Good evening Mr President, ladies and gentlemen.
I’d like to start by thanking Lord MacLaurin and the MCC for the invitation to stand here before you tonight. It’s a huge honour, if not a little daunting.
Even more daunting than when I came to Lord’s as a member of the South African team in 1993, post-isolation, and we met the Queen prior to the start of the Test. Before the match, they briefed us on how to address the Queen, as Your Majesty or Ma’am, but not to talk to her unless she talked to you.
But they didn’t tell us how to address Prince Philip. The Queen arrived, we all lined up. The Queen came down the line and shook hands. I recall her wearing white gloves. Prince Philip, following behind, stopped to talk to Fanie de Villiers who was standing next to me. I heard the Prince say “a pleasure to meet you”, and pointing to Fanie’s blazer pocket he asked “what happened to the Springbok?”
Fanie’s first language, and only language actually, is Afrikaans. I was a bit worried because the replacing of the Springbok emblem with the Protea was quite controversial in some quarters and I knew Fanie was one of those who would have preferred to keep the Springbok. He hesitated a bit and then said “well, your worship, the Springbok has jumped.” Actually he was not trying to be funny. Spring is an Afrikaans word meaning to jump in English. He wanted to say “die Springbok het gespring”, a clever play on words explaining that the Springbok has moved on. Not quite the same effect when directly translated into English. Fortunately Prince Philip must have understood what he meant and he moved on.
Lately we’ve seen too much ugly on and off the field of play. As a sport we must be united, not just in our desire to protect the spirit of the game, but every single person in the game needs to commit to living that spirit and ensuring it is relevant in the 21st century, continuing to make cricket a unique sporting proposition.
What exactly is this spirit of cricket? The spirit of cricket isn’t an historical hangover; it is part of the fabric of our sport. No other sport has codified the spirit so blatantly in its Laws, and we disregard it at our peril. The phrase ‘it’s just not cricket’ is not an accident, it’s because cricket’s DNA is based on integrity and people know that cricket represents something more than a game.
But we have seen too much behaviour of late that puts that in jeopardy and it has to stop. Sledging that amounts to no more than personal abuse, fielders giving send-offs to batsmen who have been dismissed, unnecessary physical contact, players threatening not to play in protest against an umpire’s decision and ball tampering; this isn’t the version of our sport that we want to project to the world.
The public reaction, around the world, to the incidents in the recent Australia-South Africa series was an eye opener. The message was loud and clear, cheating is cheating and is not what we signed up to.
As administrators, we have to do our part and we have agreed to take stronger action against behaviour that is unacceptable, to back our match officials more and for boards to behave in a manner themselves that creates a culture of respect between teams. We have taken a step in the right direction.
But the reality is, it will be the players who can safeguard the reputation of the game with their actions on and off the field. It is the nature of the players’ personalities, their strength of character that will ultimately define the spirit of the game and what it means in the 21st Century.
And here it is important for current players to understand that they represent not only themselves but all the players that have gone before them, and those that will follow. The vast majority of players do this day in and day out. Players like Kane Williamson, Hashim Amla, Mithali Raj, Jos Buttler, Katherine Brunt, Moeen Ali, MS Dhoni.
Going back in time to players I played with or against — Jonty Rhodes, Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Courtney Walsh, Richie Richardson, David Boon, Rahul Dravid… so many examples. Players who played hard, never gave up, never took a backward step, played with passion and a sense of enjoyment but never disrespected the opponents or the umpires. Players who the fans loved to watch.
Over the last few months I’ve read comments from players requesting guidance on what is allowed in relation to the ball. Asking if they can chew gum, wear sunscreen or drink a sugary drink, and to be brutally honest, I find this a little disingenuous.
The laws are simple and straightforward — do not change the condition of the ball using an artificial substance. If you are wearing sunscreen, sucking a mint or chewing gum with the intent of using the cream or sugary saliva on the ball, you are ball-tampering.
You may not always get caught, we are not going to stop players chewing gum or from wearing sunscreen. There are many players who have chewed gum on the field throughout their careers, and never once thought to use it on the ball, but if you are caught – and we have only caught players when it is pretty obvious what they are doing — then don’t complain. Saying others do it is not a defence — you are cheating.
Sledging is another element of the game that constantly draws attention — where do you draw the line? Banter, even elements of gamesmanship have always been a part of the sport, and in my view play a part in adding to its mystique and unique character.
I think in most cases sledging/chirping is a waste of time, often resorted to by players who are trying to psyche themselves up or boost their own lack of confidence, and very often it’s counter-productive.
We tried to unsettle Steve Waugh by asking him what it was like to be the unpopular twin, with Mark getting all the toys when they were growing up – it had no effect and only made him more determined, seemingly getting runs whenever he batted against us.
Pat Symcox is someone I played with who always loved to have a few words. Matthew Hayden’s career was in two parts. In the first he had a very unhappy tour of South Africa, suffering a string of low scores in the series. In the second innings of the final Test he got a duck. As he passed Pat Symcox on the way back to the dressing room Pat said “Don’t worry Matt, Donald Bradman also made a duck in his last Test innings.”
Matthew Hayden was dropped after that but a season or so later came back for an extraordinary successful second stage of his career, including a record breaking tally of runs against South Africa in a later series. There was a time when teams like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh could be bullied mentally — that is not the case anymore.
But there is a difference between the examples I have given and what amounts to no more than ugly personal abuse in the guise of playing ‘aggressively’. That type of ugly behaviour is not what sport, never mind cricket, is all about and is simply unacceptable, and it is the latter that we are attempting to eradicate. A specific new offence, personal abuse, has been introduced, punishable as a Level 3 Code of Conduct offence, which will result in a ban of up to six Test matches or 12 ODIs/T20Is.
Too many coaches or team managers of recent times are too quick to side with their players, blame the umpires for being biased against their team, storming off to the match referee’s room to complain.
We are relying on everyone to showcase cricket and inspire a new generation of players and fans. Winning must obviously be the aim of any game, but not at all costs, not when it means compromising the integrity of the game.
We must all work proactively to protect the spirit of the game and make it a relevant part of cricket in the 21st century. In my view, it is imperative to the long-term sustainability of the game. After all, who will want their kids to play cricket if what you see and read about is foul language, bad sportsmanship or corruption.
The spirit of cricket should not only define how we play the game but how we fulfill cricket’s broader purpose. The first question sponsors ask us is ‘why cricket?’… ‘what’s the purpose of cricket?’ At its most basic, cricket provides enjoyment, an opportunity for people of any age or gender to be entertained and to connect with each other. Cricket has a great capacity to unite people, to inspire and to empower.
We need to ensure that cricket is not elitist but is accessible to and capable of being enjoyed by all.
Nelson Mandela was right when he said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there was once only despair.” Acting in the spirit of cricket means remembering this in our decision making, ensuring that we use cricket to provide enjoyment to and to unite, inspire and empower communities around the world.
Cricket and its spirit is defined by the personalities of its participants — administrators, umpires, referees and the players themselves. On the field, cricket needs its larger than life characters — its Colin Milburns, Freddie Flintoffs, Shane Warnes, Virat Kohlis and Ben Stokes’, its lovable rogues, but equally it needs its Frank Worrells, Rachael Heyhoe-Flints, MS Dhonis, Rahul Dravids and its Colin Cowdreys to make sure we all stay on the good-guys’ (or girls’) side of that “line”. The future of our game depends on it.
Thank you once again for inviting me and thanks for listening.