As a non-cricket fan in a cricket-mad country, I’ve always observed that there exists a sort of moral proselytising among cricket fans which leads many of them to believe that those that play or follow the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ are somehow superior to the rest of the adherents of lesser sports.
And to validate their moral superiority, they deem there exists something called the ‘Spirit of Cricket’, an entity I am led to believe is the only thing stopping us from falling through the cracks.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that for long, cricket was the preserve of the supremely wealthy and privileged, a sport where one could eschew five days of their daily wages as they watched entitled young men chase a ball, while wearing a jacket and a tie and ensuring that ladies didn’t get in.
Or perhaps it is one of the last vestiges of British snootiness, an emotion to validate one’s existence when one realises that they are no longer in a position to exploit most of the known world, irrespective of how many poems Rudyard Kipling writes.
Even as cricket, forced to evolve to survive, went from a five-day affair to one-days to 20 overs, the ‘spirit of cricket’ clung on, even with a cash-rich league like the IPL.
And on Monday, as the nation grappled with the fiscal prudence of Rs 3.6 lakh crore dole per year which would burn a hole through the finances, Ravichandran Ashwin changed the conversation faster than a BJP spokesperson could point out that Indira said Garibi Hatao in 1971.
Ashwin – one who was deemed to not have enough tattoos to play limited overs cricket in modern India – Mankaded Jos Buttler during an IPL game and since then all hell has broken loose.
From the entries I’ve seen so far, many of them displaying the game’s gentlemanly streak with its choicest comments about his wife and children, even the deepest rung in hell is too good for a man who followed the rules of the game.
No man, it would appear, has got this much hatred for ‘following the rules’ since Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi collaborator who justified his hand in the Holocaust by stating that he was just following orders.
Even the ICC, which clearly states in its rules that a bowler doesn’t have to give a warning, ran a poll: “That Buttler Mankad... Did Ashwin do the right thing?”
What the f*** is the right thing lads? Honestly, having followed a plethora of sports in three decades of my existence, I’ve never quit figured the moral high ground claimed by cricket fans.
ICC states, quite clearly: “If the non-striker is out of his/her ground from the moment the ball comes into play to the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the bowler is permitted to attempt to run him/her out.”
All Ashwin did was follow the rules. Every single sport is played by the rules of pre-determined engagement. There’s literally a line in every sport that one shouldn’t cross and crossing it is deemed a penalty or a foul. If a football goalkeeper grabbed a ball outside his area, he’d be pulled up for handling. A football wall of players defending a free-kick can’t move beyond its line. A 100-metre sprinter who shoots ahead of others before the starting gun sounds is disqualified.
A basketballer who carries the ball instead of bouncing it, it is deemed to have travelled. A javelin thrown outside the line, fetches no points.
So, what the makes cricket so special that one sticking to its rules can be deemed to have gone against the ‘spirit of cricket’?
What exactly is the spirit of cricket? Is it anything like the spirit of Mumbai, the oft-quoted drivel that dominates conversation whenever a bridge falls or a terrorist attack takes place?
But it’s deemed that in the spirt of cricket, Ashwin should have ‘warned’ Buttler? Warned him about what?
Should Cruyff have warned a defender before turning his shoulder and going the other way? Should Messi warn the keeper that the ball will dip in? Should Michael Jordan warn his opponent before slam dunking over his head?
But cricket despite its ability to inspire all of mankind’s greatest sins – from greed to sloth - I am assured is unlike any sport. It’s marketed as ‘the gentlemen’s game’, a thoroughly sexist term which reeks of misogyny to the extent that an over in which the batsman hasn’t scored is called a ‘Maiden’.
Hell, they have enshrined the ‘spirit’, in the Laws of Cricket: “Cricket owes much of its appeal and enjoyment to the fact that it should be played not only according to the Laws, but also within the Spirit of Cricket.”
That should hardly be surprising, given that the people who came up with the notion of the ‘spirit’ are the same people who venerate a racist man responsible for the death of 4 million people, but it’s an issue barely discussed because he could mind his Ps and Qs and speak in a clipped accent.
Well, life isn’t a racist Rudyard Kipling poem, and you can stick the spirit where the sun doesn’t shine (just like the British Empire). All that matters are the rules and nothing R Ashwin did goes against the rules of the game. If Buttler, or any batsman for that matter, doesn’t want to get run-out, he simply shouldn’t leave his crease before the ball is delivered. It’s as simple as that.