Cricket is played by millions of people all over the world from different backgrounds, yet it is often referred to as a ‘Gentlemen’s game’ both in historic and modern times. Why is it called this? Where did the term originate from?
Cricket is called a gentleman’s game because many early cricketers in England, where the game originated, came from affluent backgrounds, and were considered to hold virtues of a ‘Gentleman’. In modern times, the game has retained this title due to the values associated with it; especially the idea of fair play.
Let’s take a closer look at this phrase, and unveil the truth behind whether cricket is still considered a gentlemen’s game today!
How Did Cricket Become Known as a Gentleman’s Game?
Cricket was originally played in England exclusively by aristocrats, and as such it successfully upheld their lifestyle, unwritten codes, and general preserved air of superiority of this social hierarchy.
These aristocrats were also called ‘Gentlemen’ and thus cricket earned its title as the game of these gentlemen.
Why were Other Sports not Given the Title of a Gentleman’s Game?
One might wonder why some of the other sports were not given this title as well? After all, Cricket was not the only sport that was played back then!
It is interesting to note that the upper classes of England took to cricket immediately as it instilled morality, and was not filled with violence nor overly competitive like other sports of the time such as boxing or football.
A player was commended for his honesty and composure on the pitch. It gave cricket a kind of unwritten moral code of ethics. In many regards to play the game in the right way, was considered more important than winning.
Cricket eventually shattered class barriers. Rural workers adopted what was originally a pursuit of England’s upper class, but continued its values. The most important thing was if you could play well, and play fairly.
Regardless of its aristocratic roots, cricket radicalised relationships with people of different economic backgrounds and demanded a high standard of conduct from all cricket players that endured.
The Gentlemen v Players Fixture…
In 1806 a cricket fixture began in England which was made up of those classed as amateur players (Gentlemen) and professional cricketers (Players) which helped foster use of the terms.
The difference between the two sides came out of the class structure of the era. The Players traditionally came from working-class backgrounds and earned a living from playing cricket for club and county teams. The Gentlemen, meanwhile, largely came from the upper class, or upper-middle class, and supposedly made nothing out of playing beyond their expenses.
The Gentlemen v Players match grew in popularity from the mid-19th century onwards, although the battle-hardened professional players would typically easily beat their amateur counterparts.
The match continued right up until 1962 when the MCC – the custodians of cricket – abolished the status of ‘amateur’ cricketers and thus all those who played first-class cricketers to be deemed professionals. Of the 274 matches Gentlemen v Players fixtures there 125 victories or the players, 68 for the Gentlemen with 80 draws and 1 match was tied.
Spirit Of Cricket: A Gentleman’s Game for the Modern Era
To be a ‘gentleman’ in cricket has a slightly different meaning when it is talked about in the context of the modern game – the term is used more now to reflect acts of sportsmanship, which evoke memories of how the game was approached in the past by players.
In many regards, this falls under a term which was brought into popular use in the late 1990s called the ‘Spirit of Cricket‘.
The notion was pushed by two ex-England captains called Colin Cowdrey and Ted Dexter who wanted to remind those playing cricket that they had a duty to always do so in a sportsmanlike manner.
When the MCC Laws of Cricket were revised in the 2000s a preamble was added which gave prominence to those values.
Preamble to MCC Laws of Cricket: The Spirit of Cricket
Cricket owes much of its appeal and enjoyment to the fact that it should be played not only according to the Laws, but also within the Spirit of Cricket. The major responsibility for ensuring fair play rests with the captains, but extends to all players, match officials and, especially in junior cricket, teachers, coaches and parents.
- Respect is central to the Spirit of Cricket.
- Respect your captain, team-mates, opponents and the authority of the umpires.
- Play hard and play fair.
- Accept the umpire’s decision.
- Create a positive atmosphere by your own conduct, and encourage others to do likewise.
- Show self-discipline, even when things go against you.
- Congratulate the opposition on their successes, and enjoy those of your own team.
- Thank the officials and your opposition at the end of the match, whatever the result.
Cricket is an exciting game that encourages leadership, friendship and teamwork, which brings together people from different nationalities, cultures and religions, especially when played within the Spirit of Cricket.
Occasions When a Cricketer has been a Gentleman!
Cricket has a rich history of examples when players have shown sportsmanship which has embodied the Spirit of Cricket and enshrined them as gentlemen. I’ll highlight two such famous instances where cricketers were referred to as gentlemen due to the act on the field!
MS Dhoni Recalls Ian Bell Despite being given OUT as per Law!
Shortly before tea in a Test match England’s Ian Bell left his crease and started walking back to the pavilion having thought a ball struck by team-mate Eoin Morgan had gone for four.
Except it hadn’t and the bails were removed with Bell out of his ground. By the letter of the law, he was out. But showing all the hallmarks of an honorable leader, Ian Bell was instead recalled by India captain MS Dhoni and the umpire’s decision was overturned.
Flintoff and Lee Incident: Ashes 2005
One of cricket’s most iconic moments came in a famous Ashes Test match between England and Australia in 2005.
Straight after England had won a thrilling match at Edgbaston – considered by many to be the greatest Test of all time – all-rounder Andrew Flintoff did not join in the celebrations with team-mates, but instead crouched down and consoled an opponent, Australia fast bowler Brett Lee.
It was a reassuring sight that, amid the outpouring of emotion, Flintoff had proved himself magnanimous in victory – in other words, a gentleman.
Walking: Has Technology Changed Cricket from a Gentleman’s Game?
Some of those with traditional views of cricket believe that the notion of being a gentleman in cricket has been eroded since the introduction of technology to assist with umpiring.
Arguably the area where this has been most evident is when a batsman chooses to ‘walk’ (give up his wicket) when he is aware, he is out – even if an umpire disagrees with him and gives him not out!
A few players continue to believe in a culture of fair play and if they get a faint edge on a delivery, which maybe an umpire does not hear, they put their bat under their arm and walk off.
However, the introduction of DRS, HotSpot and HawkEye technology has changed this culture at the highest level of the game. The vast proportion of cricketers today – perhaps dealing with a more intense pressure than previous eras – are now much less likely to walk.
Instead, players view it as the job of the technology to decide whether they are out rather than take the moral high ground. For amateur cricketers it is an endless moral dilemma: should I stay, or should I go now!
Cricket is still considered a gentleman’s game but technology and a win-at-all-costs mentality has started to eat away at some of the values which people still hold dear.
In many ways, cricket exists in a curious mix of contradictions: the term ‘gentleman’ itself feels outdated, yet at the same time is still as relevant as ever. Witness, for example, the global reaction to Australia’s players using sandpaper on the ball in a series against South Africa in 2018.
The Sandpapergate ball-tampering scandal was condemned as being against cricket’s core beliefs, and the players in question were heavily criticized.
Even as cricket has evolved there is something very beautiful at the very heart of the game which means its soul will always be different to other sports. Whether it is at professional or amateur level a sense of fair play is never far from the minds of players and spectators, especially if an individual oversteps the mark.
Generally, cricket has always found a way to police itself, and even if a player continues to transgress the idea that ‘what goes around, comes around’ seems to be the attitude of the cricketing Gods!