In his very impressive rant against Sourav Ganguly, Shane Warne makes note of “that wall” that all the captains signed at the opening ceremony. Their signatures required them, he said, to act only within the “spirit of cricket,” a vague and almost empty concept that means everything to everybody, depending on perspective and, apparently, nationality.
At some level, we understand what it means, but only with specific concrete actions: standing too long after being dismissed; shouting verbally at another player; pointing at some pavilion. But, like the slippery debate over torture in America, that’s where the consensus ends, and the clashing dictionaries come out. How long does a batsman have to stand before they can be pulled up for dissent? How much (and with what words?) can a player swear at another before the match referee becomes involved?
Referees and authorities have inadvertently contributed to this muddle when they make it a point to punish only the worst offenders. Don’t get me wrong; rude behavior should not be tolerated, but players understand that they can get away with a lot before they will be fined. So, instead of going all out with their offenses, they plan smaller scrimmages, and referees, interested only in the really glaring stuff, let things slide. Consequently, we begin to split hairs and make a mockery of the spirit behind the rules.
The IPL, however, should not even have had that Orwellian “wall” signed anyway. Again, I understand why they did it: if the primary purpose of this entire spectacle is, well, the spectacle itself, what would prevent a franchise owner from conspiring with another to encourage “close” matches? Only a supposed fidelity to the game’s ethical background, obviously.
But there’s a difference between cheating, and not acting cordially. I honestly don’t have a problem with Harbhajan slapping someone else off the field, or Shane Warne rightly berating another captain. Authorities and observers have argued, again and again, that the IPL represents a new chapter, more showy and glamorous than “staid” Test cricket. So, let things get a bit out of hand now and then: let the players blow off the steam they can’t in the international fixtures. Who cares if that makes the entertainment more “low-brow” or less proper — isn’t that the whole point anyway?
It reminds me of the different ways I played cricket with friends as a teenager in the Philippines. Playing in the school gym between classes, we joked around; we accused each other of ignoring rules; we argued about scoring — but all in good jest. When the school’s team played another’s, however, or when we all dressed in white to play a gaggle of older expats, we knew the difference. Now, that doesn’t diminish what we did in our school gym: that was still cricket, and all of it was fun.
So, just drop the facade, IPL: there is Test cricket, there is one-day cricket, and then there’s you, gaudy cheerleaders and all. When you have pink helmets for the top scorers; when you measure the worth of a cricketing shot by how far it goes into the stands; when your advertising emphasizes conflict and aggressive players — you really don’t need to bring the ICC Code of Conduct and confuse things even further. Drop the pretensions.