I don’t want to see you, Mr. Warner. There are two teams out there, one is playing cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so.
- Australian Captain Bill Woodfull to Pelham Warner, when the English team manager visited his opponent’s dressing room to express sympathies after the batsman endured 89 minutes of Bodyline bowling on January 17th, 1933.
To many in North America, including myself, cricket is foreign. I mean that in both senses of the word. It’s foreign to me in that I’m unfamiliar with it, but it’s also foreign to me in that I associate it with other nations. When I think of the sport, I’m just as likely to think of Australia, England, India, South Africa, Sri Lanka or the West Indies (which, as it pertains to cricket, actually refers to several Caribbean nations) as I am the oddly shaped bat or the fancy white clothes.
In my ignorance of the sport’s culture, I always imagined a measure of civility that governed cricket – both its players and its fans – in a fashion that other, more North American sports seemed to lack. This stereotype was quickly laid to rest by watching an amateur match with a couple of Australian friends who taught me how to cut a hole in the box with which we carried our beer to make a sun-blocking hat. What I remember of that day was fun and anything but civil.
While the reputation that preceded my first cricket experience might not extend to spectators, there is at least some element of truth to it in terms of how the cricketers handle themselves on the field. The Marylebone Cricket Club, an organization that governs the sport’s rules in tandem with the International Cricket Council, refers to something called the Spirit Of The Game in its preamble to the rule book.
Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game.
Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains.
I don’t believe it unfair to suggest that there is a standard of sportsmanship in cricket that doesn’t necessarily exist in other sports. That’s a good thing. It’s not meant to connote a lack of competition or intensity to the sport, but rather express the importance of tradition and respect present in it. It’s also meant to provide some context for a fascinating story from cricket history that happened 80 years ago today, when a riot almost occurred and diplomatic relations between two nations soured all because of a controversial cricket strategy, called Bodyline.