdown, especially in the first half, worked a treat and England’s players looked completely lost. The bemused looks were best summed up by the referee. When asked by one of the players what they should do, he replied “I am a referee, I am not a coach”. Half time came and the confused players were subsequently told how to deal with the tactic. Was the play within the rules? Absolutely! But as rugby is a contact sport, was the tactic applied within the spirit of the game?

Every now and again with cricket, the spirit of the game gets mentioned and usually after Australia have taken a pasting. Everyone knows that we won The Ashes in 1932/33 by applying legitimate leg theory which involved setting a field with a considerable number of fielders in close catching positions behind square on the leg side. It is also worth remembering that the instances in Adelaide where Woodfull and Oldfield were hit was when a more orthodox and traditional field had been set. England, without a doubt, played within the laws of the game but the Australians had a monumental whinge of all whinges when they had the temerity to accuse the MCC of being unsportsmanlike. Needless to say that the whingers got their way and a change in the laws was introduced.

This change in the laws, however, did not eliminate leg theory completely from the game. In Mike Brearley’s excellent book, The Art of Captaincy, the author refers to a match in 1977 between the MCC and Australia. The Australians were cruising along so, for a bit of variety, Brearley suggested to Geoff Miller that an over or two with seven fielders placed on the leg side be tried. The result was Greg Chappell throwing his bat down with disgust.

It wasn’t until a few years later that Trevor Chappell secured extreme notoriety by “bowling” the last ball of a 50 over international underarm to deny New Zealand a chance of a win. Richie Benaud’s post-match reaction on Channel 9 is a must-see for any cricket lover where he says “It is one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field”. Well and truly within the laws of the game as well as the competition; the latter only because the Australian Cricket Board had not thought to outlaw underarm bowling which had been banned in one day cricket in the UK.

My previous article questioned the need for a captain in first class cricket. South African cricket probably prompted this suggestion with their innovative approach during 1999. In the warm up matches before the start of the Cricket World Cup, Hanse Cronje wore an earpiece which enabled Bob Woolmer to pass on instructions from the pavilion. There were no complaints as the time so Woolmer and Cronje used the earpiece in their World Cup match against India which prompted complaints from India and a slap on the wrists from the ICC.

I don’t see much wrong with the use of a radio link as it helps keep the game flowing. What was certainly questionable was England’s abuse of sending out messengers in the final hour of the first Ashes Test in 2009 with the last pair at the crease. Just how many changes of batting gloves were needed on a cool, overcast day? The sole purpose was to reduce the amount of time left in the game. This was as bad as Greg Chappell’s decision to instruct his brother to bowl underarm. Both approaches were permitted in the laws but most definitely not in the spirit of the game.

What happens next?

S.N. Don

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