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Spirit of Cricket Reflections on Play and Life By Mike Brearley

Release date: 18th August, 2020
Publisher: Constable

List Price: £20.00
Our Price: £13.60
You Save: £6.4 (32%)
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As his previous literary efforts (The Art of Captaincy; Mike Brearley on Cricket; The Ashes Retained) confirm, Mike Brearley is a thoughtful and meticulous author. He regularly displayed similar traits when captaining England (he did so on 31 occasions, losing only four Tests) and he applies them again in Spirit of Cricket, a book he was born to write.

Brearley is an intelligent guide, well-qualified to lead readers through cricket’s occasionally byzantine moral maze, although not everyone will agree with their pilot’s opinions.

He’s no fan of sledging, for instance, declaring that “Whatever its content, sledging goes against the spirit of cricket.” Like an accomplished lawyer, he presents his anti-sledging case with authority, noting with regret that former Australian captain Steve Waugh had “shifted the moral landscape in his use of the term ‘mental disintegration,” thus making it even more sinister than sledging.

When individuals are undermined in this way, it can have devastating consequences (think Jonathan Trott in 2013-14), although Waugh first heard the phrase from his captain, Allan Border, who used it tactically, to undermine England, by delaying a declaration they fully expected. Brearley considers this part of the game legitimate, writing that “Unsettling and demoralising the opposition is an acceptable aim of competitive sport.”

There are lighter moments, primarily because there’s often a thin line between banter and sledging; it could be argued that the former relies upon the sledgee having the presence of mind to respond to the sledgor.

When Surrey’s Jimmy Ormond, playing his first (of two) Tests in 2001 was told by Mark Waugh (twin brother of Steve): “Mate, what are you doing out here? You’re no way good enough to play for England.” Ormond replied: “At least I’m the best player in my own family.”

Among other contentious matters, Brearley acknowledges that ball-tampering has been a feature of cricket from its earliest incarnation. However, when Australian Cameron Bancroft was caught using sandpaper on the ball in a Test against South Africa at Cape Town in 2018, his captain, Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner (as well as Bancroft) were banned by the Australian board because the action wasn’t spontaneous but planned. This, suggests Brearley, highlighted a ‘prevalent attitude’, ie win at all costs, which went directly against the spirit of cricket.

We once looked upon cricketers as arbiters of fair play; Spirit of Cricket will have many readers wondering whether that spirit has been compromised in the pursuit of riches.

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