The “Spirit of Cricket” Lecture That Wasn’t

The Spirit of Cricket. It is a nebulous idea, many would claim. It has been abused, beaten in to shapes that would suit select narratives and used to hammer away at perceived injustices. But the essential core of that vague but brilliant idea, the essence of it, is fair play, honor and honesty. It is an ideal that the millions, who play the sport, professionally and otherwise, should aspire to. It is as fragile a concept as society is.

It is within this construct that I believe that the “Spirit of Cricket” lecture delivered by the former England captain Tony Greig under the auspices of MCC on June 26, 2012 to be falling way short of that ideal.

No, it wasn’t the messenger. It was the message that I have issues with. There was a larger point to the lecture delivered but was undermined by the contradictions, sweeping generalizations, blanket statements and factual inaccuracies that formed the edifice on which a very valid point resided. The lecture did not advance the discussion on the current state of affairs within cricket but instead drove an additional wedge in to an already polarized cricket world. People who already had established views that aligned with the general theme of the lecture felt emboldened that a speaker at such a magnificent platform was taking up their cause, and those who began the day thinking that the speaker had an axe to grind would have walked away from it with their notions reaffirmed. Thus, it was a wonderful opportunity lost by Greig to make nuanced arguments based on clear and accurate facts that could have furthered the discussion, and to bring both sides of the aisle a little closer.

Any other person that did not have the baggage of Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket could have delivered the lecture but if they had produced what Greig did in this lecture in terms of “Spirit of Cricket”, I would still have the same issues, regardless. For all I care, it could have been Stephen Hawking’s speech generating device delivering the lecture.

I believe Greig may have found a newer venue outside of the Channel 9 commentary box and Twitter, in the Nursery Pavilion, but the message has stayed the same. Anyone that had been following cricket in the last few years beyond a cursory level of interest would have immediately identified the central theme of the lecture as soon as it was announced that Greig was going to be the 2012 speaker. It is for this reason that Greig needed to carefully make a well thought out criticism rather than walk the well trodden path of BCCI is the be all and end all of problems facing cricket.

When he said, “India’s apparent indifference towards Test cricket” did he mean the BCCI or the Indian fans? If it is the former, then, how? Is Greig appalled by the lack of comfortable facilities for the spectators in Indian stadiums that may be discouraging them from coming through the turnstiles? Is he aghast that BCCI only sent a shadow of their first XI to play a three test series against the West Indies in 2011, because of a cramped calendar of an IPL tournament following a world cup tourney? Or does he believe BCCI just does not schedule sufficient number of tests – which is not the case? Or was it the fact that a home test series against West Indies had a test starting on a Monday, and only 2 days (out of the 15) where the cricket was played over a weekend? If he had qualified his statement, there would be significantly more takers.

He made a laundry list of disappointing decisions by India (by that I think he means BCCI): “its indifference to the urgency to introduce anti-doping rules; the rumoured corruption hanging over the IPL; its attitude to the Decision Review System; and its role in the lack of due process in stopping former Australian Prime Minister John Howard being appointed vice president of the ICC.”

Each of these accusations needed to be qualified because that would have been the fair thing to do. If you are not going to give due diligence to the various claims and a fair shake to the ones you are criticizing, and just make one sweeping statement, then what is the whole point of having the pulpit at MCC and the attention of the cricket world?

BCCI was opposed to the “whereabouts” clause (giving deference to their players’ privacy and security issues) of the WADA’s anti-doping rules and not the whole legislation itself; He accuses of corruption in IPL based on “rumors”; Howard’s nomination was already opposed by 5 full members not named India (Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and South Africa). If he was aggrieved that India did not use its clout in ICC to push forward Howard’s nomination, isn’t that just ironical? And DRS is the system that the ICC tried to shove down its members’ throats without any level of independent scientific scrutiny.

It was reported that the universal application of DRS was not even put to vote in the ongoing ICC meetings in Malaysia. Not one full member of ICC; Not one associate member. There were 16 representatives at the table including 3 members of the ICC management committee and not one thought it fit to even ask for a vote on an issue that has been the polarizing issue in the last 3-4 years and yet, it is the BCCI’s fault!

The ICC’s internal executive was bitterly disappointed that India was responsible for canning the scheduled 2013 Test championship. Unless India embraces the spirit of cricket I wouldn’t hold my breath about the scheduled 2017 Test championship being played.

This is an outright false statement. ICC released a statement while announcing the postponement of Test Championship from 2013, saying “there would be significant commercial challenges in replacing the Champions Trophy without the support and consent of the ICC’s broadcast partner since the financial implications on the Members would be significant.” Since the BCCI is the wealthiest cricket board, they wouldn’t be the one facing any significant commercial challenges, now would they?

I think all players should agree to take lie detector tests and all should agree that if they failed the tests, they would give the officials access to their bank account records and phone records.

Excuse me? How is that fair? How is that within the spirit of cricket? I have detailed my reservations about lie detector tests when Rahul Dravid, during his Bradman Oration, invoked that idea originally put forth by his idol Steve Waugh.

Test cricket is still paramount in England, South Africa and Australia but disappointingly it is no longer as important in India as it once was.

Once again, is Greig talking about the fans of these respective nations or their cricket boards? If it is the boards, how does he justify South Africa canceling their Boxing Day test in favor of a T20, as that would be more of a crowd puller? How about Australia flying all the way to England to squeeze in a few meaningless ODIs before England face up to South Africa in three test series?

While Greig is quick to ascribe blame to India BCCI for all that it may be doing wrong, he is equally swift in absolving the other boards of their actions. Where is the balanced view of the global cricket proceedings? Where is the fairness that is invoked by the spirit of cricket?

I do not disregard everything Tony Greig had to say in his lecture but I take it with a helping of salt. I do believe BCCI has a significant role to play in the shaping of cricket’s future and must cherish that responsibility and take up that challenge. They must begin that at home with the treatment of the Indian fans, the comforts of the fans in a cricket stadium during Tests and ODIs and not just the IPL, and restoring the sacred bond between on-field action and at-home viewer by clamping down on the intrusive ads.

As Greig himself said, “[Spirit of cricket] is about something far more enduring, adhering to a set of values that can elevate you above the hum drum, above the cynicism that can drag you down if you let it.” I want to believe that Greig made the observations and criticisms with the best intentions at heart but the unbalanced level of it makes me think otherwise. It was  a perfect opportunity and the platform for him to rise above his preconceived notions that he has so abundantly made clear to us from the commentary box and on Twitter.

The Cowdrey “spirit of Cricket” lecture needed Greig to be a statesman delivering the message to the cricket world and not just to one nation’s board. If this was “Spirit of Cricket that BCCI needs to exhibit” lecture, Greig would have been spot on, but sadly it wasn’t.

This entry was posted in Featured, Miscellaneous. Bookmark the permalink.