"Namaste Mr President, ladies and gentlemen
There may be some among you who on receiving
the invitation to this evening's lecture must have seen who was
going to speak and said "Oh! Yeah! Only if he is allowed
through the gate!"
must have been a question in your mind whether the lecture would
take place at all. It's a bit like getting an invitation to a
party on 1st April; you don't know whether it's for real or if
it's an April fool joke. Having now got to the podium which does
afford me a better view than my natural height, I can see that
you all did take the chance that I would be allowed in!
I had, of course, made sure that there would
be at least a couple of people attending by requesting MCC to
invite a few of my friends, who are present here.
As you can see, I am here - let in by the stewards
who over the years have become quite charming. No more does one
hear "Oi! Where do you think you are going?" Instead,
now we hear "Excuse me, sir, can I help you?" Now this
is a tremendous change and the MCC needs to be complimented on
the remarkable improvement in the attitude of those manning the
various entrances at the ground.
Unfortunately, while there has been this most
welcome change in the attitude at the gates, there has been a
marked decline in on-field behaviour on the field - especially
in the last fifteen years or so, and not just at the international
level. I will come to that in due course.
I know from experience that a quick breezy innings
brings a lot more smiles and is remembered more than a long one,
irrespective of its utility to the team's cause and so here I
will try and play a quick one. In any case, my throat does not
last long, so you can relax - it's not going to be a typical opener's
It is apt that this lecture is named after Colin
Cowdrey who, on and off the field, epitomised all that is good
about this great game of ours. Colin showed that it could be played
with great skill and grace in the toughest of conditions and against
the hardest of opponents, and still have a smile and appreciation
for the opponent. Colin is perhaps the only cricketer to have
played Test cricket for 20 years. He played from 1954 to 1974
and the only other cricketer who I can recall having a similar
span is Mohinder Amarnath, who first played for India in December
1969 and played his last international in April 1990.
Steve Waugh, who has now appeared in the maximum
number of Tests, has played for eighteen years and, when you look
at how many more Test matches he has played than Colin, you will
know how much more Test cricket is being played today.
Way back in 1986, Colin was the one with the
record for the most appearances in Tests, when yours truly went
past him. On the first morning of that game, I was pleasantly
surprised to see Colin being ushered into the Indian dressing
room by B. Singh, the team manager. He had come all the way from
his home just to congratulate me and wish me luck. He was most
effusive in his congratulations and wished that I would celebrate
the occasion with a century. I guess it wasn't so much that Colin
was wishing England ill luck as much as his Indian roots, having
been born in Bangalore. The thing about Colin was he was always
anxious to know what the players felt about the game they were
playing and how to improve it. He was most keen to meet the newcomers
and youngsters in the team and would have a word of encouragement
for all of them. Years later, I had the pleasure of being in the
first ever Cricket Committee formed by the International Cricket
Council (ICC) to look after the Laws and Playing Conditions of
the game. Colin was the first chairman, and his main concern was
how to make the game grow, and one of the reasons he felt it was
losing out on popularity was that the players were not playing
in the spirit in which they ought to - which, in turn, meant that
the parents of young kids were reluctant to have their children
play the game, and the kids themselves were not too keen to play
a game in which there seemed to be so much animosity between the
The MCC is the custodian of the Laws of the game,
and thanks to the initiative of men like Colin, Ted Dexter and
Tony Lewis, to name just three, they have now put down in writing
the Spirit of Cricket, which for more than a hundred years was
only spoken about and observed, too, until the late 1980s, and
now has been put down in print so that not only Test and international
cricketers know what it means, but also youngsters who are taking
up the game.
(Gavaskar and wife Marshneil)
But what does it tell us to have to put the Spirit
of Cricket in black and white? It tells us that the old adage
"It's not cricket", which applied to just about everything
in life, is no longer valid - and that's a real pity. In the modern
world of commercialisation of the game and the advent of satellite
television and the motto of winning at all costs, sportsmanship
has gone for a six.
Will we ever get the likes of Sir Garfield Sobers
and GR Viswanath again? That greatest of cricketers, Garry Sobers
not only indicated more than once to umpires that he had caught
the ball on the bounce but also declared his innings closed once
in a Test match in spite of having two of his main bowlers injured
and left a challenging target for England to get - which they
did, thanks to Colin Cowdrey. If a captain does that today, of
course, the Anti-Corruption Unit of the ICC would be breathing
down his neck, but all Garry wanted was to enliven a dead series.
GR Viswanath was the captain who recalled Bob
Taylor when he was given out by the unpire. Vishy, who was at
first slip, immediately realised that Bob's bat had brushed the
pads, which had misled the umpire into giving him out caught behind.
Like the true sportsman he is, Vishy walked up to the umpire and
politely withdrew the appeal. The match was delicately poised
then and the subsequent partnership between Ian Botham and Bob
Taylor took England to a winning position. India lost the Test,
but Vishy is remembered for that and loved all the more for it.
Today, thanks to the win-at-all-costs theory,
appeals are made even though the fielders know that the batsman
is not out. There is the other side, of course, where a batsman
knows he is out but stays put and rubs some other part of his
body if it's an appeal for a catch or shows his bat if there's
an appeal for lbw. With the game being marketed aggressively by
TV, the rewards have become high, and rightly so, but it has to
a great extent taken away from the Spirit of the Game, where bowlers
applauded a good shot and batsmen acknowledged with a nod a good
delivery from a bowler who beat them. While today, in order not
to give any psychological advantage to the opposition, there's
hardly any applause from the fielding side when a batsman reaches
a fifty or a century.
It's hard to understand how applauding concedes
any advantage to the batsman, but we see it increasingly where,
barring the odd fielder, the others feign total ignorance of the
batsman reaching a landmark.
older Gavaskar making 188 against MCC.) This is in stark
contrast to my first series in the West Indies, where one could
sit with the greats like Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Lance
Gibbs at the end of a day's play and ask them about batting and
how to improve. They were more than happy to give good sound advice,
even though it was to an opponent and could be used against them
the next day to their team's detriment. Rohan Kanhai occasionally
grunted his disapproval from first slip if I played a loose shot.
It wasn't that these great cricketers did not want their team
to win. It was just the fact that they had supreme confidence
in their own ability and believed that helping an opponent only
produced good cricket and was good for the game.
How about the England team under Norman Yardley
raising three cheers for Don Bradman when he came out to play
his last Test innings? Mind you, if the England players knew that
such gestures brought tears to the great man's eyes and got him
bowled for a duck, then they would have done it every innings!
Such a gesture is unthinkable today where the
opponents hardly greet each other and if there's anything to say
it's invariably not very pleasant. The thinking is that with the
stakes being so high, any friendly overture takes away from the
competitiveness of the player.
Now I have heard it being said that whenever
there's been needle in a match, words have been exchanged. That
may be true, but what was banter in days gone by - and which was
enjoyed by everyone, including the recipient of it - today has
degenerated to downright personal abuse, and which is why the
Spirit of Cricket had to be written.
They say sledging has always been part of the
game, but is that true? I am not so sure. I played more than one
Test match for my country with and against bowlers who took hundreds
of wickets and there was hardly a word uttered in anger on the
field. Yes, towards the end of my career I did get referred to
a couple of times by a part of the female anatomy and, more than
anger, it saddened me to hear that. In fact, one of those instances
led to the most regrettable incident of my career, when I almost
forfeited a game by asking my fellow opener to walk off with me.
I was given out lbw in spite of getting a thick inside edge to
the ball and, though I showed my disappointment, I was going back
to the pavilion and would have ended up like all disappointed
batsmen do - by throwing my bat or screaming myself hoarse in
the privacy of the dressing room. But as I had gone about fifteen
or so yards towards the pavilion I heard the abuse which made
me explode and take that stupid action of asking my partner to
walk off with me. Fortunately, the manager of the team stopped
my partner from crossing the boundary and so we didn't forfeit
the game but went on to win it. That and another time later on
are the only instances that I have come across sledging and it's
Let's get the origin and the definition of the
word "sledging" to find out if it has always been part
of the game, as its apologists claim. To sledge is to convey a
message as subtly as a sledgehammer. With that definition, one
can clearly see that's its a modern phenomenon and not been part
of the game since the 19th century. Yes, there has been banter
but it has invariably been good-humoured. For example, who would
ever take objection to what Freddie Trueman said on the field?
There was a dig about the batsman's ability but no personal abuse.
Freddie was the master of the banter, as Richie Benaud told us
a couple of years ago, in the inaugural Cowdrey Lecture. My first
commentary stint in England was in 1990 - the year in which Graham
Gooch got that massive 333 at Lord's and young Sachin Tendulkar
scored the first of what will be a record number of centuries.
The manger of that Indian team was Madhav Mantri, my maternal
uncle, who had toured with the Indian team here in 1952, when
Freddie made his debut. Having heard that Freddie was doing commentary,
my uncle asked me to convey his best wishes to Freddie, which
I dutifully did. Seeing Freddie's quizzical look, I elaborated
and said that my uncle was one of the four Freddie victims when
India were famously four down for zero. Freddie looked up and
growled at me "I wouldn't remember him then, would I?"
No, of course not, but who could take offence at Fred when he
had such ready explanations?
Javed Miandad was another with a sharp sense
of humour. In fact, he was one of those rare species of batsmen
who talked to the bowlers. Remember, I said "talked"
and not "talked back". He would do anything to get under
the skin of the bowlers and work it to his advantage. In a Test
match at Bangalore, he was batting against Dilip Doshi, who was
one of the hardest bowlers to hit. Javed had tried everything
- the drive, the cut, the sweep and even going down the pitch
to the crafty left arm spinner - but he simply wasn't able to
get him away. Suddenly, in the middle of a fresh over, Javed started
asking Dilip his room number.
This went on every other ball and even when he
was at the non-striker's end. After some time, Doshi, who was
making a comeback to the side, and so was concentrating hard on
his bowling, couldn't take it anymore and exasperatedly asked
him why he wanted his room number - to which Javed replied "Because
I want to hit you for a six in your room". Now those who
have been to Bangalore - and know how far the hotel is from the
ground - know what an impossibility it was. Yet it worked: Doshi,
anticipating Javed to give him the rush down the wicket, bowled
it short, and Javed gleefully pulled it to the boundary and added
for good measure that he was bowling from the wrong end, else
he would make good on his promise.
Nobody minds such banter: in fact, it adds to
the stories of the game. But all this banter was always a small
part of the game and happened may be a couple of the times during
five days of cricket and not just every other over, as is happening
When West Indies were the dominant force in the
game in the 1970s and 1980s, with their line up of star-studded
batsmen and army of lethal quick bowlers, administrators moved
to curtail their domination by making Laws that muzzled the pace
bowlers with a restriction on the number of bouncers to be bowled
Today, though, there is a Code of Conduct, the
verbal bouncers go on pretty much unchecked and, unless something
is done quickly done about it, the good name of the game that
we all know will be mud. Just look at any school games anywhere
in the world and we will see bowlers having a go at the batsman.
They see it on TV from their heroes and believe that it is a part
of the game, and so indulge in it. Here it is crucial for the
coaches to step in and tell them, while the kids are at an impressionable
age, that this is wrong and cricket has been played for years
without indulging in personal abuse. Maybe we should tell TV producers
that, just like they don't show any of the streakers at the ground
anymore, they should not show close-ups of players verbalising
each other. With the cameras being so good it is easy to lip-read
and kids can see that it is not the bible nor the koran nor the
geeta which is being quoted on the field. The sad part is that
very little is being done about it. If a player even so much as
glares at the umpire or stays a micro-second longer at the crease
after being given out, he is hauled up and in trouble. If there
is protection for the umpire from the players, why not protection
to players from abusive players?
say there is so much money in the game and that is what makes
players resort to these tactics to win at all costs and forget
good manners - but there is more money in other sports like golf
and tennis but, thanks to tough laws, one does not find mis-behaviour
or bad language there. There is today simply no such things as
a silence zone in the game, right down to the school encounter.
If it had enhanced the game, then it would had been welcomed -
but it hasn't and, even at the highest level, it leaves a bitter
taste in the mouth. The problem also is mainly due to the fact
that those at the receiving end of the abuse feel that they will
be called wimps if they report it to the umpires or the match
referee. In fact, by not reporting it, they are accessories to
the "crime", if one is allowed to call it that. Their
favourite defence is "Let's what has happened on the field
stay there" - even if it is wrong and bad for the image of
game. Imagine if a murderer were to say that
since murder was committed in the house, he should be allowed
to walk the streets free.
Lest I sound pessimistic, let me say that out
of a possible 150 Test cricketers from ten Test-playing countries,
there are perhaps not even fifteen who indulge in this verbal
abuse and intimidation, but unfortunately most of these belong
to a champion side and it makes others believe that it's the only
way to play winning cricket. Did Bradman's all-conquering side
of 1948 practise these tactics? I don't know, though I know for
certain that Clive Lloyd's champions of the 1970s and 1980s never
uttered a word on the field to an opponent. A glare and raised
eye brow were enough to put the scare in to you!
Still, while there is life there is hope, and
to see both the England and South African teams take the field
on the first day of the Test last week sporting black armbands,
to mourn the passing away of Jacques Kallis's father, is enough
to show that there are people within the game who understand human
emotions and who believe that sharing in a fellow player's grief
does not take away anything from their competitiveness but does
help to lessen the grief.
Cricket is a game that envelops all manner of
people from various countries, colour, language, faith and age.
The good doctor WG Grace played Tests when he was nearly 50 and
Sachin Tendulkar began when he was barely fifteen. In all this
diversity, it is the skill of the player that stays in the mind's
eye long after their age and eras are over.
MCC needs to be congratulated for the initiative
in starting this Lecture series, which is aimed mainly at the
young impressionable minds, and to tell them that one can be winners
without showing disrespect to an opponent, and one can enjoy the
game even when one is not doing well.
The diversity that this great game has can also
be seen by the different accents and ages that have delivered
the Cowdrey Lectures over the last three years. The Aussie drawl
of Richie Benaud, the South African accent of Barry Richards,
and the sub-continent accent of your truly. Even the ages of the
speakers show that the love for the game has not diminished. Richie
70-something, Barry Richards 60-something, and yours truly 20-something
Let me end by repeating part of what Sir Don
Bradman said about the game. We are all custodians of the game,
and the game will prosper if we can leave it better than we found
it. It is something that we must all endeavour to do - and it
is achievable if we work sincerely towards it. I am confident
that we can do it and when - and not if - we do it, then Colin
sitting up there with the gods will smile and say "Well done,
chaps - that's the spirit."
Mr President, ladies and gentleman, many thanks
for the opportunity, and especially for the patience. May the
force be with you."
This is Gavaskar's Cowdrey Lecture presented in
July 2003 in England. Sunil Gavaskar Statistics (brief here from
BBC) alone say everything about "The Little Master"
- 10,122 Test runs (second only to Allan Border), an average of
51.12 over 125 matches, and a record 34 centuries. But
the true joy in watching Gavaskar bat was in revelling in how
one of the shortest of batsmen - 5ft 4?in - could so dominate
against the tallest and most feared fast bowlers. Against the
West Indies he was supreme, making his debut in the Caribbean
in 1971 and scoring 774 runs at 154.80 in four Tests and, seven
years later, scoring four centuries in as many matches, including
205 in Bombay. A glittering career, was concluded with a century
for the Rest of the World XI against MCC at Lord's, his first
at headquarters. For a mild man, he possessed a ruthless streak.
In the first World Cup match, at Lord's in 1975, he batted through
the innings (174 balls) for 36 not out in protest against the