Sport

Cricket’s illusion No 1: The spirit of the game

By Antoinette Muller 10 June 2013

No game lends itself to more double standards and creative interpretation than cricket. Denesh Ramdin has been charged by the ICC for being “contrary to the spirit of the game”, a ridiculous notion which is little other than a smokescreen. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Only cricket lends itself to so many ridiculous laws, regulations and nuances that if you’re trying to explain the game to a novice, you’re bound to sound like an idiot.

Go on, try it.

Try to say out loud that Denesh Ramdin needs to be fined (and banned, if you’re on the fundamentalist side) because because his behaviour against Pakistan on Friday was a little dodgy.

Try to explain why, even though it’s not part of the rules, it’s a good idea, because that’s just not part of cricket. Try to explain to somebody who doesn’t understand cricket how speaking of the spirit of the game is basically a euphemism for calling somebody a cheat – because actually coming out and saying it is far too brutal for a game such as cricket.

But don’t stop there, no. Explain that when a player knows he is out after edging it and he doesn’t walk, or captains waste time reviewing a decision they know isn’t out in an attempt to waste time or distract, that’s fine too. And don’t forget swearing at each other from a dizzy height from the slip cordon. Mothers, sisters and all kinds of other words which would make you wince – it’s all fair game.

The list goes on. Cricket is so beset with double standards that it makes a fool out of itself at the best of times, and the ICC’s decision to fine Ramdin for his antics in the match against Pakistan on Friday is the epitome of double standards.

It would be foolish to argue that Ramdin should be free of punishment just because those who have sinned before him got off scot-free, but that the ICC could so haphazardly throw their authority around is just lunacy.

Of course there is a distinct difference between Ramdin clearly dropping the ball and claiming it as a catch and a batsman standing his ground after edging through to a keeper and not walking – but where does one draw the line? Is a little bit of cheating all right and within the spirit of the game, but a lot of cheating isn’t?

As in rugby, players who are claiming tries which blatantly aren’t are constantly shamed. With the Decision Review System, batsmen who refuse to walk even when the edge is as clear as day are shamed, and players who try to claim catches which never were are made to look like the unsportsmanlike chumps they are. That shouldn’t be punishment enough, but the punishment should be consistent, and it should be done under something far more penal than a term dreamed up by those who want to continue living under the illusion that sport is elitist and pure.

What Ramdin did was a disgrace and of course he should be punished, but his case draws a fine line between what is acceptable and what isn’t, and that’s where the problem comes in – especially when the ICC and whoever else want to mask the offence under something as subjective as the “spirit of the game”.

While Kemar Roach and Dwayne Bravo post insisted that Ramdin acted with integrity, the ICC decided his behaviour was contrary to “the spirit of the game”. He has been charged, will plead not guilty and his hearing will take place on Monday (today). Under his offence, the maximum punishment is a hefty percentage of his match fee plus a couple of one-day bans.

Other level 2 offences include showing dissent towards a match official, public criticism of a match-related incident or match official, inappropriate, inappropriate and deliberate physical contact between players during play, and any attempt to manipulate a match in regard to the result (in a negative way), net run rate, bonus points or other aspects.

What Ramdin did was wrong, but he’s not the first and he won’t be the last, and just like many incidents of similar nature before this which went unpunished, many more will go unpunished after. It’s up to the ICC to ensure that they use this incident to set a strong precedent instead of something with which they masquerade their authority, especially in light of the most recent spot-fixing scandal. And the ICC has to act consistently. When England toured India last year a ball ricocheted off Jonathan Trott’s forearm, he dove back to take the catch, but dropped it on the turf and still appealed and forced the on-field umpires to refer the matter to third umpire Sudhir Asnani. Replays clearly showed his wrongdoing, but no action was taken against the former South African.

There is nothing wrong with the spirit of the game as a concept; it’s a fine thought for a fine game.  But it should be used as just that – an abstract notion which only those who follow the game closely will ever be able to comprehend, instead of a euphemism for wrongdoing befitting of punishment. DM

Photo: West Indies’ Denesh Ramdin catches the ball as Australia’s Patrick Cummins dives in to his crease during the ICC world Twenty20 semi-final at the R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo October 5, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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