At the time of writing this piece, I was still reeling from the cricket world cup finals that took place in July 2019. At the time of posting this article, a few may remember the roller coaster ride that the two teams took during that eventful night, which may very well be the definitive game that decided a champion (two champions in fact) in cricket, if not all sport. So for those who witnessed it, here I am to remind you, lest you forget. The calm and collected faces on the field hid the emotional mayhem that must have played out in the minds of all men involved in that contest. And when the game finally ended on one delivery after over 600 deliveries were unable to decide a clear winner, a winner was decided by the smallest of margins, there was no margin at all. And unlike in trading, in cricket, there is no provision for a margin call.
Agony, elation, nightmare, relief, disbelief, joy, pain, living a dream, a dream being shattered, euphoria, heartache, a contrast of emotions ran amongst the English players and the Kiwis. Yet, nothing separated the two and while some were whooping in ecstasy and others held their heads in despair, they were all champions. The Kiwis could take pride in their verdict, while there seemed to be a sense of embarrassment on the part of the English in theirs. England had won without New Zealand losing and every participant in this game was aware of this fact. New Zealand was gracious in ‘defeat’ while the English were empathetic and respectful towards their opponents in celebration. The English fans I’m certain were stunned because sporting history is testament to the fact that they have been at the receiving end of such outcomes more often than not.
The New Zealand cricket captain, Kane Williamson embodies the spirit that his team wears on their sleeves and in their hearts. They are the perennial nice guys of the cricketing world, which should not be misconstrued as soft. They are as fierce as they are talented, as competitive as they are good-spirited, and they play as much to win as they do to uphold the standards and grace of the game. As much as this is an English product, in my mind, the term ‘gentleman’s game’ reflects the characteristics displayed by the New Zealand cricket team.
It was very difficult to not let emotions run beyond their control at the end of that final. It was hard not to be distraught and lash out at the unfairness of the outcome. There was every reason to be inconsolable, for a lifelong dream that almost came true was taken away in a whiff by the cruelty of life. A dream that life may not offer another opportunity to fulfill. The English players, on the other hand, did everything they could to console their opponents and remind them that they were as good on the day. And this is the essence of sport.
This cricket match is just one instance that personifies the true spirit of sportsmanship. During the 1992 Olympics, pre-race favorite Derek Redmond tore his hamstring during the race but helped by his father decided to continue to the finish line limping. Finishing the race was as important as finishing first. During the single hand around the world yacht race, Pete Goss abandoned his lead to rescue another competitor whose yacht was destroyed in an ensuing storm. One may have many opportunities at sporting victories but just one at life. During the Winter Olympics in Italy, Norwegian ski coach Hakensmoen offered Canada’s Sara Renner a ski pole after another competitor accidentally stepped on and broke the one she was using. Canada won silver while Norway could only finish fourth. Generosity over victory. The Indian captain, M S Dhoni withdrew his appeal on a dubious run out decision of English Batsmen Ian Bell (yup, these English are everywhere) despite being in a losing position. Fair play took precedence over the desperation to win. During the 2012 Olympics, Usain Bolt decided to stop his interview in respect as the US national anthem began to play, and continued only after it was over. Respect over stardom. From Shawn Crawford returning his silver medal to Churandy Martina after the latter was disqualified at the Beijing Olympics to Canadian skater Junio’s selflessness in giving up his spot to teammate Morrison who failed qualification during the national trials owing to faulty equipment, there are innumerous acts of heartwarming sportsmanship that will reverberate through the sands of time.
Yes, sport is meant to be competitive. Yes, sport is about coming out on top over opponents. Yes, sport is about being relentless in one’s pursuits. Yes, sport is about skill, discipline, consistency, and hard work. Yes, sport is about beers, fan fights, and stadium ejections. But in the end, sport extends beyond winning. Its symbolism transcends beyond that trophy or medal. It is not just about getting to that tape at the finishing line but how we conduct ourselves before and beyond it. Only if we all conducted our lives with this equanimity.