When Cricket Is ‘Just Not Cricket’

cricket batsman and wicket keeper in position“It’s just not cricket”. It likely that you have heard that saying before.  If it is the first time you’ve heard it then it means that something is unfair or is dishonest.

Cricket is a game known to many as a gentleman’s sport. Why? Because it’s all about sportsmanship and good, fair gameplay. In the early days, it was often played by men of the upper class more so than anyone else. The very name of cricket was always associated with fair dealing on the sporting field and so when someone would use the phrase, “it’s not cricket”, it meant that the situation was unfair. That phrase isn’t used as much these days, having died out due to overuse. Yet the sentiment behind the words remains quite significant today.

In fact, cricket may not be the game for gentlemen today as it was decades ago. Even back then, the game had its share of cheats and unscrupulous players. Yet today, this has become much more prominent. Here, we’re going to look at some of the instances when cricket was, well… just not cricket.

Controversial Dismissal for Jonny Bairstow During Ashes 2023

cricket ball hitting stumps top viewThe Ashes is one of the biggest competitions in the world of cricket. A Test cricket series played between England and Australia, it began in 1882. At that point, Australia secured its first Test win on English soil. It is also Australia that has been most successful in The Ashes, winning 34 series to England’s 32 so far. It would be untrue to say that the competition has gone without controversy, though.

In fact, the 2023 Ashes is one of the most recent events to feature a controversial dismissal. A scene unfolded at Lord’s on July 2, which saw the Australian opening batsmen and their team-mates accused of cheating. Furious Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) members even struck out at Aussie player after Jonny Bairstow suffered a dismissal. What happened, though?

The English batter wandered out of his crease and Alex Carey threw the ball at his stumps. He believed the ball was dead but was run out by Carey after the ball hit the stumps. The dismissal of Bairstow came at a crucial moment on the fifth, and final, day if the second Ashes Test. Bairstow left the field, albeit in a reluctant way. Yet England fans let out a mass of boos for the Australian team. That became the most hostile moment in the history of The Ashes.

A film then surfaced of Australian players Usman Khawaja and David Warner in the Long Room of Lord’s. During the break for lunch, Khawaji stood toe-to-toe with a member of the MCC. The pair were going back and forth in a heated argument. The Australian was then pulled away by a team-mate and a staff member. It was moments later that Warner also had his own words with the MCC. He was then also taken away in the same way. Boos in the Long Room, as well as shouts of “absolute disgrace”, were audible on the video.

The Lord’s pavilion has a long association with class and etiquette but the scenes taking place after Bairstow’s dismissal were far from that. Backlash to it was rife online, with some fans taking aim at the Australian team. They noted that the players had “little regard for the spirit of the game”. Others came out in full force against the MCC, though. It was also the case that later on in the afternoon, chants of “same old Aussies, always cheating” could be heard ringing around the ground. The MCC ended up apologising, while Cricket Australia demanding a probe into the hostilities.

Yet one or two have suggested that while Bairstow’s dismissal was correct according to the rules it was not the right thing to do. Cricket does, of course, have its laws, which umpires need to apply to games. The third official at The Ashes, Marais Erasmus had a single question in mind at the event. Was the ball dead when Carey released it? Lawrence Booth, writing for Mail Online, suggests that it wasn’t. He said that if Carey had paused for a couple of seconds, it would have been. Yet Sky Sports showed that Carey noticed Bairstow leaving his crease early. Thus, it became a wicket-taking opportunity. Carey was not operating outside of cricket laws, despite it being an “ungentlemanly” thing to do.

Five days later, Bairstow sent a bit of a cheeky message to the Aussies at Headingley. Promoted to bat at five, he placed his bat inside the crease in a dramatic way. At the same time, he stared down his Australian opponents. That piece of theatre garnered him a warm reception from his home ground crowd.

Another Instance of Ashes Tactics, but This Time It’s England

cricket bodyline series 1933
Bill Woodfull faces a Bodyline field in the 4th Test match in Brisbane, 1933 – See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

England are not blameless in how they have played cricket against the Aussies in The Ashes, either. During the 1932 – 1933 Ashes tour of Australia, the team devised a tactic for bowling. Going on to become known as bodyline, it had the aim of combatting Don Bradman’s batting skills. He was Australia’s leading batsman at the time.

The bodyline delivery saw the cricket ball bowled at a pace and aimed at the body of the batsman. The expectation from that was that he would defend himself with his bat. Then, one of several fielders positioned nearby could catch the deflected ball. Cricket didn’t utilise helmets or upper body protection in the ’30s. Critics of the bodyline tactic defined it as intimidating and threatening. This was unheard of in cricket, which usually upheld good sportsmanship play.

Many people, in both England and Australia, saw the bodyline tactic as very aggressive. It caused a level of controversy that threatened diplomatic relations between the countries. No injuries were ever recorded from bodyline tactics. It did lead to ill-feeling between the teams, though. This was most prevalent when the ball hit Australian batsmen. In the Third Test, Bill Woodfull received a full blow to the chest from the ball.

Controversy in Women’s Cricket!

controversy highlighted in dictionary close upIn September of 2022, a new story broke about an England versus India women’s cricket match. In it, England were 17 runs away from winning their first match against India in the three-match Women’s ODI series. It was at that point that controversy struck the game.

Charlie Dean was in the middle of rescuing England during the innings but her bails were both knocked over by Deepti Sharma at the non-strikers end. As Sharma was about to bowl, she ran out Dean, who had strayed out of the popping crease. That ended England’s innings, whilst also highlighting the debate about “mankading”. This surrounds the practice of running out the non-striking batter while they are backing up. Various instances of Mankading (named after Indian player Vinoo Mankad) have taken place.

That exists as part of the Laws of Cricket, but there is also an unspoken rule relating to the spirit of the game. This suggests that the bowler or team should warn a player first before performing such an attempt. That could come as a verbal warning or the bowler can perform it before withdrawing the appeal. Mankading is a controversial move, especially when a warning is not given.

Mankad was the first player to use it on Bill Brown in the 1947 – 48 game between India and Australia. Other instances include:

  • Ian Redpath by Charlie Giffith in Australia versus West Indies, 1968 – 69
  • Brian Luckhurst by Greg Chappell in England versus Australia, 1974 – 75
  • Mark Chapman by Aamir Kaleem in Hong Kong versus Oman, February 2016

Back to Charlie Dean and Deepti Sharma, though. The method of play enacted by Sharma was “unfair” according to previous cricket laws, however, the ICC 2022 rules changed, now seeing it return as a fair form of dismissal. Unfortunately, it is an ugly, and to many controversial, way of ending a series of cricket.

The No-Ball Saga in Australia for Muttiah Muralitharan

muttiah muralitharan bowling against australia
Rae Allen from Brisbane, Australia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On Boxing Day in 1995, the cricket world plunged into chaos. Former international umpire Darrell Hair no-balled Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing. In cricket, a no-ball is a type of illegal delivery to a batter. No-balls can occur if the bowler oversteps the crease or if their back foot lands touching or wide of the return crease. Umpires can also judge no-balls if they are dangerous or unfair. Should a ball pass or look to pass over head height of the striker, this is also a no-ball.

Hair found himself at the centre of controversy after making the call. At the time, Muralitharan was 23 years old and was early in his career. His action was cleared in May of 1996 but Hair and other umpires had raised concerns over Muralitharan’s action with the ICC. Those reports were also sent on to the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka but the reports seemed to fall on deaf ears. It was this that led to the bowler being no-balled on Boxing Day ’95.

Hair called Muralitharan from the bowler’s end. Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga then switched the off-spinner to the other end. There, New Zealand’s Steven Dunne operated as an umpire. Muralitharan bowled 38 overs for the innings and finished with 1-124. Australia took a 10-wicket win.

Speaking on the events, Hair said that Muralitharan bowled a lot of legal deliveries and he could see the difference in the legal ones better from the bowler’s end. Many of the Australian players stood stunned by Hair’s actions. Yet, they noted that his decisions were consistent with his umpire responsibilities.

Did Muralitharan engage in throwing and thus not adhere to the spirit of cricket? Or was Hair in the wrong? The overturned decision the following May would suggest that the umpire was in the wrong, by all accounts.

The 1981 Underarm Incident

greg chappell bust
Bust of Greg Chappell – Doug butler, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The underarm bowling incident of 1981 is quite the controversy in itself. Taking place on February 1 of 1981, it saw Australia playing against New Zealand. The One Day International match was the third in the best-of-five final for the 1980-81 World Series Cup.

One ball of the final over remained in the match. New Zealand needed a six to tie the match at that point. Australian captain Greg Chappell took drastic action to ensure this didn’t happen, though. He instructed the bowler (who was his younger brother) Trevor Chappell to deliver the final ball underarm. This would see the ball run along the ground towards batsman Brian McKechnie. Trevor did as his older brother instructed. This forced McKechnie to play in a defensive way. As a result, Australia went on to win the match. The action by Trevor Chappell was legal at the time. Yet many perceived it as being against the traditional spirit of cricket.

It led to significant outrage within the cricket world. From that, an official amendment to the international laws of cricket occurred. This prevented it from ever taking place again.

Underarm bowling was, at that time, considered archaic and uncompetitive. It wasn’t a bowling style that would ever come into play in a serious way, even at junior levels. Everything occurred under cricket protocol, though. The umpires and batsmen received the information that Chappell would be bowling underarm but the ball rolled along in the style of bowls, rather than cricket. McKechnie, understandably frustrated, threw his bat away before walking off in disgust. New Zealand captain Geoff Howarth ran onto the field to plead with the umpires. He believed underarm bowling to be illegal in the competition.

What makes this even more controversial is the placement of Australian fielder Dennis Lillee. Before the final ball took place, he did not walk into place and, in technical terms, the ball should have been a no-ball. If the umpires had taken note of that, New Zealand would have received a run for it. The final ball would have had to take place again at that point.

Further to this, as the ball was being bowled, the elder brother of Greg and Trevor was on commentary. He called out, “No, Greg, no, you can’t do that”, reacting to the incident. Ian Chappell remained critical of the move in a later newspaper article, too.

Former Australian captain Richie Benaud also described the act as “disgraceful”. He spoke of it being one of the worst things he had ever seen in cricket.

Then-Prime Minister of New Zealand, Robert Muldoon also said it was a “disgusting incident”. He spoke of it being appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow at the time. Even Australia’s PM, Malcolm Fraser, said it was “contrary to all traditions of the game”.