Follow The Trace | The Spirit vs the rules of the game
Sportsmanship: The Kieron Pollard bowling controversy in the Caribbean Premier League ignited debates about it, and the pronouncements by West Indies batting great Brian Lara have escalated it.
Another round of emotional arguments, as to whether sport at the professional level should be guided strictly by the rules and laws, or if additionally there should be allowances made for the unwritten gentleman's understanding, or the spirit of the game.
This issue is rife with subjectivity as it relates to the degree of tolerance for the spirit of the game. There are surely extenuating instances and circumstances, such as when a player gets injured in football, and the unwritten rule of whichever team is in possession of the ball plays it out of touch for the player to get treatment; after which, the ball is returned by the opposing team to the team that was in possession.
That kind of extreme situation aside, it all comes down the conscience of the individual players with the clear understanding that there is absolutely no obligation for any player or team to play in the unspecific invisible and unenforceable spirit of the game, especially in the cut and thrust of today's multibillion dollar professional sporting sphere.
For the most part, the support of the principle of playing games in a particular spirit is based on emotionalism, and to a large extent, bias. The harsh and widespread criticism of Pollard, for example, has come from people who were eerily silent, or held a completely different view last year when West Indies under 19 bowler Keemo Paul committed an even more glaring breach of the spirit of the game by running out the Zimbabwean non striker who was backing up too far. This was a legal decision which effectively won a game for the West Indies that Zimbabwe was well on course to winning. The rest, they say, is history.
In the case of Pollard's lesser sin, the game was effectively over with the only real point of interest being whether the opposing batsman, Evin Lewis, could enter the record books by getting the three runs needed from one delivery that would see him scoring the fastest CPL century and the second fastest in that format of the game, in terms of deliveries faced.
From a professional competitor's perspective, Pollard would have none of it and proceeded to end the game with a no ball to concede the one run needed for the victory, to leave Lewis high and dry. Instructively, a lot of the people now criticising Pollard supported Paul last year.
As if that Pollard controversy was not enough, Brian Lara's bleeding heart criticism of the uncompromising hard-nosed approach of the champion West Indies team of the 80's into the mid 90's fanned the raging flame even more. Lara, in essence, berated the West Indies greats for not always playing cricket in the spirit of the game, opining that Clive Lloyd, Vivian Richards and company too often played to "win at all cost".
I am still bewildered and flabbergasted that a man who has been widely regarded as a true genius and hero of West Indies cricket could hold those contextually naive views. Implicit in Lara's utterances is his failure to make the connection between the uncompromising and ruthless way that the West Indies played the game in the glory days, to the fact these very same characteristics propelled them to become champions of the world. The dominant Australians who toppled the West Indies as world champions were equally ruthless in the way they played the game, but Lara in his childlike innocence, thinks otherwise.
Brian Lara implicitly preferred losing playing cricket in the spirit of the game, than being a world champion while abiding by the rules of the game. I fundamentally disagree with Lara's sentiments. In adoring the mettle and mentality of the all conquering West Indies team of the '80s and early '90s, I unequivocally take refuge in the words attributed to famous American football coach Vince Lombardi, "In sports winning isn't everything, IT'S THE ONLY THING".