"It's not cricket!" is an expression used to admonish any transgression made from the spirit of things. The status attained by the phrase is indicative of the importance the game enjoyed and the ideals it began to embody. Perhaps, during this time, cricket earned the sobriquet, 'The Gentleman's Game', and any deviation from the gentlemanly order was dismissed quite simply as "It's not cricket!"
Sir Henry Newbolt's 'Vitai Lampada' reflects the mood of the time towards sports in general and cricket in particular. The feeling that the game builds character in young boys is the crux of the lines:
"A bumping pitch and a blinding light/ An hour to play and the last man in. / And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat/ Or the selfish hope of a season's fame/ But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote/ "Play up! Play up! And play the game!""
The poem is about how a schoolboy, and future soldier, learns selfless commitment to duty in cricket matches in Clifton College. Although I do not share his opinion that sports should be a war of sorts, the essence that a certain collective is greater than the sum of its parts should not be ignored. No single faction or player is greater than the game.
Although a team sport, cricket is intrinsically individualistic in nature. It is the sum of individual contests within a larger whole. The scope for a single individual to alter the outcome of the game is thus greater. In spite of this paradox, the game comes above all else, sanctified by a spirit to which one must adhere.
It is ironic that the game's governing body, the ICC, fails to live up to the very spirit demanded of those they govern. The increasingly seedy influence of the BCCI and its cronies, the ECB and Cricket Australia, is no better than when the Test and Counties Cricket Board ran it almost exclusively as a members club, in the guise of the Imperial Cricket Council.
The troika feel that as the game is largely driven by their finance and participation, it’s only right that they appropriate the lion's share of the revenues and the cricket played. A cosy 52% of the ICC's revenues line their filthy pockets. The other teams are left to feed off scraps and depend on the largesse of the monopoly powers.
This power (and money) grab reflects a wider social malaise. A failure of the system not because of any giant flaw in the system itself, but because human nature, which is essentially base, prevents a wider humanity from prevailing over the individual's greed. Not on quite the same scale as The FIFA Corruption scandal, the BCCI powered coup is perhaps more detrimental to the growth of the game, and the regime has already started to veto progressive measures such as cricket's push towards the Olympics.
Power corrupts, but to thrust power in the hands of the already corrupt is deplorable. For every Frank Serpico, Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins, fighting the established order to preserve the spirit of the game, there are many more Srinivasans, Giles Clarkes and Sepp Blatters, willing to suppress any dissent in the bud.
It is just not cricket!
The recent events at FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) are not in the right spirit either. To appoint such a man as the director of the institute is an insult to the credibility and calibre of the post and his predecessors. That it is nothing more than an extension of political largesse, a token of sorts for sharing the ideologies of those in power, is a sign of the unwillingness to consider the greater good - that of the institution and its students- and an encroachment on the liberal space the institute strives to provide. I strongly feel that the agitation is not a personal attack but a response to the suspicious nature of the appointment.
The subsequent arrest of students is an extremely underhanded way to force the issue and deflect attention towards the alleged lack of respect and discipline of the students. Whether the gherao of the FTII director or the Vice Chancellor at Presidency University, another hotbed of student dissent, was in the right spirit or not, is open to debate and differing voices have been raised.
In this context, CLR James' wonderful assessment of the violent unrest in the Queens Park Oval stands that marred the visiting English side's test against West Indies, in January 1960, is of vital importance and offers an interesting perspective into the present turmoil.
In his book 'Beyond a Boundary', he writes, "They had come to see a cricket match and I for one loved them for it. They have been slandered, vilified and at best grievously misunderstood." Over 30,000 people crammed into the ground, began to throw bottles and debris onto the field in what the author describes as 'The intimate connection between the cricket and the West Indian social and political life'.
The dubious run out of local hero Charran Singh was the trigger for a sudden outpouring of anger. The run out itself was of relative unimportance as the West Indies, reduced to 98/8 and around 300 runs in arrears, were staring at defeat. According to James, "Not a soul on the ground believed that Ramadhin could make twenty. They would have cheered Singh as a hero if he had made ten. The fate of the match was not at stake." Thus it is abundantly clear that the public did not feel cheated of a contest. Instead, tensions had been simmering across the Caribbean islands regarding the captaincy issue.
Not since Jeffrey Stollmeyer did the islands have a credible white candidate for the skipper's role, yet the authorities persisted with the inexperienced Denis Atkinson and the incapable Gerry Alexander, both whites, over Frank Worrell. Worrell was a natural leader, blessed with a sharp cricketing brain, not merely respected but deified by his fellow professionals.
It was the appointment of Alexander that caused the most discontent among the locals. Worrell, at the time, was at the peak of his career and there could have been no justification for his non-appointment. Tensions came to a boil before they spilled out from the stands and onto the field of play.
CLR James himself took to making a comprehensive case for Worrell's appointment as captain of the West Indies. His piece 'Alexander Must Go', in the next morning's edition of the Trinidad newspaper, The Nation, ensured that all copies were sold out overnight. He insisted that he would 'exhaust every argument [in favour of Worrell] before touching on the racial aspect.' In an open letter to the Queens Park Club, he urged their good senses to prevail, failing which battle lines would be drawn:
"If, however, there has to be a fight to cure our society of the dangerous abscess which has now burst, then fight there will be. Foremost in the desire for a peaceful solution, The Nation likewise, if nothing else suffices, will lead the attack; it will be strategic, comprehensive and final."
Just as they did after the Queens Park riot, sections of the media and those on the opposite end of the spectrum of opinion are attributing the unrest in FTII and Presidency to the actions of hooligans. The newspapers, the news and many others are keen to paint students as immature and without any regard for the cultural ethos of the very institutions in whose names they are protesting. They lament an irreparable loss of image, but what is this image or culture that they speak of?
In the aftermath of the riot, the Governor, the Premier, Dr. Eric Williams, and Learie Constantine apologized to M.C.C. in England and to the M.C.C. team. The majority condemned the rioters' actions as acts of hooliganism unbecoming of proper folk. Lord Bryner in 'Riot in the Oval' echoes the public opinion in Trinidad in 1960 and Calcutta in 2015:
"Right in the middle of the Federal Capital/ It was rotten and bad/ And a shame to the island of Trinidad/ After we had such a good sporting name/ One little thing make we lose we fame/ It will take us 15 years or more/ To get back the good name, I am sure".
They understood the uproar to be a reaction to the dubious run out of Charran Singh. If so, it was indeed a barbaric act. But we know otherwise. To ignore the injustice the West Indian public felt at the refusal of letting Worrell lead the side, although he was best placed to do so; to brandish the phrase "It’s not cricket!" in retaliation to the incident; this was the most dangerous form of conformism. Grievously misunderstood is putting it mildly. Instead they were left to hang by the very populace they sought to fight for. As CLR James very famously put it, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?"
I find this fear of a loss of image and culture extremely superficial. There is nothing to protect when “the image” is being continuously sullied by those tasked with preserving and enhancing it. It is not desirable that a siege mentality pervades a university campus, or for that matter in any sphere, but if the voice of reason, of formal expressions of discontent, is ignored and even worse, suppressed, it is human nature, essentially base after all, to retaliate. It is often ugly, but it is a necessary menace.
Those who are treating the Presidency protests as an attention seeking exercise perpetrated by goons and uncouth, spoilt children of the new age are wilfully ignoring the pile-up of issues and the resultant outrage caused by those issues. The police assault on the students of Presidency, like the run out, was merely a trigger to give vent to a wider discontent.
It's not cricket. Or it is; depends on whether you are the one bowling or getting bowled.