When losing is a kind of death

The fatal flaw in the Duckworth/Lewis formula for deciding unfinished cricket matches is that it makes no allowance for genius, flair and sheer, joyous inspiration. Any formula which omits these factors in sport, especially any sporting contest involving the West Indies, is for me irretrievably condemned. What is sport at its ultimate and in its essence if it is not about genius, flair and inspiration?

If the D/L formula had had to be applied at the end of over 15 of the West Indies innings when we played Australia in the recent World Cup Twenty 20 tournament we would have lost emphatically. Also, against Pakistan we scored over 80 in our last 5 overs.  I hope you remember we won both those matches on the field of play. Against Sri Lanka in the semi-final with seven overs to go we had about the same number of runs to make to win as we made against Australia and Pakistan in our last five overs. But the hailstorm came and D/L coldly and mathematically condemned us to perdition. In such a vital match in a World Cup that was ridiculous – the ICC in its planning should always give every possible opportunity for the contest to be finished and not allow a formula to suck the very heart and soul of the game out of a culminating encounter. It is a travesty that the defending World Champions lost by calculation not actual combat.

Having got that off my chest, I have something else to say about, and a lesson to draw from, the cricket I have been watching West Indies play in recent times – and please remember this is an old man writing who will always wish to dwell lovingly on our glory days about two decades ago.

ian on sundayThe greatest champions in sport hate to lose. It is not beyond them to accept defeat with a certain grace but deep-down, make no mistake, they absolutely hate to lose. I do not think our current West Indies team hates losing enough. They go out and play hard and often still with inspiration but, if they lose, well, there will be another day. They shake hands and move on relaxed. It helps these days that their pockets are jingling with gold coin.

In our glory days Clive Lloyd, and then Viv Richards, and their men very seldom suffered defeat but when they did there was a grimness in their look which showed the iron had entered into their souls as great competitors and they were resolved no such indignity would ever again be accepted.

There was some strong and earnest character, upper lip stiffened and pleasant losing smile playing eternally on his face, who once decreed that it was not winning that mattered but taking part. He was a fool, of course. A revised version of his verse is much more accurate – it goes like this:

And when the last Great Scorer comes

To count your life’s eternal cost

He marks not how you played the game

But if you won or lost.

There used to be a tradition that losing isn’t really all that important. The poets of the old imperialism were particularly prone to voice this sentiment. It was, naturally, pure hypocrisy on their part since no men were more ruthless in their desire to win and dominate than those of the old imperial strain.  Perhaps that is why so much of their fiction was about playing the game and fair play and the glory of taking part – in real life it was very different.

Written up over the entrance to the centre court at Wimbledon are two lines from Kipling, the great English poet of Empire. They read as follows:

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same…

They are idiotic lines because the fact is, of course, that no one who is good enough to play at Wimbledon is dumb enough to feel that losing doesn’t matter. It matters very much.

Defeat should never be easily accepted. It is no excuse to say that one has tried one’s hardest, because the fact is that one could always have tried just that fraction harder still, which might have made all the difference.

If a man is to live fully it is necessary for him to feel very hard about defeat and failure. How often has one heard the easy words after a loss at games, or after some minor failure. “Don’t worry. It isn’t the end of the world.” No, it isn’t the end of the world, but could it be perhaps that it is a fleeting shadow of it?

Dylan Thomas wrote magnificent poems, none more magnificent than the famous poem for his dying father: ‘Do No Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’ It is a poem about death, but it is also about defeat in life, about the need never to resign oneself to failure and loss. Here are a few lines from the poem, crying out against resignation and submission:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds once have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Lines like these would be appropriate for any athlete about to do battle, even in a lost cause, or for anyone striving to live a full and valuable life to the end. None of us should try to diminish defeat, for it is only a smaller kind of death. When the West Indies team, every man of them, feels that in their guts we will do better.

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