A Cricket Masterclass in Civility

India not only gave the world a masterclass in cricket last night but also in sportsmanship.

In Australia’s third game of the World Cup that is being played over in England, the Indians batted first and gave the crowd an exhibition of sublime batting, as well as exposing Australia’s lack of depth in our bowling attack.

Late in the innings when Steve Smith moved to field at third man on boundary line, much of the crowd, largely made up with thousands of Indian supporters, began to boo and jeer him. Smith has been booed throughout the tournament so far, whether he is fielding and especially when batting.

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Just over a year ago, Steve Smith was Captain of Australia’s men’s cricket team when he and two other players were embroiled in an incident of ball tampering, which resulted in a 12 month ban from the game. The ban has been served and now Smith and David Warner are back in the Aussie side.

Virat Kohli, India’s captain, was batting at the time when he left the crease and approached the spectators, signalling with his hands and telling them to stop booing Smith, and instead suggest that they clap Smith.

At the press conference after the game, Kohli spoke about the issue,

“So just because there’s so many Indian fans here, I just didn’t want them to set a bad example, to be honest, because he didn’t do anything to be booed in my opinion. He’s just playing cricket.

“He was just standing there, and I felt bad because if I was in a position where something had happened with me and I had apologised, I accepted it and I came back and still I would get booed, I wouldn’t like it, either.

“So I just felt for him, and I told him, I’m sorry on behalf of the crowd because I’ve seen that happen in a few earlier games, as well, and in my opinion that’s not acceptable.”

Kohli has exhibited the kind of leadership that is unusual in this highly charged and partisan age. At a time when the temptation is stop playing the ball and instead throw insults at those with whom we hold disagreement, a little grace and kindness is a powerful alternative. It is amazing how a few drops of perspective can breakdown a wall of irrational and unnecessary antagonism and bullish behavior.  I reckon our political leaders and leading social commentators could take a lesson from last night’s cricket. I suspect that even Christian leaders could do with learning to play few balls like this.

India didn’t lose anything by Kohli’s actions. He batted well and he captained his side to victory. At no risk to India’s performance, Kohli exercised fairness and tolerance, dressing down his own fan base for unsportsmanlike behavior. In doing so, he gained the appreciation of Smith and other Australian players, as well as that of the general public.

It was Jesus who said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

Peter would later write, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

The Apostle Paul added,

“clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

We don’t lose by exercising these qualities. But in this season of outrage we too often wrongly conclude that the only way to combat opposing ideas is to respond with throwing insults and alleging the worst of motives in others. Kohli last night proved that theory flawed. Of course, the issues being debated and argued on the world stage are of greater significance than a game of cricket, and yet this doesn’t lessen the power of civility and grace. Indeed, such qualities are of even greater necessity and value today.

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