The British are a nation of preachers.
Nothing wrong in that if they also practice some of what they preach.
It was only the other day that Prime Minister David Cameron said this is a “Christian country.”
The pulpit is not the only platform from which they preach as those who have listened to some British politicians pronounce on the perceived moral profanity of others, would well conclude.
When Mr Cameron said Britain was a Christian country, I could not help wondering what would have happened had any Sri Lankan politician said that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country.
There would have been a cacophony of protests from assorted preachers in the western world and elsewhere loud enough to be heard in outer Mongolia. How dare Sri Lanka calls itself Buddhist when it is a secular state inhabited also by Christians, Hindus, Moslems, Zoroastrians and others ( as though the UK is not) they would have asked.
But never mind.
Even if the pews in churches are emptying fast in this godless world, the pulpits are acquiring new preachers. The new messiahs, alas, preach to us about everything- from the need to adhere strictly to international laws, Commonwealth values, human rights, governance and accountability, freedom of expression and countless other things – that provide them a flavour each month.
No sir, not the spirit in which these laws, conventions and charters have been drafted and passed. It is strict adherence to the letter of the written word that is demanded of others.
Still others demand that sport should not be separated from politics and sportsmen should be damned along with politicians and others who are perceived to have violated the written word.
So a few days ago in Edgbaston where Sri Lanka was playing England in the deciding match in the One Day International series, the Sri Lankan cricketers tried to imbue this game that British colonialism brought to the then Ceylon, with both the letter and the spirit of the game seeing how both were sadly needed in the home where the game was born.
Only weeks earlier there were all sorts of stories floating around about match-fixing even at the level of county cricket and I’m sure that many would be looking forward to Lord Condon’s report to the ICC Anti-Corruption unit on match-fixing and other shenanigans in English cricket.
That report is due any day now.
Perhaps to divert attention from England’s dismal performance in one particular match and eventual defeat in the ODIs, all sorts of red herrings are being dragged across the cricket pitches in the UK by English cricketers then and now, an occasional commentator and booing crowds that are trying to bring the rowdyism so wantonly displaced by boorish football fans to the cricket grounds.
Just as in the case of Muralitharan in Australia, Sachitra Senanayake, another off-spinner had a spanner thrown in the works.
Now he is also being accused, along with Captain Angelo Mathews, of denigrating the spirit of cricket.
Those who have joined in this chorus of criticism is former English captain Michael Vaughan who spins a farcical argument.
Says Vaughan in The Daily Telegraph: “I know he was out of his crease but Jos Buttler was not trying to steal a single. He was only a few inches out of his ground.”
Michael Vaughan needs to visit an optician or get a few lessons in basic maths. His comment piece was immediately next to a four-column picture that shows Buttler a foot or more outside his crease. That picture puts the lie to Vaughan’s nonsense.
Perhaps he was not trying to steal a single. He was trying to steal the show.
Between visits to the ophthalmologist and his math teacher, Vaughan might profitably spend some time catching up on the laws of cricket since his playing days.
The ICC playing conditions actually amended the MCC regulations in 2011. This amended law under which this series is played, is clear enough. A bowler can run-out the non-striker if he strays from the crease thus taking an unfair advantage.
In fact such a run-out is possible both under the MCC laws and ICC playing conditions though the two vary somewhat.
There should be no quarrel about that. Cricket pundits such as Sir Ian Botham, Michael Atherton and West Indian great Michael Holding were all agreed that the bowler did nothing illegitimate by acting as he did because the laws under which they played permitted him to do so.
But those who would admonish us to adhere strictly to the law seems to want exemption from such observance when they are guilty of violations.
While soft- pedalling the relevant law, critics focus on the so-called spirit of the game. There is nothing in the law that states that an offending batsman should be first warned of his indiscretion before the bowler acts against him.
In this instance, Buttler had been warned twice a couple of overs earlier but he persisted in doing what he did. He had done so in a previous match too, thus surreptitiously stealing runs.
So who brought disrepute by violating the spirit of the game? Was it Senanayake who warned Buttler twice even though it was not required of him or was it Buttler who continued to flout the warnings and stride out of the crease.
If Buttler sought to ignore those warnings and act as though he was above the law, then he deserved what he got and there was no violation of the applicable law or the spirit of cricket.
One other point.
If the law is clear enough there is no necessity whatsoever for the umpires to ask the captain of the fielding side whether he stands by the decision to run him out.
Why are umpires bending over backwards when the law is clear?
Nothing in that law states that umpires should consult the captain or the captain has a choice in the matter. Those who wield the law on the playing field are the umpires and they should act as such.
Sri Lanka did nothing wrong. Captain Cook’s ire is not because of the run out but because on his watch England lost that series to Sri Lanka.
It is he who has to learn the spirit of the game not Senanayake or Mathews.
In days gone by there was an annual cricket match in England between two teams called “Gentlemen” and “Players”. It was abandoned many years back. That decision seemed understandable enough.
For it was said that there was no difficulty in finding players, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find gentlemen.
The conduct of Jos Buttler and subsequently that of Captain Cook after the game is proof that whoever decided to call off that annual game made a wise decision.
– Neville de Silva is a veteran journalist and current Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in the UK.