A Cricketing Confession.

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My Watsonian Moment

shane watsonMy most jubilant cricketing moment came knocking back the off stump of a particularly aggressive batsman, who had ridden his luck throughout his innings.  Having inside edged my previous delivery, inches away from his stumps to the boundary; I bowled a ball of such genius (albeit unintended) to bamboozle the plucky batsmen that it would forever remain in my memory.  Jagging back just short of a length the ball eluded a wholehearted attempt of a drive, forcing its way between bat and pad to clatter the stump out of the ground.  However, my memory of the passage of play would be tainted with bitterness and regret, for it was also the cricketing moment for which I am most shameful.

As the ball raced away to the boundary, following the aforementioned inside-edge, I uttered an assortment of expletives under my breath.  Although not aimed at anyone in particular, they included a selection of discourteous phrases. My opponent heard my frustrations and was convinced they were aimed at him.

It’s always the risk when you are playing a team game, it’s not like when you visit visit Party Poker or are weight training alone, when you can really let off steam without people getting offended by your actions or what you say. You have to keep some sort of check on what you say and do as there is more than yourself watching and listening.Wielding his bat, and complete with helmet, pads and an array of protective equipment, he challenged me with regards to my articulation of irritation. Denying everything, I paced back to my marker, full of adrenaline and energised; I was determined to get this batsman out.  Running in with a breeze behind me and aided by a slight downhill decline, I would bowl my wicket-rattling ball, and spark an intense feeling of euphoria, although short-lived.  It just wasn’t quite right.

Early predictions warning of a dull, one-sided contest between Australia and West Indies were largely correct. Yet the on field tension that frothed and bubbled over in the third Test came as a surprise.  The cricket world had, after all been lulled into a false sense of security with regards to manners, behaviour and good will shown on the pitch, especially during this period of cheers and festivity. The ICC Champions Trophy had been a showcase of sportsmanship and fair-play, as New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori would retract an appeal, following Paul Collingwood’s decision to saunter out of his crease whilst the ball was in play.   And Andrew Strauss recalled Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews, following the batmen’s collision with Graeme Onions halfway though a run and subsequent run-out.

In a similar clash between a batsman, running a single and bowler retrieving the ball, Suliemann Benn and Brad Haddin ignited a quite distasteful and ugly set of events.  Haddin pointed his bat at bowler, Benn who would later clash with Haddin and Mitchell Johnson. Benn’s finger pointing and foul language, and also the Australian’s retaliation went far beyond the competitive spirit that modern international cricket is played in. Such events would taint the match and result in fines for the Australians and a ban for the tall West Indian spin bowler.

Later in the Test, by far the most childish and cringe worthy moment in world cricket would orchestrated by Shane Watson.  In celebrating the dismissal of Chris Gayle, the Australian all-rounder ran down the wicket, to roar and scream a matter of feet from the Windies captain as he embarked on his return to the pavilion.  Such a display represented a complete lack of respect, and regardless of the passions that had consumed Watson at time, was juvenile and had no place on a cricket pitch.

As fans of cricket, and reluctantly, consumers of world cricketing action, viewed through our television screens, we like to see a bit of passion, fight and will to win in our players. A brand of tough and ruthless cricket has emerged within the Australian set up, a philosophy of hard cricket that came to characterise the invincible nature of the Australian test side throughout the 90s and into the new millennia. Perhaps it has permeated into world cricket, with notable examples to be made of certain members of the Indian team, who often show obvious examples of arrogance and even nonchalance, when Harbhajan Singh bowled Irish batsmen GC Wilson in the ICC T20 World Cup, and gave him a departing wave good-bye as a send off.

Yet is there ever any excuse for finger pointing, over the top aggression and immature displays in lack of grace?  The 2005 Ashes series would come to be defined by the iconic image of Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee, following the Edgbaston test, which ended with a margin of 2 runs.  Certainly, for the English media, the test series is remembered as much for sportsmanship and the spirit the contests were played in, as for the compelling cricket that was played.

Andrew Flintoff, on his retirement from Test cricket would comment on his reputation as a “decent bloke rather than any sort of cricketer I might have been”.  Indeed, his achievements as a cricketer would be eclipsed by his sportsmanship and good character. Despite his hard hitting and fast bowling, he remained a popular player, among cricket fans and opposition alike.

Adam Gilchrist would remark on his career as an international cricketer in his autobiography, about the manner in which he played the game. He was praised but also widely criticised by Australian media and fellow players for ‘walking’ after edging a delivery in the 2003 World Cup Semi-final against Sri Lanka, despite a ‘not out’ call from the umpire.  In his final Test, umpire Daryl Hair said to Gilchrist, “When you see your parents next, tell them they got it right, they shouldn’t have done anything different”.

Both Flintoff and Gilchrist ended their career knowing they played the game in the right spirit.  No doubt Benn, Haddin or Watson will come to regret their actions and decisions to behave in the manner they did, despite the passion that engulfs players in the heat of the battle. As for me, I cannot quite remember the outcome of my own match, but after the game I sought out the batsmen and victim of my crimes to cricket. I never did find him, to apologise and to ensure no harm was meant.  Of course it was not, and I had succumbed to excitement, to frustration and the will to succeed. However, I learnt that he had gone home early and my regret intensified further.  Even if I did get my wicket, perhaps the best I have ever taken, the joy of the dismissal will never overcome the feeling that it was not right.  On that occasion I did not play in the spirit of the game, and this is something I will always regret.

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