By: Chinmay Vaidya
It is heard so often from commentators, players and coaches. Some leagues, like the IPL, even give out points for it. Sportsmanship is a complex thing to navigate in professional sports at the highest level. On one hand, there's a game to be won and careers to be built. On the other, there's a certain level of respect we expect from competitors towards one another even in a high-stakes environment.
At the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa, there were three major instances of where sportsmanship and the "spirit of the game" were brought into question. Two incidents occurred on the field while one took place on social media. There's won't be any judgements on what the right or wrong thing to do in each situation is, but we can look at the reactions from players, coaches and administrations to decipher how people in the game approach this complicated subject.
Incident 1: Australia's players take to Instagram
Australia's U-19 squad already dealt with some criticism for its on-field actions in a match against India, but the real problem came before that match on Instagram. Players took to Instagram to celebrate their berth in the quarterfinal and that's where things got dicey.
Oliver Davies, Liam Scott, Lachlan Hearne, Tanveer Sangha and Sam Fanning replied to Jake Fraser-McGurk's post in choppy English, seemingly aimed at non-native English speakers and potentially at India's players. The post was deleted and the players apologized, but the damage was already done. According to ESPN Cricinfo, Cricket Australia is considering sanctions for the players due to the post. The administration issued a statement on the incident, essentially saying it holds Australia's players to a higher standard. Australia would end up losing to India and Fraser-McGurk, who made the post, had to leave the team early and fly back home to get treatment for a monkey scratch while visiting a monkey reserve for a team outing. Call it karma if you wish.
At the end of the day, these are teenage kids doing typical teenage things. However, the sheer unnecessary nature of the action warrants a closer look. What seemed like good fun for the players could definitely have been taken the wrong way. It's a good narrative for people in the media and it'll get attention, but it's not the type of thing CA wants to deal with. The players weren't taking digs at their opponent's skills; they were going beyond that. This is where we cross the sport threshold and move into the humanity aspect of something. And once you've done that, you can safely say the actions of Australia's players have no place in the game.
Incident 2: Afghanistan's Noor Ahmad pulls a "Mankad" on Pakistan's Mohammad Huraira
This is a favorite among fans, commentators and ex-players. Ravichandran Ashwin, the "Mankad king", is inspiring a whole generation of players. There's several things to consider when looking at a "Mankad" incident. The first is whether is how the bowler took off the bails at the non-striker end.
As we can clearly see from the video, the bowler doesn't attempt to complete his delivery and back out halfway through to take off the bails. Ahmad does it in a quick motion when Huraira is outside of the crease. By the letter of the law, Huraira is out. And many people can get behind this. The batsman should stay in his crease until the ball is bowled so he doesn't gain an unfair advantage with a start. That's where we go to Step 2.
Huraira did not take off like a sprinter at the 100 meter dash. He's casually strolling outside his crease and by the time he's actually out, you could argue Ahmad's delivery would've been halfway down the pitch had the bowler continued his action. Huraira wasn't intentionally trying to gain an advantage. We know this because of Step 3: the game situation.
At the time of the "Mankad" incident, Pakistan was 127 for 3 and needed 63 runs from 134 balls to win the match. Huraira was the in-form batsman with 64 runs to his name. He didn't need to gain an advantage for a single run. Pakistan were fully in control of the match. Which meant Afghanistan had to do something to potentially win, even if it meant resorting to cheap tricks to get a player out in a way he couldn't see coming. After the game, Afghanistan captain Farhan Zakhil came clean to ESPN Cricinfo about the whole situation.
"At that time, we realised let's do something different to build pressure on Pakistan," Zakhil told ESPN Cricinfo. "To be honest, it was not in the spirit of the game. But we wanted to win. It was a very important game for us. The people of Afghanistan wanted us to beat Pakistan. But it's within the rules - and out is out. You have to stay within the crease. If you want to reduce the pitch length to 16 or 18 yards, then you're creating a problem for us. If you want to make runs and rotate the strike, you must respect the opposition, which is why we went ahead. If we were winning, we probably wouldn't have done it."
The key phrases in that quote are "let's do something different", "we wanted to win" and "if we were winning, we probably wouldn't have done it". Zakhil admitted the action wasn't in the "spirit of the game", but said the team went ahead with it because it needed to get back in the game to possibly win it and had basically run out of all other options. Huraira wasn't getting out in normal gameplay so the Afghanistan team had to try something else.
The "Mankad" is nothing new. It's been done before and will be done again. The problem is that it's used at a time where everything else has failed and players admit it's a "bush league" tactic that doesn't fall within the flow of the game. You don't see players use the "Mankad" sporadically throughout the game. You only see this stuff being done when the chips are down and the win is more important than anything else. For me, the circumstances surrounding the "Mankad" are enough to say it's an unsportsmanlike action and should be removed from the game. The rule is what it is, but we'd see this far more often if the players thought of it as just that.
Incident 3: Bangladesh's players get in a scuffle after winning the U-19 World Cup
Here's a video of what happened when Bangladesh knocked home the winning runs in a rain-shortened final against India courtesy of UnBumf's Sameer Allana.
Whether Bangladesh's players intended to rub the win in India's face or not, storming the pitch and getting in the opponent's faces is a surefire way to get a reaction. India's U-19 captain Priyam Garg called the reaction "dirty". Bangladesh U-19 skipper Akbar Ali apologized for the incident, saying "it shouldn't have happened" while also commenting on the circumstance in which it happened.
Garg commented on the team's reaction, which came after WINNING A WORLD CUP. Whether or not words were said (and I'm sure there were words said), this seems normal. Just like the "Mankad" situation, here's where the competitive nature of players and winning comes before a sense of sportsmanship. Did Bangladesh's players have to get in the opposition's faces? Probably not. Does it mean they were attempting to degrade them? Most likely not.
Once again, these are teenagers celebrating a World Cup win against a major rival. There are very few times Bangladesh gets the upper hand on India in cricket. For some of these players, winning a U-19 World Cup will be the highlight of their professional career. They may not make it to a World Cup with Bangladesh's top team. This might be the best they do. They have earned the right to celebrate by winning the match. If India didn't want them to celebrate, they should've won the match themselves.
England's players ran around the pitch after a thrilling Super Over win in the 2019 World Cup final against New Zealand. This celebration from Bangladesh's players is no different.