Cricket is not a Gladiatorial Contest

  • Hughes’ death is a jolt to not only cricket, but all sports
  • Don’t treat it as a freak accident, it is manifestation of dangerous trend
  • Let us get back to the original spirit of the Game

(Vithal Rajan)

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Sequence of images showing Phillip Hughes as he is struck in the head by a delivery during day one of the Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Nov 25.

Dr. WG Grace glared when a bouncer went past his head. The bowler apologised: ‘Sir, she slipped,’ he said humbly, but the great man was not mollified for some time. The gentlemen of Hambledon in Hampshire are credited with popularising the pleasant village sport of cricket in the 18th century. Long before the modern Olympic games were organised as a way of teaching sportsmanship among the athletes of different nations, cricket had become the gentlemen’s game, renowned as much for its courteous conduct as for the skills displayed. ‘It is not cricket’ has come to mean in common parlance that some act is not sportsmanlike. AGVithal Rajan Photo Gardiner, one of the great writers on the game, called Ranji ‘the prince of a little state but the king of a great game,’ lauding his invention of the effortless leg glance. But Ranjit singh was not dodging bouncers. When Jardine brought in bodyline bowling during England’s tour of Australia in 1933, to curb Bradman’s genius, the world of cricket condemned it unanimously. Bradman and Ponsford came to the crease wearing towels round their middle. The Nawab of Pataudi, Tiger Pataudi’s father, refused to join the loaded leg slips and returned to India before the English tour of Australia was completed. Even Jardine did not ask Larwood to aim at the head.

Don Bradman-28

Don Bradman

Famous batsmen, who have just retired like Gavasker, never wore a helmet, which has now become a necessary part of a batsman’s body armour. With Phillip Hughes’ tragic death, we see that even this is not enough to ensure safety. A bouncer is not bowled to secure a wicket. A batsman can offer no stroke and avoid it. A series of bouncers with the batsman ducking will produce no runs and no wickets, and is not cricket even in its limited sense. A bouncer is bowled to intimidate a batsman, and unfortunately it has come to be accepted like offensive slagging as part of the day’s entertainment, and that is the root of the issue.

Jardine who brought in bodyline bowling during England’s tour of Australia in 1933, to curb Bradman’s genius

Jardine who brought in bodyline bowling during England’s tour of Australia in 1933, to curb Bradman’s genius

These days, a sport has to entertain an armchair spectator, preferably sitting in front of his TV, to be able to attract corporate sponsorship, and advertising. From being a game that is played by sports men and women, cricket has become spectator entertainment for people escaping from the drudgery of stress filled lives, like cinema, or gambling, or drugs. India with its huge masses of urban poor has fuelled this change, giving rise to the money spinning IPL series, and match fixing by bookies, managers, and players alike. Like the Roman spectators of old, the masses crave excitement, and they want bouncers and sixers. They have no taste for the leg glance or the late cut.

England fast bowler Harold Larwood famous for 'Bodyline'-28

England fast bowler Harold Larwood famous for ‘Bodyline’

Poor young Hughes was trying to hook a bouncer that should have been left alone, because that is this kind of daredevilry the stands shout for. Calling it a freak accident, or mourning his death for a short regulation period will not do. If Hughes has paid with his life for what cricket has become in the 21st century, let the tragedy also bring back all sport, not just cricket, from being a ruthless moneymaking machine to its original purpose of creating healthy bodies and friendly comradeship among the young.

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