Sunil Gavaskar Speaks on the State of Cricket

"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!"

There 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 innings.

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 participants.

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.

(An 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 simply distasteful.

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 today.

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 per over.

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?

They 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 the

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."

[Editor's Note: 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 one-day game.]

© 2001