The Ashes: Blood, sweat, tears ... and urine

Pietersen and company would do well to remember there's a time and place for everything.

Updated: August 28, 2013 14:30 IST
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Blood. Sweat. Tears.

Traditionally, these were the only bodily fluids spilt on a playing field. In a non-contact sport such as cricket, you can count on the fingers of your hands the number of times blood made an appearance on the pitch in any given year. In the male-driven, testosterone-fuelled pursuit that modern sport has become, it takes a Flintoff-Lee Ashes 2005 moment - a once-in-a-decade occurrence - to wet the eye. In at least half the countries where cricket is played primarily in the summer, perspiration is the measure of the effort players put in.

Now, unfortunately, Kevin Pietersen and his merry men have added urine to the list of bodily fluids one might reasonably expect to encounter at a cricket ground.

The reactions to SplashGate have been predictable, varied and strident. Typically, residents of the Twitter world were outraged and mocking, but then they are like that about everything from the fall of the Rupee to tragic and violent crime.

In England, the epicentre of the incident, the reactions have been muted, and understandably so - the Ashes had just been won, and all was forgiven. It's often argued that cricketers representing their country need to be aware of the kind of example they set for impressionable youth, but walking down the high street in Cardiff or Birmingham late on a Saturday night will tell you that the youth of England need no further ruining. While a loud burp may attract the strictest disapproval at a café during a day, there is little that is not tolerated in the name of "boys will be boys" on a drunken weekend evening out. It's strange, but then in England, rules and regulations can fade into the distant background in the face of etiquette that may seem completely undecipherable to the visitor.

In India, the reaction to players relieving themselves on a cricket ground has been one of shocked horror. And this is a product of the cultural mores that surround the game and its greatest venues. Young players are taught by their coaches to touch the turf and say a prayer before walking out to the middle, and although not all grow up to be religious, this is a ritual that persists into adulthood more often than you would expect. Players are genuinely respectful - and show this respect explicitly - to the game and grounds, simply because it has been a source of upliftment and enrichment in a manner that nothing else could have been. When one frustrated bowler was in the middle of a poor spell against Sachin Tendulkar in the nets, and flung the ball down in frustration, the batsman walked from his mark, picked up the ball and returned it to his colleague. "It is because of this ball that you are what you are," said Tendulkar gently. "Show some respect." A pitch, similarly, would never be treated to a spray by an Indian cricketer, irrespective of the situation. Certainly, when needs must, on the many maidans, and even at the occasional first-class venue, players may be forced to find a secluded spot behind the pavilion to do the job. But, on the pitch, for a lark?

To expect the same level of reverence in England is futile, simply because a playing field does not hold similar significance, and the act of urinating when inebriated is not invested with the similar levels of opprobrium. When India toured England in 2011, your correspondent was fortunate to play in a weekend club fixture in Bath. A manicured outfield, a quaint pavilion, a turf pitch ... the quality of these facilities would have been out of reach to all but the most elite cricketers back home. Certainly the talent on offer, running from age seven to 60-plus, would have been unlikely to see the inside of a proper ground in India. But cricket is also a pastime, a leisurely pursuit, in England, a luxury that a country such as India, with competition for places being so extreme, cannot afford. When a cricketer has been handed the best facilities on a platter without having to so much as lift a finger, it's unrealistic to expect him to realise the value of what's in front of him.

The Mid-Day newspaper in Mumbai was quick to remind Pietersen of some comments he made on this very subject, published earlier in The Cricketer magazine. During the tickertape parade that was extended to England's players after they won the 2005 Ashes, KP called for a pit stop, stopping the bus at a coffee shop to visit the facilities. "A lot of people think I'm just this muppet who walks around doing silly things," Pietersen had said. "Put it this way, I'm not that silly. I know I can enjoy myself, have a laugh, but I'm not that silly. Freddie (Andrew) Flintoff would have pissed on the bus. I decided to stop it and do something normal."

As cricketers, former cricketers and columnists from around the world react to the urinating incident, it has all but been forgotten in England, in the time it takes a pint to travel through the digestive system.

The English, in good times, and especially bad ones, have retained an invaluable ability to laugh at themselves, to not take everything too seriously. This is something the rest of us can learn from. Just as some of England's cricketers could do with a lesson on when to express themselves freely, and where to hold it in.

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