John Hinchcliff: Playing for the love of it - that's cricket

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Fixing destroys the enjoyment of players and spectators who cherish the game’s traditional values.

Martin Crowe ruled out throwing a game against Pakistan in the 1992 World Cup to open up an easier route to the final. Photo / Getty Images
Martin Crowe ruled out throwing a game against Pakistan in the 1992 World Cup to open up an easier route to the final. Photo / Getty Images

Match-fixing is a reprehensible insult to the vast majority of cricketers. Many people believe it could not have featured in the "good old days" when the amateur spirit was free from paid professionalism.

But is this correct?

The predicament of our New Zealand team competing in the round robin of the 1992 World Cup illustrates a challenge. They had played brilliantly without losing a game and were already guaranteed a semifinal position. In the final preliminary round match they lined up against the lowly rated Pakistanis.

If they won, they faced the dubious prospect of confronting the high-flying Australian team on their own famous Sydney Cricket Ground (SGC).

If Pakistan prevailed, New Zealand's next game would be against a less powerful team before a hometown crowd on a New Zealand wicket.

Who would deny our team the right to throw the game to ensure they would more likely win the World Cup? After all, success was their purpose - and ours. So, why not lose to the Pakistanis?

However, captain Martin Crowe believed throwing the game would not be "cricket". He argued that playing the game at the SGC would prove his team deserved to be the world champions, stating: "A semifinal in Sydney will be fine with us - the better the challenge, the better for us."

Thus, playing the game to prove their ability featured more importantly than competitive success. Mercenary self-interest was irrelevant. There were no fortunes for sale. The players respected each other. And they valued the challenge of the game before a victory "at all costs".

One complication. Against all odds, our team did lose that 1992 game with Pakistan and, against expectations again, Pakistan also won the final, proving they were world champions. The New Zealand team's idealism expressed before playing Pakistan was "cricket".

Leaving aside the financial factor featuring in recent indictments, we should still ask whether the competitive win-at-all-costs syndrome might cause a team to throw a game.

Competitive success is encouraged in most sports. We do our best to succeed. The uncompromising contest factor is essential. A playful half-hearted effort would compromise the game.

Since the meaning of the game includes winning, should we not employ the tactic of match-fixing to secure victory - if in our competitive interest? Would this not be admirable strategy especially if the opposition players were respected?

Was Captain Martin Crowe's position the stuff of fairy counter-culture, best left back in the "good old days"?

How many captains today would act in this way? How many would value the cricketing sporting ethic before complying with the need to win?

But although winning the contest is important to the game, the spirit of the game does not encourage winning at all costs, as enjoined by the iconic American football coach, Vince Lombardi. He declared: "Winning isn't everything - it is the only thing!"

Success is not the primary motivation for playing. Every contest leaves one failure. And despite failure and unequal capabilities, teams continue to compete - because of their commitment to the game.

Winning cannot always be "on the cards", even for the best team. Wild card factors grin in at every game, such as a dropped catch, an injury, an accidental run-out, the state of the pitch and a change in the weather. The effort is worthwhile because of the game's enjoyment factor.

Embracing a meaningful co-operation with the opposition team is more important than contesting for victory.

The game is only possible if everyone plays together and subscribes to the rules. The will to "smash" the opposition, making it impossible to play together, is mindlessly counter-productive.

Cricket's value structure is exemplified by the player who knowingly "snicked" the ball and, after the umpire declared "not out!", walked to the pavilion. Thereby, the spirit of the game is declared.

Thus, win or lose, we should play the game both to the best of our ability and with respect for its values.

This ethos should motivate test players because it shapes the real game, and because the future of this game depends on exemplifying this spirit.

Match-fixing either for competitive success or for profit "ain't cricket". It destroys the enjoyment of players and spectators who cherish the traditional values of this wonderful game.

- NZ Herald

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