In the wonderful frolic played by Rudyard Kipling’s flannelled fools, there appears an illusionary concept called the “spirit” of the game that, if permitted, would transcend a written directive called a “rule” of the game.
And those with exaggerated common sense, questionable intellect and suspect motive, from time to time, as the circumstances suit their fancy, would seek to utter measured thought and considered reason, oblivious to their fatuous tongues.
The West Indies Under-19 cricket team in Bangladesh, currently trying to rekindle regional pride in the summer game and to offer hope for a brighter tomorrow, have found themselves embroiled in a controversy not of their making. They have been put in the firing line by priggish peacocks playing out their prissiness in the cause
of the “spirit” of the game.
During the regional side’s most recent encounter at the ICC World Cup, young Guyanese Kemo Paul, of whom we are sure to hear more in years to come, demonstrated his knowledge of the rules of the game by effecting a legitimate run-out of an opponent trying to steal distance in the cause of a Zimbabwean victory. Had the young African succeeded in his quest to stretch “unfairness” to its extremity, he would have been the toast of his nation.
But in the spirit of the rules, the young man, from the beach community of Saxacally off the Essequibo River, showed astute awareness of the rules and
effected a legitimate dismissal.
Under ICC playing conditions governing Tests, One-Day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals, “the bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and providng he [she] has not completed his usual delivery swing, to deliberately attempt to run out the non-striker”. Unfortunately, those jejune observers who perhaps did not read the rules as clearly as Mr Paul, spotted an imaginary addendum indicating that such a dismissal becomes null and void if it violates the spirit of the game.
Our young cricketers look to their elders for guidance as much as they look to the rules of the game for direction. It is incumbent on such seniors to appreciate that to discourage, or in this instance, to chastize youthful and impressionable cricketers for doing the right thing by following the rules of the game is utterly reprehensible.
Terms such as “embarrassing”, “disgraceful”, “wrong”, “ridiculous”, “not cricket” and “shameful”, among others, were used to describe the method by which the West Indies Under-19 team eventually brought yesterday’s game to an end. Not surprisingly, those same voices did not use such words or phrases as “cheating”, “unfair advantage”, “illegal” or “unlawful” to describe Richard Ngarava’s attempt to reduce the distance between his position at the non-striker’s end and that of the striker.
But in the hurly-burly of ignorance, there has been reason. There has been an appreciation that it is better to ground one’s game in the solidity of rules than the fancy of spirit.
Barbadian-born retired international umpire John Holder, resident in England, gave a studied opinion of the incident.
“A non-striker leaves his ground early for the sole purpose of gaining extra distance to enable him to get safely to his ground at the far end and it is against the laws. Why should he be able to break the law, wilfully, but a bowler accidentally overstepping the popping crease is penalized by being no-balled?
“Talk of the bowler who effects the run out acting against the spirit of cricket is simple garbage and hypocrisy. Are umpires supposed to apply the laws selectively? The fact of the matter is that the non-striker in this instance is acting against the law and all the laws apply equally to every player,” Holder explained.
Former Indian international Murali Kartik has also backed the West Indies Under-19 team, placing proper perspective before poppycock.
“It’s very simple; you are not allowed to steal anything in life; so stealing anything whether an inch or a yard when it’s a crucial time, it’s not done. People are going
to say he wasn’t warned, but the rule is very clear, you are not supposed to leave the popping crease before the bowler delivers the ball.
“There are different modes of dismissals, and this is one of them; and I don’t know why people create such a hue and cry about the spirit of cricket,” Kartik stated.
He brought the folly of warning the non-striker before running him out into focus by stating: “As a spinner, when I am bowling and someone is beaten in the air and
he drags the foot by a micrometre, is the keeper going to ask him, ‘Can I stump you or not? Are you out? Are you trying to take a single?’ No.”
Twenty-nine years ago, during the 1987 World Cup, West Indies great fast bowler Courtney Walsh declined to follow the rules of the game and run out Pakistani number 11 batsman Saleem Jaffar who was trying to steal distance. He applied that ethereal “spirit” of the game, and simply warned Jaffar not to cheat.
The result: Pakistan won; West Indies were knocked out of the tournament; and Walsh got a diamond ring at an awards ceremony for his kindness.
Thanks, Mr Paul. Spirit be damned!