Almanac Cricket: The Spirit of Cricket

“The Cricketer”
by Kate Birrell

            ‘It’s not cricket‘ is an old saying: it’s supposed to allude to what is/isn’t fair play.  Cricket has   at times been presented as a fair, noble pastime, though reading its history it often reads the other way.

            At the top of the page is the current definition of the Spirit of Cricket as per the Marylebone Cricket Club, (MCC). This Spirit of Cricket is the preamble to the Laws of Cricket. The MCC has overseen the laws of cricket for circa 200 years. Though the power centre of cricket is now in India the MCC retain their esteemed status in overseeing much of the game.

 The current Ashes series however has certainly seen some controversy. This primarily relates to the Second test at the spiritual ground of cricket, Lord’s. The MCC are based at Lord’s.

We saw Australia’s Mitchell Starc take a fine outfield catch to dismiss England’s Ben Duckett, or so we thought. The English reviewed it, and it was deemed to be not out.  It was found Starc was not in control of his body when taking the catch. This per Law 33.3, as it was felt Starc had not completed his catch when the ball touched the ground. Australia had to wear it.

Nary twenty-four-hours later when England were chasing victory, Australian wicket-keeper Alex Carey stumped England’s Jonny Bairstow. To most people Bairstow was out as he had left his crease while the ball was still alive as per rule Law 20.1. However, a cacophony of abuse/outrage  erupted from the English because, though it was out as per the Laws of Cricket ,some English fans/players felt it was contrary to the Spirit of Cricket .

            We saw the boorish behaviour of the epitome of the English ruling class, the MCC members, who abused and jostled Australian players entering the stand. In the outer the chant ‘same old Aussies, cheating again’, rang out. Aussies cheating, because they were playing as per the laws of the game?

            As well as the dramas at Lord’s, we saw the corporate media adding fuel to the fire. Unsurprisingly the Murdoch media was happy to add its two bobs worth to the drama, it’s their style. In their Australian publications they sided with the Australians, in their English papers they aligned strongly with the home side: say no more.

            The letters pages and the various blogs had their usual suspects, people who can’t help themselves bagging the Australian Cricket team. These people don’t need to know or understand what happened, for them the Australian Cricket team is a veritable red rag to a bull.

Anyhow let’s have a brief look at examples of English respect for the Spirit of Cricket, or is it something they’re only too happy to trot out when they lose? Let’s compile a team of some of their players and wonder if their actions align to the MCC ‘s Spirit of Cricket.

Geoff Boycott: I’m sure we could put many pages together on this chap, but I’ll focus on a sole episode. The Adelaide Test of the 1970-71 Ashes series saw Boycott  run out by Ian Chappell. Maybe if Boycott had  grounded his bat rather than wave it in the air he’d have not been out. As it was Umpire Max O’Connell raised the finger. Boycott petulantly threw his bat, glared at the umpire, and took a long time to leave the oval. Certainly, no acceptance of the umpire’s decision here.

Michael Atherton:  We quite rightly hear a lot about the unsavoury behaviour of a number Australians involved in the Sandpaper gate scandal. They were caught and rightly punished. But how many of us recall Michael Atherton back in 1994 when at Lord’s in a test against South Africa he was seen rubbing the ball with dirt, then after being questioned about these actions denied it, openly lying about it.  Not a good look with the team captain caught out lying. Unlike the Australians involved in Sandpaper gate there was no suspension for Atherton, though there was a substantial fine. You couldn’t really say he was playing hard, and fair.

Chris Broad: Chris Broad is now an International Cricket Council referee. Though he holds that esteemed status I recall a few actions of his that certainly were not in tune with the Spirit of Cricket. We can go to the Bicentennial Sydney Test in 1988 when, after being bowled by Tony Dodemaide, he smashed his stumps down. Broad was fined by  England’s tour management after that outburst. This followed a Test in Pakistan a few months earlier when he refused to walk after being caught behind.  Anyhow, even now in his role as an ICC referee, he can’t help himself recently putting up a tweet of his son Stuart Broad ‘owning’ Australia’s David Warner.  Oh yes, his son is Stuart Broad the English fast-medium bowler: back to that later.

Douglas Jardine: ‘nuf said.

Kevin Pietersen: He’s a chap who always has a bit to say. Let’s wind back to 2012 when he was playing for England in a Test against South Africa at Lord’s. Pietersen sent texts to members of the South African side. These on their own are not the problem; rather it was his disparaging remarks about his teammates, especially captain Andrew Strauss, that caused consternation. Not much respect for his captain and teammates.

Tony Greig: Certainly, an extremely talented cricketer whose international career was cut short by his dalliance with World Series though his comments about making the West Indies grovel prior to their 1976 tour of England were not what you’d call respectful of their opponents or playing the game in a positive atmosphere. We could also mention his last ball of the day runout of Alvin Kallicharran in the 1974 Port of Spain Test which caused a big ruckus. The West Indian batsmen thought play was over for the day, thought the umpires hadn’t called it, as such they were trudging off the ground when Greig effected the run out. Umpire Douglas Sang Hue gave it out and a riot followed. Overnight wiser heads prevailed as the English withdrew the appeal, with the decision overturned prior to play starting the next day’s play.

W G Grace: Then we go back to 1882 when W G Grace ran out Australia’s Sammy Jones at the Oval. Jones left his crease thinking the ball was dead with the aim of patting down a divot. W G Grace had no qualms running him out. Was it the event that ended the ‘Golden Age’ of cricket being a gentleman’s game, or was it indicative of the English will to win at all costs?

Jonny Bairstow:  Well, he was the batsman dismissed in the most recent Spirit of Cricket hoo-ha. It’s worth noting he’d earlier advised Australia’s Travis Head he’d dismiss him in the same fashion, Marnus Labuschagne also got the same ‘advice’ from Bairstow. Jonny Bairstow has also dismissed batsmen in this fashion, such as Nottinghamshire’s Samit Patel . When an interviewer questioned this dismissal of Patel he replied, “ it’s within the rules of the game and that’s how it is”. Hmmm.

Moeen Ali: Only one player in this series has had action taken against him for acting ‘contrary to the spirit of the game’.  This was in the opening Test at Edgbaston when Moeen Ali was fined 25% of his match fee and penalised one demerit point for using a drying agent on the ball.

Stuart Broad: We’re all aware of Stuart Broad. An amazing cricketer on the cusp of 600 Test wickets, a bowler who has virtually ‘owned’ Australia’s Dave Warner in recent years but also someone who seems to antagonise opponents.  He presents as someone who has a lot to say on the ground, happy to incite the crowd.

In the opening Test of the 2013 Ashes series Broad snicked a thick edge from Ashton Agar to be caught at slip by Michael Clarke . Though to the majority of those viewing this incident Broad was clearly out,  he chose to remain at the crease. The Australians had used all their reviews, thus Broad was going nowhere yet, scoring 65 as part of a 138-run partnership with Ian Bell that helped see England to a 14-run win. Chris Broad, Stuart Broad, the apple doesn’t seem to have fallen far from the tree.

Harold Larwood: I was in two minds about including him in the team because later in his life he was apparently remorseful about his role in Bodyline.  However, in the Adelaide Test it was Harold Larwood’s short ball that struck Australian captain Bill Woodfull over the heart.  A few balls later he knocked Woodfull’s bat from his hand. An incapacitated Woodfull was then facing Larwood with a packed leg side field as per the directions of captain Douglas Jardine. What’s that about,  “There are  two sides out there. One of is playing cricket and the other is not”. Harold Larwood certainly played his role in Bodyline hard, but could we ever say Bodyline was fair ?

After the tour Larwood ghost wrote a book Bodyline? where he gave a strong defence justifying the British Bodyline tactics, also described as leg-theory. Though over time he seemed to mellow, moving to live in Australia, as the fastest bowler in the Bodyline series you wonder about his actions meeting the Spirit of Cricket.

            Anyhow these are some examples of the English not playing in the Spirit of Cricket. Obviously,  short memories exist as it doesn’t stop the actions of some of their supporters to lambast the current Australian team, accusing them of cheating.

            I don’t think the Australians are paragons of virtue, nor do I consider them the worst behaved team on the planet, contrary to what some people like to state. Sportsmanship, cheating,  are, sadly, quite common in much of the world of sport. Is there a sport exempt from these behaviours?

Cheat itself is an emotive word in sporting parlance, yet I’d be careful about bandying the term about willy-nilly, as we all know the old adage about people who live in glass houses.

            Now when you hear someone whining about not following  the Spirit of Cricket it’s seemingly more about their dismay of being dismissed under the Laws of Cricket .



To return to our Footy Almanac home page click HERE.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you enjoy the Almanac concept?

And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help things keep ticking over please consider making your own contribution.


Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE.




  1. Liam Hauser says

    Well said, Glen. I certainly disapprove of the way the word ‘cheating’ is often used (or rather misused) in sport. If something is within the rules but not in the spirit of the game, it can be classified as unsporting but it’s certainly not cheating. They’re two completely different things, and one should not be confused with the other.
    Likewise with controversial umpiring and refereeing decisions. The match officials are human and they make mistakes; indeed sometimes they make downright wrong decisions. But this doesn’t mean they’re cheats.
    As for the Bairstow dismissal at Lord’s and countless other instances, I think it merely comes down to people not being able to handle it when it doesn’t go their way. It’s a case of people only noticing something controversial (and banging on about it) if and when it goes against their team.

  2. E.regnans says

    No room for consistency when you need to be outraged, Glen.
    Nice job.

    I enjoyed these words of umpiring luminary Simon Taufel: “My experience is when people don’t like a dismissal under the Laws of Cricket, they cite the Spirit of Cricket to support their view.”

  3. Rulebook says

    Well done Glen yes extremely hypocritical- admit my thought process is still entirely great game awareness by the aussies – superbly done by AC and inexcusable moronic stupidity by Bairstow

  4. Daryl Schramm says

    The hypocrisy was so evident when late in the previous session of the Bairstow brain fart on the previous day, the ‘laws of the game’ was clearly articulated by the English to any Australian within earshot over Starc’s non-catch. The actual playing time between the two events was around two hours. How the worms turned!

Leave a Comment