Spirit of cricket: The good, the great & the grim

Spirit of cricket: The good, the great & the grim

The joyous spirit of the underdog and the birth of a cricketing force

It has been long since Afghanistan became a revelation in world cricket. Their indomitable spirit always comes to the fore even as we realize how tough their journey to the top has been. They have produced some great talent in the spin department who have managed to produce some victories and braved up for the battle without giving in too easily. That has always been their strength and identity.

Some of their players, spearheaded by the amazing Rashid Khan, have also broken into the franchise circuit across the world. In fact, Rashid Khan is among the first names to be chalked out at the drawing board as the franchises’ big-ticket purchase. Mujeeb and Noor Ahmed along with Nabi have been quite a force to reckon with.

But until this World Cup, Afghanistan was always about their slower bowlers. Their major hope for victory has always been about putting up a decent score and trying to restrict the opposition with some Rashid Khan magic aided by the spin quartet. However, this World Cup has had a different narrative. It has shown us the other side of Afghanistan which is becoming close to being a complete side that can beat any opposition on their day, with all-round skills.

They have unearthed some batting gems in Rahmat and Gurbaz along with the all-rounder in Azmatullah who can combine to scare any opposition. That is exactly what they did to Australia and South Africa. They went a step beyond and beat England and Pakistan to finish the league stage ahead of England. In Trott, they have found an able coach who brings order to the side. There seems to be a method to their batting now and they are slowly adding to their repertoire. They look set to create some ripples across in the years to come.

One freak show and the steely spirit of one Australia

Maxwell headlined a freak show that saw Australia beating Afghanistan after being in the dumps for a good part of the chase. It was not a spotless innings. He did give a couple of chances and one of them was a sitter. But, for his sheer tenacity, one-mindedness to not give up and audacious stroke-play for extended hours, that has to be among the five greatest ODI innings of all time. Particularly, in a World Cup, Kapil Dev’s 175 from 1983 comes to my mind and simply for what was at stake, I would still rate that innings better but Maxwell’s innings is not far behind in the echelons of ODI batting history.

This innings also exemplified how all is not lost when there is one man standing with resolve and gut to not give up. Some might think he threw the kitchen sink at everything but it requires insane hand-eye coordination to generate power and maul those big hits consistently. And to do this when he was cramping takes a super human effort. He defied every rulebook of cricket to making a big score. Footwork? No. Run between the wickets? No. Strong base to generate power? No. But then, you don’t need any of these when you are Glenn Maxwell. He would later go on to say how his expertise in golf helped position some of his shots with minimal movement. It is quite ironic though, that he missed the previous match due to an injury during golf practice. He has always shown glimpses of this monstrosity before but only flattered to deceive.

This could be the becoming of Maxwell 2.0 who can scare the bejesus out of the opposition. In many ways, his innings embodies the unnerving attitude of Australia who are now the most dangerous proposition in this World cup in my opinion. Their steely character in knock out matches and a rich history of silverware makes them the team to beat.

The spirit of cricket, one more time

This World Cup also saw another freak show, only this time it was not anything to do with skill but the rules. There was spirit but it was more in questionable fashion. Angelo Mathews got timed out and this was the first instance of a batter to be timed out in the history of cricket. He came into bat with few seconds out of the two minutes left for a batter to take guard, but unfortunately his helmet gave away. Just when he was about the face his first delivery, he paused and called for a replacement helmet. Shakib & Co., being fully aware of the rules, used this opportunity to appeal and up went the finger.

Now. there could be a lot of arguments about the spirit of cricket. Should he have appealed in the first place? Should he have withdrawn the appeal after Mathews had a word with him? Should the umpires have taken a different stance? The answers are aplenty with different viewpoints, but the fact is that Mathews should have known better and been more aware to have avoided this entire mess. For starters, he could have come to the crease well ahead of time and that would have given him cover even after his helmet malfunctioned. He could have spoken to the umpires and the captain before calling for the replacement so that the appeal might not have happened at all.

The spirit of cricket seems to have become a convenient phrase to pick for many cricket pundits and ex-cricketers, but what’s more important is that they fail to see is if it is within the rules of the game, you respect it. Period. Rules are written in the books, but spirit is in the air. Spirit is subjective, but rules are specific. Angelo Mathews thought the two minutes was about a player coming to the crease but MCC laws indicate that it is about a player facing his first ball within two minutes.

Now, would I make that choice to appeal against a player to be timed out? No. If I were Shakib, I would have kept faith in the bowlers to do the job and given him that cushion to replace his helmet. But Shakib thought otherwise and he is well within his right to think so and appeal. His spirit was about playing the game within its rules and that can never be questioned.

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