February 20, 2023: The ups and downs and the uncertainties of cricket can be compared to the journey of life. The famous reference to cricket was the line “Cricket is a gentleman’s game”.
This came about in the early days in England when the game was played by the affluent class who were considered to uphold the virtues of a ‘Gentleman’. Cricket was played with a competitive attitude but in a fair and honest manner.
Although the game gradually brought in professionals it was still played to respect one’s opponents and imbibe the values of good sportsmanship and friendship.
Over time the importance of winning at all costs brought about a cultural change that diminished the very essence of what the game of cricket stood for. Sledging and off the field comments that one popularly referred to as gamesmanship became a part and parcel of the royal sport.
England through Douglas Jardine, the famous captain known for his unsporting tactics of ‘Body Line’ attack against the Australians in 1932/33, buried the very virtues that he had been raised on as a gentleman. Jardine, in his quest to win at all cost, tarnished the DNA of the game and what it represented.
By the ’70s cricket went into a phase of excessive sledging and unsporting gamesmanship. The basic reason was to unsettle one’s opponent. The common retort for such a behaviour was that to play at the highest level one should be able to mentally ‘take it’.
The Australians were the masters of these tactics. The verbal duel between players was looked at as being a funny incident. The words exchanged were seen as friendly banter between players, however, it gradually extended into one’s personal life. This is when it became nasty.
England, became the next team to play the game as Tony Grieg mentioned on his tour to India, “the Australian way”. Sledging became a part of cricket at all levels and words regarding it being a gentleman’s game was lost and gone.
The Indian Premier league and the T20 Leagues around the world have changed cricket for the better. Players from different parts of the world, playing together as teammates under a franchise, has brought in a healthy change. Cricketers are becoming friends and colleagues. The travel, stay and family connections between them have created an atmosphere of appreciating and enjoying each other’s company.
It was wonderful to see the hardcore Australian players applauding the Indian bowlers when they bowled a good delivery. Naturally, there were plenty of critics from Australia who looked at this gesture as a weakness in the player. Every International player, especially one playing for one’s country, knows how important it is to play the game to his best ability. Appreciating an opponent’s performance showcases the friendly but competitive spirit in the way in which the present players are playing against one another. Cricket for them is a game to be played hard, however, it is not seen as the be-all and end-all of their life.
The human and softer aspects of sports was evident recently when the legendary Roger Federer retired from World Tennis. His major opponent, Rafael Nadal, was in tears and both showed the true value of being rivals on the court but ones who played against each other with utmost respect.
The applause by David Warner for Cheteshwar Pujara playing his 100th Test match, when India took to the field during the 2nd Test match in Delhi, takes one back to the days when cricket was a ‘Gentleman’s game’.
Franchise cricket is bringing about a radical change in how cricket is progressing into the future. Cricketers are now becoming an International community, respecting each other as well as each other’s cultural differences. The friendship and camaraderie that is growing amongst them will be the ideal platform on which cricket will grow into being a sport revelled by all.
The values that the gentlemen of yore stood for will once again filter into how the game will be played. Women’s cricket, as one watches their T20 World Cup, is a splendid example of the way each team participating is competing but enjoying themselves while doing so.
Guess it is time for the Gentle Men to follow the Gentle Ladies, after all sports at the end is for all to enjoy.
Cricket will then be a winner.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)