Yesterday there was a bit of a hoo-hah at Edgbastion during Sri Lanka’s 6 wicket ODI victory which took them to a 3-2 series win. Sri Lankan bowler Sachithra Senanayake ran out England’s Jos Buttler for 21, when he moved out of his crease at the non-striker’s end, by breaking the wicket as he came up to bowl.
This dismissal caused howls of protest – or defiance – from both those expert and inexpert, ranging from pundits covering the game, to those who took to Twitter, to the partisan crowd who were actually present watching the game.
It left an ‘atmosphere’ in the ground which – at the conclusion of the match – left the two captains having words, Senanayake remaining in the pavilion refusing to get involved in the tradition handshakes and the Sri Lankans claiming that the England reaction was all part of a underhand campaign which not long before had included Senanayake being ‘called’ for throwing because of his bent arm.
I have not yet personally seen the incident but, on the bare facts available to me, take the view that Senanayake did nothing wrong.
As I understand it, before running Buttler out, he had twice spoken to said batsman about being out of his crease – which one might regard as a fair warning – and simply played to the laws of cricket which allow a bowler to act as he did.
All the rest is cant, as far as I am concerned.
The notion that cricket should be played in a gentlemanly way – indeed, the comment on something slightly less than the ideal, in any walk of life, as being ‘just not cricket’ – comes from a bygone era. Its proponents might just as easily have referred to ‘playing the white man’, for that is another phrase with a similar sort of message that was in common usage in Edwardian England and beyond.
My point is this. Standards of behaviour in all sports paying lip service to English public school (or glorious Amateur) ideals generally ‘left the building’, as some used to say of Elvis, a long time ago.
Get over it, everyone!
Take cricket itself.
I recall a tale of an Edwardian England captain – I think it was Archie McLaren but cannot confirm this – who, in a Test match played in England, was given ‘not out’ caught behind at the wicket by the umpire, despite a spirited appeal by the opposition.
Approximately two overs later, he deliberately ‘dollied’ a simple catch straight to mid-off and walked, explaining to the captain of the opposing team that, upon reflection, he’d decided he must have hit the ball and therefore wished to apologise to him before returning to the pavilion.
Fast-forward to Australia’s Trevor Chappell in February 1981 who, on the order of his captain and older brother Greg, bowled the last ball of an ODI match underarm along the ground, specifically in order to deny New Zealand the chance to score the 6 runs they required to tie the match.
Or take England’s Chris Broad, during last winter’s car-crash Australian tour. When the umpire had wrongly given him ‘not out’ caught behind the wicket, Broad declined Aussie suggestions he should ‘walk’ (despite knowing he’d clipped the ball) because he was also aware – under the rules – that the Australians had already used up their appeals and couldn’t refer it to the video umpire for review. The Aussies [the Australians of all people!] went potty, of course, saying that Broad had violated the spirit of the game.
Rugby is no different.
In the 1908 Varsity Match, played at Queen’s Club in Kensington in a thick pea-souper fog, the referee was not the only person on the field ‘in the dark’ as the great Scotland threequarter and Cambridge captain Kenneth ‘Grunt’ McLeod attempted a last-minute drop goal to win the game. “Did the ball go over, Ken?” asked the referee, indicating that if McLeod claimed it, he would award it. “No” replied the Cambridge captain and the Light Blues duly lost the game.
Modern rugby is full of ‘gamesmanship’, whether it is judicious running off the ball to prevent a would-be tackler reaching the ball-carrier; props going down with apparent injuries when their scrum is under pressure near their own goal-line, simply to disrupt the building momentum of the opposition attack; time-wasting generally; or just lying all over the ball on the wrong side of a ruck to slow down the opposition attack.
Almost invariably, the melodramatic ham play-acting, plainly designed to incriminate the ‘offending’ opposition player with the referee – along with the near-mortal injury – then immediately and miraculously disappears as soon as play restarts.
The truth is that the original ‘Corinthian’ spirit – relied upon when British Victorians devised what, historically, became almost all the world sports actually worthy of playing – was a victim of two things.
Firstly, over time, the increasing importance of winning to both players, administrators and spectators – whether that be in terms of silverware or money.
Secondly, the inevitable march of technology, both in terms of measuring devices – in terms of weight, height, length and time – and indeed cameras, lasers and other brilliant inventions that could or do aid referees and umpires in their quest to get their decisions right.
The combined effect of these factors have caused those who play elite sport to (metaphorically) adopt the attitude “Well, there are now so many detailed rules and technological aids available to the officials, we can regard what may once have been a ‘fair play’ duty of integrity as merely a discarded quaint custom of the past. Instead we can now constantly push the boundaries in every direction, leaving the officials to decide what they deem is acceptable and not acceptable”.
To use a rugby example, this is why forwards will chance their arm and burrow through a ruck to lie all over the ball. It’s illegal as regards the rules, but – the way forwards look at it – if they get away with it once, or even twice, in every three or four times they do it, it’s a risk worth taking.
‘Playing the referee’ (finding out what in any specific game what he will and will not allow) becomes a bit of an art. Those that get it wrong or, worse, piss him off with their blatant attempts to bend the rules as he’s applying them, are going to lose out to a team that manages to get on the right side of him.
It’s human nature.
It’s modern sport.
On this cricketing incident yesterday, I’m with Mr Senanayake. He played to the rules and apparently even gave Jos Buttler two warnings about the ‘risk’ he was taking in moving out of his crease.
What’s to be criticised in that?