The first time I heard of the Sir Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket lecture was a few days after Kumar Sangakkara graced the hallowed halls of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), at Lords, to give the lecture. Sangakkara did an excellent job. He did Trinity College proud. Trinity College is to Sri Lanka what Queen’s College is to Guyana. Fast forward to 2017, and Brian Lara is asked by the MCC to deliver the speech, days before a young Windies team dons whites at the Cathedral of cricket. Clive Lloyd is the only other West Indian to have given the speech. True to form, Lara was controversial, but one would have expected some contrition from him for his shortcomings as a player, given the line his speech took. Instead, he went against the ‘spirit of cricket’, joining his compatriot, Pollard, who broke the sacred code a few days earlier.
The spirit of cricket, according to the MCC, is about fairness, honesty and respect. In my opinion, a player should uphold these in his/her interactions, on and off the field, with the entire cricketing fraternity ‒ players past and present, umpires, administrators, and of course the fans. As humans we all fail to stay true to what is right; however, occasions will arise where we should atone for those failings. The Sir Cowdrey Spirit of Cricket lecture presents such an opportunity.
Lara started off his lecture with some light fare which resulted in a few bouts of laughter; he then went on to honour his father, and rightly so. Not surprisingly, he spent time on the collapse of West Indies cricket, laying much blame at the feet of the then WICB. He also spoke to his embarrassment over instances where he felt foreign teams were wronged in favour of the West Indies, by his teammates, Caribbean ground staff, and umpires. I have no issue with these reflections. Colin Croft and Mike Holding came in for a tongue lashing. However, one gets the feeling that Mike Holding was the real target for the simple fact that he and Lara have not been on terms for a very long time. Croft was thrown in there for a semblance of ‘balance,’ without risk, as Croft has had much controversy attached to his name. This, in my view, was petty of Lara. His speech could have had better impact without him calling out a few former players, while building up himself as a paragon of the spirit of cricket because of his penchant for walking, whether or not the umpire raised his finger. Maybe the ‘prince’ of Port-of-Spain doesn’t really understand what the spirit of cricket is about. It goes beyond the field of play, beyond the scoreboard, beyond the boundary.
So instead of being contrite about his failings as a teammate and leader of the West Indies cricket team, Lara appeared more inclined to please his hosts, tearing down his brothers in the process. While the MCC did not err by choosing Lara, Cowdrey’s spirit, and that of cricket, would have been better served with the likes of Walsh, Adams, Ambrose, Haynes, or Greenidge. Sir Hilary Beckles would have also made an excellent choice. He has done solid work as an historian and has played a bit of cricket. Further, the lecture need not be given by someone who has played international cricket, as evidenced by the MCC’s choice of Archbishop Tutu some years back. Instead, this year’s lecture just served to fuel the ego of a man whose brilliance will forever be relegated to 22 yards of dirt.