JOHN O’Donnell is a former Australian cricketer and current cricket commentator.
When he was made captain of the Victoria state cricket team, he announced he would have a “win-at-all costs approach” and he certainly epitomised that in his playing career.
We can see it continues today as in the recent Cricket World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand, when he berated the New Zealanders for helping Virat Kohli during his century innings.
"Why would you go and help Virat Kohli when he had a cramp, when they're heading for 400. In a World Cup semi-final?" he cried.
He went on to say: "Spirit of the game is playing within the laws. Virat Kohli is tearing your country apart and you want to go over and give him a hand. Under no circumstances should you have gone within 20 metres of Virat Kohli when he had a cramp. He threw his bat away and one of the Kiwis went and picked it up… I don't get it, I just don't get it."
His reaction is interesting as just a few days before, O’Donnell’s own compatriot, Glenn Maxwell, also suffered intense cramp during his astonishing score of 201 to help Australia win but on numerous occasions his opponents, Afghanistan, went to his aid.
Did O’Donnell get it then?
The same approach might have been seen in two other Australian sportsmen over the years.
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Take John Landy, who in a race on his home track, with the opportunity to become the first man ever to break the elusive four-minute mile, stopped to go back and check on a fellow athlete who had fallen and been slightly spiked by Landy before resuming the race and incredibly overturning the deficit to win – but not break the world record.
His action was later declared by Sport Australia Hall of Fame as “the nation’s finest sporting moment of the 20th century”, with a statute entitled ‘Sportsmanship’ erected in his honour.
It was described as a “classic sporting gesture” as well as a “senseless piece of chivalry” but also as “one of the finest actions in the history of sport”. Would O’Donnell get that?
Or what about Adam Gilchrist, the Australian cricketer who ‘walked’ in another Cricket World Cup semi-final, as he knew he was out, even if the umpire had given him not out (and replays later did show that he had hit the ball)?
As one writer put it, “It was an astonishing moment, partly because it was an Australian, partly because it was such an important game, and partly because the nature of that type of dismissal is rarely clear-cut.”
The incident is still remembered for when sportsmanship and spirit of cricket were upheld. Did O’Donnell get it (while the rest of the world did)?
Yet, here is O’Donnell (echoing no doubt many other people in the sporting world) seriously questioning and threateningly berating the New Zealand players for behaving as they did.
"Why would you go and help Virat Kohli?"
Well, let us consider why. It may be partly due to the fact that players from New Zealand play for the same team as Kohli in the IPL and are friends with him.
However, the reality is that it does not matter whether it is a World Cup semi-final or a friendly international, a club or a school match – a match is a match. After all, at what stage is it no longer acceptable and who is the judge of that?
Is there something written that states that you can show human concern up to a certain level but no further?
Is it fine in junior school teams but not at First team level? When do we stop? And what are we really saying?
Are we saying that winning is more important than health?
That sport is above humanity?
But, we shall show sportsmanship and acknowledge that O’Donnell was right about one thing: he does not get it!
The spirit of the game is not, as he thinks, playing within the laws; that is playing to the rules.
The real answer to O’Donnell, and to all of us who are involved in our children’s sport, is stated by Daryl Mitchell, the New Zealander who hit an impressive century in that very match in a losing cause.
"We want to play cricket in a way that suits us as a country and how we want to see our kids grow up and play the game themselves as well. Hopefully the rest of the world can respect us and how we go about our day-to-day life, not only on the field but off it as well.”
Sportsmen may say, “What happens on tour, stays on tour” but we must understand and show that what happens on the field of sport does not stay on the sports field; it goes into and affects life off the field.
We must build more statues of sportsmanship in our schools.
Then people might just get it.