Cricket, for long, has been considered as the gentleman’s game.
Since the 19th century, when it gained popularity around the world, the game of cricket also fostered three key elements around which most modern-day management terms have arisen – teamwork, spirit of the game, and sportsmanship. They would be used to inspire players and teams to achieve much glory.
Now, they are just words that roll off the quicksilver tongues of spin doctors, corporate bigwigs and the like. Today, greed has taken an iron grip on the game, and the values that those terms encompassed seem doomed to oblivion. Cricketers around the globe have become that much more argumentative and expressive on the field.
The infamous Bodyline series of 1932-33 nearly jeopardized relations between England and Australia, with Bill Woodfull admonishing Plum Warner about the lack of sportsman like behavior from Douglas Jardine’s side. Even the late Tony Greig, England’s former captain, would state on-air that one would be considered a cheat if he didn’t walk during county matches.
However, over the past decade, there have been a few who still clung on to the old-school of thought – play with honesty, agree to the umpire’s verdict as final and absolute, and when absolutely certain that you are out despite the officiating authority’s decision, walk.
These players earned world-wide praise as much as for their conduct off the field as for their immense talent on it. Fierce competitors during a game, they knew how to carry themselves once the match was over. Not for them the extravagant, showman tactics on camera; just a quiet, professional and dignified bearing in public, reminding one of Atticus Finch, a central character in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Here is a brief look at five such cricketers who are rightfully considered true gentlemen in the context of the game:
5. Brett Lee (Australia)
On the field, he resembled the fiery Cretan bull of Greek mythology, a lethal pacer with the ability to send down powerful thunderbolts at high speeds. But Brett Lee was not much of a controversial figure like teammate Shane Warne or former player and mentor Dennis Lillee.
He is happy performing for his band Six and Out when not playing, and did not try to intimidate umpires or opposition batsmen during the infamous Sydney Test against India in 2008; the image of Andrew Flintoff consoling him after England’s narrow win at Edgbaston in the 2005 Ashes. He has never chosen to indulge in publicity stunts or hog the limelight, and it is this quality that has endeared him to cricket lovers all around the world, especially in India.
4. Anil Kumble (India)
Jumbo famously took the wicket of Brian Lara in a Test at Antigua in 2002, when bowling with a broken jaw. While it reflected his admirable fighting spirit, it also gave fans a glimpse of his consummate professionalism despite struggling against all odds.
India needed a leader of the likes of Anil Kumble during the stormy Australian tour in 2008; he held the side together despite all the allegations and counter-allegations that flew back and forth between the two powerhouses of world cricket.
Calm in crisis situations, the Bangalorean has also been a shining example of humility and dignity, winning him a loyal fan following. Soft-spoken and unassuming, Kumble remains one of those players who give the word ‘gentleman’ a new meaning.
3. Stephen Fleming (New Zealand)
Considered one of the world’s best cricket captains, the Christchurch-born former New Zealand leader was also one of the least-controversial figures in international cricket. He seemed to mature after his off-field indiscretion of smoking marijuana with two other teammates in 1995, leading his side to many a famous victory in international cricket.
Fleming was praised by the likes of Shane Warne and Graeme Swann, who both noted his astute tactical abilities. As coach of the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, the New Zealander is known to enjoy the confidence of many of the players including skipper MS Dhoni. But it is his unflappable nature, and ability to cut out the histrionics, that help him make this list of one of the gentlemen cricketers in the world.
2. Adam Gilchrist (Australia)
Renowned for walking off when he considered himself to be out, former Aussie stumper Adam Gilchrist has been one of the most affable personalities to have played the game. In typical Australian fashion, Gilly was aggressive on the field, indulging in sledging and good-natured banter behind the stumps; off it, he was a dignified, soft-spoken character.
He has spearheaded a few charitable initiatives in India, like his former skipper Steve Waugh, and is well-known for his philanthropic work outside of cricket. For a man who was a superb hitter of the cricket ball and who re-defined the role of a wicket-keeper in the 21st century, Gilchrist’s charming personality off the field has made him a world favourite.
1. Rahul Dravid (India)
If there was any one representative from the world of cricket who would be chosen to bat for my life, it is the former India skipper and batting mainstay Rahul Sharad Dravid, long known to his fans as The Wall. Fiercely focused on the field, determined to weather the tough conditions out in the middle, perspiration dripping heavily from his brows, India’s No.3 batsman in Test cricket bailed out the side many times in the five-day version of the game.
Off the field, Dravid is remarkably shy, but carrying himself with a good deal of grace and humility. The respect he has earned is not merely due to his cricketing exploits alone; opponents have praised him for carrying the same conduct on to the field and remaining modest despite being a run-scoring colossus in the international cricketing arena. It, therefore, came as no surprise when he was selected to deliver the ninth Bradman Oration at Canberra in December 2011, becoming the first non-Australian cricketer to do so.
Stoic, calm, dignified and unruffled even during the worst of conditions (such as the recent spot-fixing scandal which robbed his team Rajasthan Royals of key players), Dravid, like state-mate Anil Kumble, is forever going to be the crisis man for his team. Cricket has been all the richer for a person of his calibre.