About Cricket, Colonisation and Chivalry

Leading up to the recent coronation of King Charles III, indigenous leaders and politicians from across the Commonwealth demanded, as The Guardian reported, a “formal apology for the effects of colonisation.”  The mere mention of the word ‘colonialism’ in today’s hypersensitive woke culture requires its very own trigger warning, the popular assumption of many — alas, far too many —  is that it is the direct equivalent of genocide, Hitler, slavery or, maybe, all three rolled into one.

Call me an optimist, but there are encouraging signs the tide is on the turn, with a growing body of academic literature demonstrating that the colonial project, while mixed, actually achieved much which was good. See, for instance, Nigel Biggar’s excellent new book, Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning (reviewed here) as well as the seminal essay, “The Case for Colonialism” by the Canadian professor of political science Bruce Gilley.

One of the modern manifestations of the colonial legacy is the prominence — and in many places, utter devotion to the game of cricket. Throughout the Commonwealth, cricket is promoted and played with a passion greater than that for many religions. Be it Pakistan, India, South Africa, the West Indies, New Zealand, Australia or even England, where it all began, cricket continues to be a shaper of cultural consciousness.

Would it be practiced today if not for British colonialism and its legacy? Of course not! Just like religion, sport — and this sport in particular — transcends the disparate cultures and creeds in which it has been planted, taken root and blossomed. The rules of the game mean that anyone can play and anyone can win. The  commitment to this colonialist relic is in no way abating; if anything, the current zeitgeist is for greater inclusion. Just look at the rise of women’s cricket over recent years.

So why does cricket continue to be so popular? Granted, not everyone enjoys the game and a significant minority of malcontents delight in despising it (to whom I direct a decidedly non-racist “Boo!”). In Australia one of the background sounds of summer is cricket commentary on radio and TV. This is, admittedly, a purely subjective appraisal, but the voices of commentators filling the gaps between overs with memories, anecdotes and trivia is, to my ears, a truly beautiful thing.

There is an etiquette, even chivalry, to cricket that is worth exploring. With its emphasis on sportsmanship, the game is the great social equalizer, where the commoner can compete as an equal on the same field as the lord. And whether it’s the all-white Test dress code or the positioning of players as pieces on a chess board, there is a tradition and morality to cricket which is greater than the game itself. We even have a popular saying for those moments and incidents when the norms of acceptable behaviour are violated, “It’s just not cricket!”

C.S. Lewis in his essay “On the Necessity of Chivalry” crystalises the values espoused by cricket. Lewis, an expert in medieval literature at Oxford University, saw in chivalry the perfect alignment of the twin virtues of humility and courage. A good illustration of what Lewis was thinking can be found in the words of Sir Ector over the body of Sir Lancelot:

Thou were the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever-put spear in the rest.

On the surface, the traits of ‘meekness’ and ‘sternness’ would appear to be contradictory and mutually exclusive. But Lewis understood them to be profoundly complementary. And nowhere was that moreso than in that personification of chivalry, the medieval knight, or as we might say today, the person playing cricket. A man who was a living manifestation of the chivalrous ideal through both his strength and compassion, especially in the way he treated a member of the opposite sex and his opponents in battle. We don’t see it often, but every so often a batsman who knows he is out will leave the crease of his own volition. Do we see such honesty and reverence for traditional values in other sports? Not at all, as the late Diego ‘Hand of God‘ Maradona demonstrated in Argentina’s 1986 World Cup quarter final ‘win’ over England. Contrast his fans’ jubilation at such blatant cheating with the disgust that marked the exposure of the Australian Test’s team’s covert use of sandpaper to gain an advantage. Chalk and cheese.

Significantly, Lewis also saw the chivalrous ideal as being profoundly theological, grounded in nothing less than the person and work of God. Jeff McInnis has written an insightful book exploring this particular theme in Lewis’ writings, titled, Shadows and Chivalry: C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald on Suffering, Evil and Goodness . McInnis summarises the essence of Lewis’ thought in this regard as follows:

The great Act of which the ideal of chivalry is an imitation is at once tender and severe. Christ in Gethsemane and on the cross is at once God in meekness and God at battle: meek submission but also fierce gallantry in a man who is also God.

What Lewis says about chivalry has a great deal of practical relevance for life in the 21st century. In particular, it challenges men to relate to women with the timeless qualities of humility and strength, compassion and courage. Which means, in practice, being willing to put a woman’s needs before one’s own, while at the same time having the courage to lead and protect when the moment requires it. For instance, in her book, The Mark of a Man: Following Christ’s Example of Masculinity (Fleming H. Revell, 2007), Elizabeth Elliot writes:

…courtesy is sacrificial symbolism because each act is a very small sign that you are willing to give your life for hers. When you pass the salt to her, you’re saying, “You first.” When you help her on with her coat, you’re not saying, “You’re too weak to do it yourself”: you’re saying that you’re willing to take trouble for her…Sir Walter Raleigh’s putting down his cloak in a puddle for the sake of his queen was an inconvenience, to say the least. Love is willing to be inconvenienced.

Indulge me as both a keen follower of cricket and a man of the cloth to make the connection: it means not only putting the team before oneself while also showing respect for one’s opponent when in a position to act otherwise.

All this as a result of colonisation! Perhaps it wasn’t as evil as many claim.

Mark Powell is a Presbyterian pastor

17 thoughts on “About Cricket, Colonisation and Chivalry

  • vic of gero says:

    As someone who also loves cricket, a truly enjoyable column. I would add one more observation, cricket is not a game for sooks. I have seen over the many years I’ve watched cricket, almost always at club level, a sook try cricket and a few of them have been talented and shown as much in a football code.

    But cricket is a game where much can go wrong. Say you’re a batter and you go out and realise you’re in great form, Everything is coming off the middle, the pitch is true and the bowling to your liking. Then, the ball impacts your thigh pad and unbelievably, you’re given out leg before to a half-hearted appeal. The sook will carry on but his or her team-mates won’t show much sympathy as everyone gets a rough decision now and then. Or perhaps the above happens again but this time you’re out when you hit one wide of the worst fielder the other team has. That fielder, eyes closed, extends an uncertain hand and the ball sticks. You’re out, tough luck.

    Or you’re a bowler and you’re taking wickets. Out comes the number 10. Averages six. He or she starts swinging and connecting often enough to make some runs, some through or over the slips but runs all the same. Then you get an edge to the ‘keeper and the umpire says not out and the batter keeps going and his luck continues as he or she is dropped twice and by good fielders. Your figures go from 3-15 to 3-64 and your captain decides the next week to give someone else a go and you don’t bowl at all.

    That is cricket and why it’s not for sooks or whingers who are easily discouraged and regard every setback as an injustice. You have to be mentally tough to play even at a modest level and you’d better have a sense of humour too.

  • Brian Boru says:

    I confess to bias, I have no love of cricket since my schooldays when I discovered that it is played with a hard ball which you can’t see when it comes at you from on high with the sun behind it.
    In contrast to your idea of it’s virtues Mark, I must note that he who took money from bookmakers was welcomed back when he should have been banned. Not only that, he was given a State funeral.
    But on a religious note, I have heard that cricket was invented by the English to give them some idea of eternity.

    • lbloveday says:

      And there is “sandpapergate”.
      There were many $millions legally bet on the various results of the Cape Town test, and punters are entitled to assume the results are fairly determined and not dependent on the success or not of cheats.
      Part of those $millions are paid to CA for the right to bet on “their product” and goes into the pool from which these cricketers are paid. Betting on the game also encourages those who have bet to watch, increasing the ratings & thus increasing the value of television rights, a big part of CA’s income.
      Part of the players’ payments is by way of performance bonuses. The cricketers also attempted “dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception”, as they tried to illegally affect the results of the game (more wickets, more quickly, greater chance of winning) when succeeding could have meant bigger bonuses.
      No matter which way it is spun, it was attempted match-fixing – Hansie Cronje got life for that – and I consider them lucky to not be criminally charged.
      In my view they committed an even greater moral transgression by lying about what went down, by claiming it was a piece of tape befouled with dirt from the pitch, when a piece of sandpaper had been sneaked onto the ground and used. Liars and cheats! Even when caught out they were not men enough to truthfully fess up. Contemptible.
      The lack of understanding by some of the seriousness of this major issue is staggering to me – this was not a kid cheating at hide-and-seek, but premeditated bringing of sandpaper onto the field and illegally using it for potential financial advantage.

      • Watchman Williams says:

        The irony of a politician, PM Malcolm Turnbull, demonising the cricketers for lying and cheating, seemed to escape the notice of the media at the time. Contrary to popular belief amongst aficionados, it has never been proven that cricket is played in heaven. It is played here on earth by men who reflect the moral values and attitudes of the times.

      • norsaint says:

        Quite right Len. Actually the few times I happen to see Aussie Rules players running around, they seem to be much more gentlemanly these days than our representative cricketers. At the games end, they appear to be genuinely friendly with each other whereas the cricketers are continuously disgracing themselves.

      • Brian Boru says:

        Yes and now we can see the relevance of honesty in sport with the likes of the conduct of PWC partners.

    • Watchman Williams says:

      I don’t know where you played BB. Wickets are meant to run north and south, thus avoiding the fate you described.

  • lbloveday says:

    From 7News:
    Indigenous cricket star Ash Gardner says she is disappointed that there will be a men’s Test match against the West Indies on Australia Day next summer, saying it is not appropriate.

  • vic of gero says:

    Someone needs to ask Ms Gardner what she thinks would have happened if England had not, after lengthy debate, decided to establish a colony in New South Wales in 1788. Does she believe the rest of the world would have left Australia as a continent-sized Museum of Stone Age Peoples?
    Let’s not forget a French expedition, ostensibly for science, arrived at Botany Bay soon after Arthur Phillip. If England had not bothered to settle, does she think the French, also empire-building, would also have given us a miss?
    The Dutch were still running what became Indonesia, does Ms Gardner reckon that if England and France felt Australia was too far away and of no immediate value, two considerations that at the time were valid, that the Dutch would have let Australia be? Further, how does she think Aborigines would have fared under the Dutch compared to the English or if it had been the case, the French?
    The Dutch were not known for kindness to native peoples. The English and French had a patchy record in that regard but by and large did try to respect native peoples wherever they went, indeed were ordered to.
    Let’s go one step further. None of the European powers decide Australia is worth it. England and France for reasons stated above and the Dutch because they’re doing well out of the Spice Islands and colonies after all, were often expensive failures.
    So we come to the 19th Century and the US is growing in power. Might they thought, ‘We”ll have that’. I think that’s exactly what would have happened and it’s likely our Aboriginals would have fared as well as the American Indians.
    But let’s say the US isn’t keen. Well the arrival of the 20th Century also marked a time when Japan was growing in might and ambition. Their leaders knew they needed resources and a continent, empty of people other than some primitive tribes would be very tempting. Had that come to pass, how does history suggest the original inhabitants would have fared? The answer is few of them would have been left alive, the Japanese had no sympathy for cultures they considered inferior as native people all over South-East Asia found during World War Two.
    Ms Gardner is good at cricket but needs to read some history books and, just a thought, understand Australia Day is for all Australians. Sure some bad things happened, but they happened also to British orphans and the first Chinese settlers. History isn’t always pleasant, there are always winners and losers but to my mind Ms Gardner thinks Aboriginal people are best served by being eternal losers.

  • lbloveday says:

    For those who are unfamiliar with Ash Gardner, a blonde haired (dyed?), fair-skinned (skin whitening?) Aborigine, here’s a photo:

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