James Lawton: Gamesmanship is just not cricket, no matter which sport is being played
Anderson, who had been in heroic mode, seemed almost as offended as Ponting
Tuesday 14 July 2009
As if the Australians hadn't scored enough moral victories in the first Test they now have a picture to remind them. It is worth rather more than a thousand words of the most wounding invective.
It shows their captain, Ricky Ponting, who is not a tall man, looking down – in every sense – as England's 12th man Bilal Shafayat offers a new batting glove to the heroic tail-ender James Anderson.
Twice Shafayat was sent on to the field in time-wasting exercises so transparent, so pathetic, it was a relief to everyone, even the most committed England fan, surely, when he was shooed away by the umpires as though he was a bothersome street urchin.
On one of his trips he was accompanied by physiotherapist Steve McCaig, his red shirt billowing in the evening breeze and a look on his face that seemed to plead for some little corner of Wales to open beneath his feet.
Later, it was a small piece of reassurance to see that England captain Andrew Strauss was almost swallowed up in embarrassment when the issue was raised. He pleaded the confusion of the moment.
In the picture, however, Ponting's eyes show the contempt of the ages.
He expressed it eventually with an example of Australian understatement that may never be surpassed in the English language. Ponting thought it was "pretty ordinary" behaviour.
Certainly, it was in keeping with something that two years ago seemed to represent arguably the most inept piece of gamesmanship ever to be inflicted on a game whose very name is supposed to be tantamount to saying fair play. Remember that misadventure at Trent Bridge, when England threw jelly babies down on the wicket and so inflamed the Indian bowler Zaheer Khan he promptly produced one of the greatest bursts of swing bowling ever seen?
We know that gamesmanship, to give it the most benign description, has been rife in cricket since well before the England captain Douglas Jardine decided that the only way to beat Australia was to make a target of Don Bradman's body. The consequence of that was a possible break-up of the British Empire. No doubt the repercussions are less grave after the incidents at Sophia Gardens but England need to look at one of them very carefully.
It is that they snatched from the extraordinary salvage work of Paul Collingwood, Anderson and Monty Panesar the precise opposite of the feel-good factor. It was the feel petty-and-inadequate factor. It was an admission they were in desperate need of help by any means they could muster. Anderson, who had been in heroic mode for some time, understandably seemed almost as offended as Ponting.
There is no cure for gamesmanship – and no serious hope that it will ever disappear. When tennis player Andy Murray was accused of it by the Latvian Ernests Gulbis at Wimbledon he reacted with something suspiciously like righteous indignation and a degree of philosophy, saying, "Gamesmanship is a form of cheating. It's bending the rules to gain an advantage. It's a bit like diving in football. It does go on and certain players do it. Some do it, some don't. I'm one of the guys in tennis who doesn't do it. I just play to win the best way I can."
When Michael Owen appeared to dive and win a vital penalty in a qualifying match against Slovakia he was widely seen as doing something "professional" on behalf of the country. When Diego Maradona punched the ball into England's net in the Azteca Stadium he was pretty much branded the Antichrist. So it goes.
When Zinedine Zidane blighted a fantastic, romantic climax to his career by head-butting the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final most of the opprobrium was directed at his victim for his goading of the hero with sexual innuendos directed at his sister. The fact that Zidane had been sent off more times than Roy Keane was somewhat lost.
Yes, of course, gamesmanship, cheating, is endemic to professional sport. Has a pitcher applied graphite or Vaseline to the ball; has the slugger put cork into his bat and steroids into his body?
No doubt it is a bit late in the day to get too exercised over the capers in Cardiff. There is, though, another problem. It is the effect of what England tried to do, and the way they attempted it. It was – as we saw on the face of Ponting – inspiring of contempt. It was a confession of inadequacy that England will do well to shake away over the next four Tests.
In Cardiff the term "test" had never been more relevant to the action. The Aussies, but for that last failure to break through the Rorke's Drift of England's tail, had passed most of their examination. England had failed in all but the defiance of Collingwood, Anderson and Panesar, which meant that a draw was a result beyond any reasonable expectations.
Yet in the end it wasn't quite as neat as that. There was that picture of Ponting, already arguably the most committed man in all of sport for the next few weeks, with an expression that said that any previous determination had, at that moment, been precisely doubled.
Gamesmanship is supposed to give you an edge, however dubiously. It is not supposed to guarantee your opponents are as merciless as ravaging wolves.
Terry should stop the kissing game
The controversy over Mr Chelsea's possible move to Manchester City is inevitable and complicated.
That John Terry is already on fantasy wages is really beside the point. In a free market and a free country everyone is entitled to seek the best possible terms. Still, there are a couple of points that should be borne in mind, even by someone employed as a professional footballer.
One is that Terry is currently on a three-year contract that most citizens would be inclined to fondle rather than reject at least once every waking hour.
The other is that, should he remain at Stamford Bridge, he might think seriously about his options the next time he feels some overwhelming urge to express his fabled loyalty to the club of his life. Kissing the shirt, for example, is surely no longer the wise choice. It might just smack, more vividly than ever before, of a certain degree of insincerity.
Welsh sporting excellence demands recognition
It should have been no surprise that Cardiff, having done such a splendid job of hosting the Cup final in those years when building the new Wembley seemed to impinge on eternity, proved equally adept at staging an Ashes Test match.
The wicket, it is true, was not exactly a cracker, but then how many bowlers' hearts have they buried at The Oval?
A particular delight of Welsh sport is the intimate relationship it has with its greatest figures. Excessively deferential it is not. However, a hero is a hero even if he can walk among his people relatively unmolested.
One reminder of this is the story of when Mel Charles, brother of the great John, returned from impressive duty with the Welsh team which reached the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, where the injury-hampered campaign was ended only by a single goal from Brazil. As he passed through the station in Swansea, the ticket collector called out, "Hi, Mel, haven't seen you for a while, been on holiday?"
Such easy familiarity does not, though, quell the dismay that so regularly greets the lack of any serious recognition of Welsh sporting prowess in all the honours lists since the knight of Sir Harry Llewellyn, third baronet, who won gold in the Helsinki Olympics of 1952 on the back of Foxhunter.
The wound was opened again recently when cyclist Sir Chris Hoy received an almost instant dubbing after his success in Beijing.
Where, the Welsh want to know, were the knighthoods for Barry John, conqueror of the All Blacks in 1971 and the brilliant Lions coach, Carwyn James, or the greatest of scrum-halves, Gareth Edwards, or the dynamic fly-half, and distinguished broadcaster, Cliff Morgan, or Mel's big brother John, in the opinion of some good judges the most complete footballer ever bred in these islands?
The more English fans are drawn to Cardiff, the can-do city of British sport, the more they can expect the question. But then what can they say? It beats me.
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