Of Handshakes and Cricket Etiquette

A few friends and I were recently in Australia, to watch the India-Australia test series. As the MCG test ended with Umesh Yadav getting caught by David Warner, the Australian team rushed towards Warner and formed a huddle, backslapping each other and rubbing the heads of teammates. Wonderful scenes, really.

Meanwhile, the two Indian batsmen were hanging around the pitch, seemingly for a number of minutes, to shake hands with the Aussies. I understand that the Australian team was under the pump, having lost to their Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in a test match prior to this one, and that there were questions aplenty about the viability of the players that were in the squad. Given this, the victory must have provided a significant release, sending the team on a huge emotional high.

As we stood in our seats applauding the teams for putting on a wonderful show of cricket, I commented to a friend, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You can’t keep your opponents waiting. Go shake their hands and then continue with your celebrations.” Of course, the Indian players need not have hung around but they did, trying to honor an unwritten code, where the victor and the vanquished dust themselves off the ground after the contest is over and congratulate each other on the competition.

Rohit Brijnath, in a recent article, has addressed this in a far more eloquent and detailed manner. Here is an excerpt:

Etiquette is like embroidery to sport, a lacing of courtesy amidst the insane emotion. A certain civility amid flying boots, an unwritten, often unspoken code that is presumed to bind athletes, to make it seem their sweaty enterprise is not absent of nobility. A code, which humanizes them in beastly conflict.

My friend readily jumped to the conclusion that I was being extremely negative, and was trying to find fault with everything – anything, really – that Australia was doing, to help ease the pain of an Indian defeat. This could not have been any further from the truth. The two teams (or athletes, in the context of individual sports like tennis and badminton) that competed are beside the point. It is incredibly noble, and reflective of a quest for a higher ideal, when even during the happiest moment of one’s accomplishments, one can find the grace to comfort their opponent. After all, as high as one must be feeling from victory, the person on the other side must be feeling equally low.

The Aussies eventually made their way to the waiting Indian batsmen and shook hands with them.

To be fair, I had the same reaction after MS Dhoni launched that delivery from Kulasekara in to the vastness of the Mumbai night sky. The Indian team rushed on to the field to celebrate the achievement of a generation. In cricket, it is probably as high as one could get. The Sri Lankan team members hung around for a long time before the victors eventually congratulated and consoled them. In my mind, that was not right either.

This raises an interesting dilemma. What if the Indian players (or the Sri Lankans for that matter) got fed up and walked back to their dressing rooms? They would have been termed “sore losers”, but I wonder whether there would have been voices admonishing the victors for keeping their opponents waiting. An international incident would have broken out – albeit, probably not to the scale of Sydney 2008 – with people then discussing the importance of etiquette in cricket.

I have played club level cricket in the U.S. for the past 8 years, and I was the captain of my team for a couple of those years. I tried to remind myself (and teammates who would listen) that when one wins, one should behave like they have been there before. Treat the opponent with respect, and grace especially in victory. For example, when one is defending a target and the opposition is on the mat and it is only a matter of time, one has a few thoughts running through their head, one of which is to remember that when the final wicket is taken, or the when the last ball is bowled, to find their opponents and appreciate their efforts in competing with you, before the celebration can begin. This helps to remember the right thing to do even after a closely fought match. Of course, the quality of the game (and possibly the euphoria that may come with victory) differs vastly from a club game to an international match, but the core values of competition – and the competitors that uphold them – remain the same.

At Sydney, when the 2nd test match of the series ended with Australia trouncing India by an innings and a mile, the Aussies ran towards each other when the last Indian wicket fell. Even as they got into a huddle and congratulated each other, there was one figure in white that quickly broke the huddle and walked towards the Indian batsmen with his hand extended; a hand that gets spit on a lot over the course of a match.


I wonder whether there was a discussion amongst the Aussies between the two tests. If there was one, it bodes well for the game and certainly for the Australians. In 2008, the happenings on the field led to them being called the “Ugly Australians”. This sort of self-evaluation and correction, if indeed it did happen, can go a long way towards helping that moniker fade from our memories.

Of all people, it was Ricky Ponting. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Sydney (2008) anymore.

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.