Cricket's finest traditions

Internet Express
April 9, 1998

MICHAEL Holding, the man whom they called "Whispering Death", played his cricket hard but he also played it very fair. So it should have come as no surprise when, at the end of the recent series, he raised his voice to protest the incidents of bad sportsmanship that so marred the Tests.

Mr Holding, even in retirement, continues to provide a great service to cricket as a commentator, not only through his valuable observations on the technical aspects of the game, but also through his insistence on holding players on all sides to a high standard of conduct and decorum.

In an article published last Friday in this newspaper, the former fast-bowling ace bared his soul: "It has been a wretched series for anybody who truly loves cricket. Those of us who have long cherished the sportsmanship that once went hand in hand with the game have been left to wonder whether there is any left."

Like so many of us in the Caribbean, Mr Holding from his "earliest school days, was brought up believing that cricket was the most noble of sports". And while that "illusion was quickly dispelled" when he went on his first overseas tour to Australia, he held on to the ideal, believing, to this day, that a batsman should walk once he knows that he is out, without waiting for a sign from the umpire.

These days, few batsmen walk and, what is worse, that kind of behaviour is championed not only by the expert commentators but by younger fans of the game who cite "professionalism" as an excuse for staying at the crease and hoping that the umpire did not hear your tip or did not see whether the fieldsman had taken the catch against you cleanly.

Fieldsmen, too, are not blameless in this regard. We have seen instances where some fieldsmen have been quick to indicate to the umpire that they had not, in fact, taken a catch cleanly. But there have been other instances where fieldsmen have known that they have not taken a catch cleanly but refuse to speak up in the expectation that the batsman would be cheated out.

Now it is true that this kind of gamesmanship can be found in all sports, and that these incidents of dishonesty have been increasing because of the huge sums that are paid to successful sportspersons and the winning teams for which they play. But we expect cricket and cricketers to be different and, in any case, no individual nor team can rise to great heights on the basis of cheating and not on merit.

West Indians like to think that their team always play fair and, indeed, there have been a number of instances where West Indian cricketers have spoken up seemingly to their team's disadvantage. But Mr Holding referred to that incident in the last Test when, long before umpire Steve Bucknor gave England's last man in, Phil Tufnell out, the West Indies players whipped the stumps out of the ground as souvenirs even as Mr Tufnell stood his ground waiting for Mr Bucknor's decision. The batsman may or may not have been given out. Now we will never know since the decision was taken out of the official's hands by the action of the West Indies players.

One hopes that the West Indies cricket management would have taken the players to task for that disgusting display. Even if the other teams behave dishonourably, West Indian cricketers should set a standard of gentlemanly conduct in the best traditions of the game: walk when you know you're out; don't harass the umpire for a decision by making unnecessary appeals; don't claim catches when they have not been taken cleanly.

The cricket world knows the contribution we have made to the physical game. Perhaps another great contribution we can make is to insist, by our example, on a return to its finest traditions.