There have been MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lectures in the past.
There have been worthy men from the cricket world, articulating dignified thoughts about the game and all that is associated with it.
There have been points to ponder, to dissect, to deliberate, and even to criticise. Most of them crafted and polished, laced with humour and insights.
There have generally been plenty of fizz, sparkle and substance.
However, Brian Lara’s recent speech at Lord’s broke the mould in a way that has never been done before. He added swirling spice into the mix, a variety of spice that is raw with the flavour of truth.
Because he dared. Because Lara dared to do something that the camera-groomed, public-appearance-trained, non-controversial regular cricket star never does.
He picked up great names from his own cricketing tradition. And we are talking West Indies here, of the early 1990s, of the 1980s and the late 1970s. A team that ruled the world, and according to many romantics of the game looking back at those halcyon years with rose tints, hardly ever deviated from the way cricket should be played.
Lara, in his inimitable manner, with the same casual nonchalance that characterised his batting, took on some of the greatest names and reminded us of their serious misdemeanours. Doing so, he peeled off the varnish of opaqueness that is piled on with the gold dust of time, to demonstrate that the hallowed names were as fallible as the players of today … in fact, with the ICC Code of Conduct nowhere remotely near what it is today, they got away with a lot more boorishness and brutality.
Be it Colin Croft shoulder charging umpire Fred Goodall, or Michael Holding kicking the stumps down, Lara recounted the incidents in unequivocal tones.
He underlined how the umpires had denied Pakistan a deserving victory in 1988 by constantly ruling in favour of the West Indian batsmen.
He recounted the tales of officials and groundsmen, who delayed their operations to the brink of ridiculousness in their effort to deny England victory. He recalled an hour in which West Indian pacemen bowled seven measly overs. He recalled how embarrassed he was as the twelfth man, running into the ground again and again with every sort of unnecessary pieces of equipment, food, water or tablets.
And he recalled the Rob Bailey incident when the man at first slip charged up to the umpire with all sorts of animal gestures and virtually coaxed the decision out of him. He did not name this ‘gentleman’ who had run up to the umpire from first slip, but the antics of Sir Viv Richards are not unknown to the world — other than among those romantics with their steadfast pink tints we have already talked about.
Lara reminded the world that the West Indians of the 1980s and 1990s, that very champion side who did not lose a Test series for a decade and a half, could stoop really low in order to maintain that same winning streak.
Something that is forgotten in our penchant for weaving mythical garlands around our heroes.
There are quite a few incidents I can add to that list. I grew up in India in the 1980s, and am privy to certain events that took place surrounding the West Indies side which Lara was perhaps not aware of.
I have witnessed Clive Lloyd, in his relentless zeal to try to avenge West Indies after that shock reversal in the World Cup final of 1983, attacking the umpires with his pen in the syndicated column that he wrote during the 1983-84 series. As the series progressed, the enormously strong West Indian side benefitted more and more from the poor intimidated umpires giving every marginal, and not so marginal, the decision in favour of the visitors.
I remember the 1987-88 series, when Viv Richards bullied umpire Rajan Mehra to overturn his decision of not out to send Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar, then the best batsman of the world, on his way at Nagpur. I remember the same Richards showing a disgusting variety of dissent, alongside Gordon Greenidge, at the Eden Gardens on that same tour, till umpires Ram Babu Gupta and Piloo Reporter walked up to the great batting duo in a pitiable plea to get on with the game.
If one reads Martin Crowe’s Out on a Limb, and it is an excellent book, one will find out how Andy Roberts deliberately overstepped with the full intent of maiming batsmen. How Malcolm Marshall would snarl a promise that he would kill someone, as he did to Ian Smith before breaking his hand during the following game.
The West Indians of the 1980s and early 1990s were champions. They were also bullies, some of the worst of the kind. And thanks to a non-existent system of ensuring the supposed ‘spirit of the game’ they got away with all that and more.
[fve] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKqrzA-4hfc [/fve]
Lara did make a lot of points, many of them humorous, a number of them insightful. It was a memorable speech, if somewhat longwinded and rambling in parts. But, with his accurate description of all the moments of West Indian cricket which embarrassed him, he did an excellent job of busting a curiously concocted myth about the rulers of world cricket who played according to the spirit of the game.
And he did also point out how champion sides should approach the game by precisely pointing out what they should not do.