The Spirit of Cricket versus law

Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Perhaps because of its centuries-old history as a leading pastime of the British Empire's rich and idle gentry, the game of cricket is brimful of peculiar ambiguities and glaring contradictions.

For example, the game has many and varied laws but a few are very rarely utilised because to do so is considered in breach of fair play or something called the Spirit of Cricket.

The long-standing, popularly used expression “It's not cricket” will readily come to mind.

The rare Obstructing the Field dismissal of a South Africa Under-19 batsman during a game against the West Indies Under-19s in the ongoing ICC Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand illuminates the situation.

Under the laws of cricket the batsman is not allowed to handle the ball while it is in play. However, at the highest level especially, batsmen do it all the time as a common courtesy to the fielding team — picking up the ball to throw to the bowler or fielder. Usually, because it happens so often, the action is hardly noticed.

Bear in mind that in the context of the Spirit of Cricket, the fielding side is considered well within its rights to appeal for the dismissal of the batsman if it considers that the latter has used his hand to stop the ball from hitting the stumps.

Just to be clear, the relevant law relating to the latest controversial incident states that “Either batsman is out obstructing the field if, at any time while the ball is in play and without the consent of a fielder, he uses his bat or any part of his person, including a hand not holding the bat, to return the ball to any fielder.”

In the latest case, South Africa Under-19 batsman Mr Jiveshan Pillay got an inside edge to a delivery from West Indies Under-19 fast bowler Mr Jarion Hoyte. The ball rolled to a stop, close to the stumps. With the ball stationary and no longer a threat, the batsman picked it up and threw it to the fielding team, at which point West Indies Under-19 captain, Mr Emmanuel Stewart, shocked onlookers by appealing to the umpires for the batsman's dismissal.

Under the rules, the match officials had no option but to give the batsman out.

Inevitably, the incident brought back memories of the so-called 'Mankad' incident of two years ago, also involving the West Indies Under-19 team. Back then a Zimbabwe Under-19 batsman at the non-striker's end was dismissed, run out by a West Indies Under-19 bowler — having dragged his bat over the batting crease before the bowler had delivered the ball.

As was the case two years ago there are many condemning the current West Indies Under-19s for allegedly acting outside the Spirit of Cricket.

Others insist that “laws are laws”. Why is there a law, if it's not to be implemented?

The desire to maintain cricket as the vanguard for fair play and gentlemanly conduct is admirable. But perhaps cricket's global custodians need to act proactively to plug loopholes and bring clarity to the sport's grey areas. Surely too, there is also a case for cricketers to act strictly according to the law, regardless of the spirit.

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