Cricket, now and then

It was over three weeks ago that I wrote a post on the public furore after the Sydney Test match between the Australian and Indian cricket teams, but the public controversy is still going.  Now even the Governor-General has spoken out on the topic, expressing concern about “the reduction in the grace and courtesies that are being shown on the cricketing field” and labelling sledging as being that worst of all things – “totally un-Australian.”  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called for “a return to civility in the game.” 

Australian captain Ricky Ponting rejected the calls, suggesting the sport had changed since the 1950s.  I am surprised he didn’t call for an improvement in the grace and courtesies shown in the Parliament, although perhaps people would have thought he was being a smartarse if he’d said that.

In some ways it’s a pity the controversy from the Sydney Test has ended up focusing around one incident of alleged racial sledging, as I suspect the outpouring of public concern expressed after the Test had been building up for some time and was more to do with disquiet with the perceived attitude towards how the game is being played these days.

It was no great surprise to read the report of the ICC’s judge into the incident, stating the alleged racial insult by the Indian cricketer had been in response to some abuse from an Australian player. This abuse was reportedly sparked by the Indian player acknowledging a good ball from Australian bowler, Brett Lee, by patting Lee on the bottom. The reported response by Andrew Symons to a question in the ICC hearings as to whether he objected to this action was a bit sad to read though:

“Did I have an objection to it? My objection was that a Test match is no place to be friendly with an opposition player, is my objection.”

While it is surprising the controversy has gong on so long, I suspect it will still fade soon enough. This piece from Indian writer Harsha Bhogle calls it “the storm before the lull”, and suggests that it is at least in part a phase relating to a growing self-confidence in India.

So why is India so sensitive about what is happening in Australia? Since I was a little child, my abiding memory is of visiting journalists and cricketers coming to India and making fun of us.

We were a country finding our feet, we were not confident, we seethed within but we accepted. The new generation in India is not as accepting, they are prouder, more confident, more successful. Those bottled-up feelings are bubbling through. This is the great dawn of acceptance. It is a phase both countries must understand, this is the storm before the lull. Let’s play cricket.

Whilst I think things are undoubtedly more boorish than days gone by, we perhaps shouldn’t get too worked up about the loss of innocence from a bygone era, controversies about unsporting play in Test cricket are not a wholly modern phenomenon.  Most notorious of course was the Bodyline series from 1932.  I also found this example the other day, which I hadn’t previously been aware of, from 1882 – the Test which gave birth to The Ashes, and only the ninth Test match ever played.

If 29th August 1882 is, according to the Urn, the date on which English cricket died, the cause of death was not really the defeat of their XI by the Demonic One Spofforth and his chums. No, English cricket died on that day when, after completing a run, the young Australian batsman Sam Jones moved out of his crease to pat down the pitch and was cynically run out by W.G. Grace. There are even those who say that Grace gave Jones a “go ahead” look, after the batsman wordlessly signaled his intention to leave his crease. In any case, the batsman was clearly not trying to score a run, so Umpire Thom’s decision to allow the dismissal is questionable to say the least. The periodical Bell’s Life said “it was strict cricket but it was taking advantage of a young player’s thoughtlessness”. The Australian team considered it “sharp practice.”

Some other links to mentions of the same incident are here:

The story of the Ashes begins with the famous Test match between Australia and England at The Oval in London during the northern summer of 1882. After a day and a half of tense play the match reached a dramatic conclusion in the final innings. With England needing only 85 runs their win seemed assured, but the Australians were determined to pull off an unlikely victory after an unsporting incident in the previous innings. The famous English champion Dr W G Grace had controversially run out Australian batsman Sam Jones when he was clearly not trying to complete a run.
This run out infuriated the Australian players, especially their bowling spearhead, Fred ‘The Demon’ Spofforth. Before they took the field for the final innings Spofforth assured his teammates that ‘this thing can be done’. An hour into the innings England still seemed certain to win – the total was reduced to 34 with seven wickets still in hand and Grace still at the crease. However, the course of the match changed dramatically when Grace’s wicket fell, triggering one of the most famous collapses in cricketing history. Remarkably the Australian team won by seven runs, registering its first victory over England on English soil.

And also this series of excerpts on Wikipedia.

When play resumed after lunch Murdoch scored a single to the legside, and Jones grounded his bat inside the crease and then went back along the pitch to pat down a bump. W.G. Grace at once broke down the wicket and Jones was given out. Grace was within his rights, but his lack of sportsmanship annoyed the Australians, who were all out for 122. ”

“ Jones is remembered for his unusual dismissal at The Oval in 1882 in the Test that began the Ashes legend. He was a fairly innocent 21-year-old, batting well with Billy Murdoch, who took a single to leg. After the run had been completed Jones went down the pitch to pat down a divot and the wily W.G.Grace threw down his stumps. Umpire Robert Thoms ruled him run out, a decision which intensified the Australians’ desire to win the match. ”

“ While he [Murdoch] was batting with Sam Jones, Murdoch turned a ball, and the players ran through for one. Then Jones wandered out of his crease thinking the ball was dead, and W.G. promptly took of the bails and appealed. Umpire Thoms said: ‘As you claim it, Sir! Out!’ Murdoch protested – but to no avail. The Australian dressing room was incensed at this bit of ‘sport’, and it fired their will to win.

The scorecard from that Test match can be found here.

PS  Seeing I’ve done two posts on cricket in a month, I’m not likely to do another one soon, so I’ll also take this opportunity to add a link to the scorecard from the very first Test in 1877. In a game with so many statistics, I think one of the most amazing is that the very first innings of this very first Test is still a record, 1862 tests later, for the highest percentage of runs scored by one player in their side’s innings.  Charles Bannerman, who also faced the first ball ever bowled in test cricket, scored 69.6% of his side’s runs from the bat – 165 out of a total of 245.  To make it even more unusual, he never scored higher than 30 in his other 5 Test innings and, according to these statistics it was the only first-class century he ever scored. If that one innings was excluded, his Test average would be less than 20. 

Seeing I’m quoting cricket trivia, I may as well also mention the other record that still stands from that game.  Obviously every player in that Test match was making their test debut, but apparently the English player J Southerton still holds the record as the oldest Test debutant at 49 years 119 days – it’s nowhere near as surprising that that type of record might still stand, but I guess a record is a record, so it’s still worthy of comment.

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  1. Its too late for you Andrew to play in the PM. side The Australian Anti-Whalers against Japan,China,Taiwan Afghanistan,Iraq ,Iran,and McCains U.S.A.

  2. not so sure about that Philip – now that JWH has departed the scene, the honour of being Parliamentary Cricket Tragic is up for grabs. Seems to me that Andrew is throwing his hat into the ring…

  3. Well Shane Warne was one of the biggest off-field embarrassments in the Cricket world. I still remember his stump dance… what an imbicile. Brett Lee”s puching the ground etc was disrespectful. It’s a game for …’s sake.

    As for sledging it shouldn’t happen.
    If “your mother wears army boots” puts you off you’ve got almost as many problems as the goof who said it. honestly :roll:

    It’s a non-contact sport for goodness sake both teams never confront each other. One sits in the shed while the other fields.

    Wakey, wakey.

  4. The calls for less sledging will fall on deaf ears, I suspect.

    It’s now a professional game with lots of money at stake. If the occasional bit of backchat is enough to get a wicket, and consequently improve the chances of game wins, then you can be sure it’ll happen. Sponsors back winners more than losers.

    For all the politeness of the old game, people should remember that poor sportsmanship isn’t new. The cricket laws against obstructing the field and hitting the ball twice were brought in originally because batsmen were injuring fielders while trying to avoid getting out ;-).

  5. “The reduction in the grace and courtesies that are being shown on the cricket field” are a direct reflection of the societal norm.

    Good manners went out the door when laissez faire, “Me Syndrome” and lack of societal discipline came in.

    But Pete also makes a good point about attempts to put the opposition off their game in order to help your own team to the money.

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