AUSTRALIA - On cricket's Adelaide Oval, overlooked by a cathedral, in the shadow of mourning, a game holy to many has commenced today. Australia vs India.
Please, fellows, feel free to bowl a bouncer. But don't feel compelled to follow it with invective. Cricket, brimming with idle machismo, has become too insolent for its own good.
As Eli Wallach says in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly after slaying a gunman who is too busy threatening him: "When you have to shoot, shoot ... don't talk."
Spirit is the prevailing cricketing word of the times. It was the centrepiece of Australian captain Michael Clarke's moving eulogy at Phil Hughes' funeral.
It is the subject of fine essays by New Zealand's Martin Crowe and England's Mark Nicholas, who urge a more respectful game. Let all take heed. Cricket without manners is an inferior game.
Spirit is a lovely word, used in various ways, but is always hard to define. It is said of Hughes that he was a "free spirit", which perhaps translates as a carefree, buoyant fellow.
We associate the word with teams who bond tightly, as if "team spirit" suggests that together they have one soul.
But a game's spirit is primarily a belief system, a mostly unwritten code of ethics. This spirit elevates a sport from brilliant to meaningful. It is not a law necessarily, it is an ideal.
You can follow the rules of game and yet disfigure its spirit. It is a distinction cricket has not always comprehended in recent times.
Spirit is a tone you give a sport and a value you attach to a game. Spirit cannot only be a theory, it has to be practised. Primarily by national teams, for they are the custodians of the game.
If kids see abuse, they will follow; if they see disrespect, they will think it cool.
All sports aspire to be different, to retain a distinct culture, but it takes hard work. Tennis is competitively brutal, yet it has held tightly onto courtesy only because its top players in this generation have striven to preserve it.
Cricket has been negligent.