One of the most anticipated awards at the ICC annual awards is the spirit of cricket award. There was a time some years back when cricket had become so intense that there were some players who thought it was a boxing ring with no hold barred as far as winning was concerned. Thankfully the Boards have now become proactive than reactive and are instructing their teams that playing hard to win is one thing but that is no reason for behaviour on and off the field to go down the tube. The disciplining and fining of some well known hell raisers has certainly helped as it has shown that the administrators are serious and that has made a big difference. Players will still have the odd chirp here and there but generally it’s not nasty and personal and so does not cause offence to the one addressed to as well as the viewers who can lip read if not hear everything, thanks to TV technology.
New Zealand won the Spirit of Cricket Award this year which is adjudicated by the umpires and match referees. Just a day earlier the cricketing world had seen the evidence of the spirit when Daniel Vettori recalled Paul Collingwood after he was adjudged run-out as he went down the pitch after awkwardly moving away from a short delivery thinking the ball was dead and it was the end of the over. Brendon McCullum who had gathered the ball behind the wickets saw Collingwood out of his ground and rolled the ball and knocked down the stumps and appealed. The square leg umpire went up to the TV umpire who ruled it out since the batsman was quite clearly out of his crease. Collingwood stood his ground and both umpires then conferred with each other and then with Daniel Vettori, withdrew the appeal and so Collingwood could resume his innings. It was quite ironic that it was Collingwood who was the beneficiary since a couple of years back when he was captain of England’s one-day squad he had refused to recall a New Zealand batsman who had collided with the bowler and so was stranded well out of his crease. He was criticised heavily in the media then and it was probably one of the reasons why he opted to quit the captaincy a little while later. Again ironically it was the same New Zealand team which had appealed successfully when Muthiah Muralidharan went out of his crease to congratulate Kumar Sangakarra on completing his century. The umpires ruled the ball was not dead though it was quite obvious that Murali was not trying to take a run but only going to congratulate Sangakkara on a fine century. Fleming the then kiwi skipper refused to recall Murali.
In an earlier game in the Champions Trophy Andrew Strauss also had recalled Angelo Matthews of Sri Lanka when he collided with a bowler and was thus hampered from completing a run. His coach Andy Flower wasn’t impressed and suggested that he would not have done what Strauss did. It is here that players can have a problem for the coach knows that his job will be secure only if the team wins and so he will encourage the team to win at all costs even if it is at the cost of the spirit of the game. It was good to see that Strauss did the right thing though of course there is always the possibility that his gesture may not be reciprocated by the opposition skipper. Strauss though came in for a bit of stick from the South Africa media when he refused a runner when Graeme Smith who was batting splendidly asked for a runner after completing a top class century. Strauss was not the one to blame since it is now a policy of the umpires and match referees not to allow a runner or a substitute for cramps believing that tiredness is no reason for one to be allowed a substitute. Strauss though copped the blame and defended his action by saying that lasting the fifty overs is a question of training and being physically fit and ready and since there was no muscle pull or tear then a substitute was not on.
In the Ashes series too Strauss had done the sporting thing by allowing Australia to change its wicketkeeper after the toss had been made. Brad Haddin broke his finger during practice after the toss and Strauss would have been perfectly within his rights to deny Australia another keeper but he was sporting enough to do the correct thing and in doing so enhanced the image of the England cricket team as well as uphold the spirit of the game.
These two skippers have shown that they have their hearts in the right places though it is debatable that even within their team there may well be some who may think the skipper is going soft. The game is now being seen by a lot more people on the TV and many youngsters are watching it and get massively influenced by the actions of their heroes and want to emulate them when they are playing. A few years back many parents did not want their children to play cricket because they were horrified at the language used even in school games and it was all due to the kids thinking it was right to abuse the opponent because their heroes were doing it playing at the international level. Many a promising talent has thus been lost to the game.
What Strauss and Vettori have done in the ICC Champions Trophy is to restore faith in sportsmanship and that a team can win even without being nasty and bending the rules of the game. It is a great sign for the game and congratulations are due not just to them but to the administrators who have encouraged them to do the right thing and also to the much maligned ICC for instituting the spirit of cricket award. In the modern ‘win at all costs’ age hopefully it is one that will help bring back the saying 'it’s not cricket'.