In 2000, the MCC added a preamble to the Laws, outlining their vision of the Spirit of Cricket. Here, figures within and around the game answer the question: is there still a place for it today? The opinions originally appeared in the 2024 edition of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack.

Chris Cowdrey, former England captain

The preamble was conceived by Colin Cowdrey and Ted Dexter. Some regarded it as an outdated public-school heist: walk when you nick it, speak pleasantly to the opposition, play for fun. That’s not what they wrote. The Spirit of Cricket must continue to be the foundation stone of cricket’s unique status, not only as the greatest of games, but as an exemplary model of fairness, equality and diversity. Cowdrey and Dexter sensed that umpires were losing the players’ respect. They successfully canvassed for neutral officials, with an improved financial deal. Critically, my father wanted the players to run the game, and to respect the opposition, the umpires and, most of all, the public. With the players buying into the Spirit of Cricket, he was sure the game would be in safe hands.

Where the concept has fallen short is in its interpretation, and it should now be reshaped with the help of current and former Test captains. Let them find a way for today’s players to embrace the Spirit of Cricket, and own it for the  good of the game. With the white ball overwhelming Test cricket, the spirit in which the game is played is more relevant than ever.

Harsha Bhogle, Indian broadcaster

The “Spirit of the Game” is a nice, fashionable thing to say – like “I am against global warming”, or “I greatly admire Mother Teresa”. Sadly, it is also romantic, nebulous and fragile. Almost inevitably, the Spirit of the Game is what we want it to be – such as believing non-strikers should be allowed to steal a foot, when run-outs are decided by a quarter of an inch. And, as I discovered in a brief interaction with Ben Stokes, the Spirit of the Game is what we are brought up with, and assume the rest of the world is as well. It is very culture-specific, like the line the Aussies believed should never be crossed, a line ingrained in their approach but offensive to many others.

That is why we have the Laws, and if the Spirit runs counter to the Laws, it must come second. Sometimes, playing by the Laws may appear to be trickery, but so is leg-spin bowling; and, as we know, empires have been built on trickery. I believe the game should be played courteously, personal abuse should be wiped out, and… oh dear, there I go defining the Spirit of the game again. The Laws are fine.

Heather Knight, England captain

The preamble is well-meaning but wishy-washy: no one really knows what it is. I also think it’s been used to vilify people who are perceived to be in breach of the Spirit of Cricket when they’re only following the Laws of the game. Too often, the Spirit of Cricket is a grey area, especially as it gets interpreted differently in different parts of the world. When that happens, it can become a divisive issue: one culture’s view of what constitutes it won’t necessarily be another’s.

Of course, there’s a place for sportsmanship in the game, for how you behave and for the respect you show to umpires and opponents. When I’ve visited primary schools and explained this idea to children, they do get it. But I’m not convinced the preamble helps. In fact, there’s a case for getting rid of it altogether.

David Lloyd, former England batter, coach and first-class umpire

The game has changed beyond the point where it was agreed that you played in a certain way, with the players policing themselves under the schoolmasterly eye of the umpires. We were up against Middlesex once, when their wicketkeeper John Murray complained to my Lancashire captain, Brian Statham, that I hadn’t walked for an edge – an absolute no-no in those days. I was told I’d not be picked again if I repeated such behaviour. The trouble was, I hadn’t touched it! But that was the code back then.

For me, the point of no return was the advent of DRS, which introduced the idea that you could challenge the umpire. Now, the Spirit seems irrelevant when it’s all about playing to the Laws – and I had no problem with either Jonny Bairstow’s stumping or the timed-out dismissal of Angelo Mathews in Delhi during the World Cup. They were both perfectly legal: I don’t see what the Spirit’s got to do with it. The one area that could be improved is the way players treat each other. When you’re a commentator, you hear some fearful stuff on the stump mike, and I have sometimes wondered: would you be happy with your mum and dad hearing you say that?

Michael Holding, broadcaster and former West Indies fast bowler

I believe the Spirit of Cricket still has a role to play, but you have to distinguish between acts that take place when a player is trying to steal an advantage, and acts that are basically harmless. So if the non-striker is trying to pinch a few centimetres, it’s not against the Spirit of the Game to run him out. But if the batsman is picking up a stationary ball to hand back to the fielder, or asking to replace a helmet, what advantage is he trying to gain? I don’t blame the umpires for upholding the Laws, but I’m uncomfortable with the fielding team appealing in those circumstances. I don’t really like stumping or running out a player who has left his crease to pat down a divot, even if the ball isn’t quite dead – again, because he’s not trying to gain an advantage. But in Jonny Bairstow’s case, he’d been trying to do the same to other batsmen, so he can’t expect too much sympathy: do unto others, and all that.

In general, it seems these kinds of dismissals are more common now. With the game more professionalised, a win-at-all-costs mentality has kicked in. Players are thinking about their careers, not the Spirit of the Game. It still matters. We just have to be clear about when it applies.

Very Rev. Dr Philip Plyming, Dean of Durham

As someone who was converted to cricket before coming to a living faith in Christ, I have always found the links between cricket and theology interesting. One thing that strikes me is that both traditions use the language of Law and Spirit. Cricket has its Laws, but it also has its Spirit. Yet events at Lord’s and Delhi have shown how the relationship between the two is under pressure.

Within Christian theology, the work of the Spirit is less concerned with what we are allowed to do (that is the job of the law) and more with how we do it. So, St Paul suggests that the Spirit produces fruit such as kindness, patience and, most relevantly here, I suggest, self-control. If the Laws of cricket address questions of what is allowed in the game, the Spirit of Cricket addresses questions of how the game is played. If self-control is part of this Spirit, it calls players to focus not simply on what is possible, but also on what is desirable. It invites players to think about the impact of their actions on the wider image of the game – and exercise self-control as a result. A real strength of cricket as a game is that it brings Law and Spirit together. It is to the benefit of all that we keep it so.

Jim Maxwell, Australian broadcaster

It’s instinctive, an act of kindness overriding the emotional impulse to get a wicket. At Trent Bridge in 1964, Wally Grout refused to run out Fred Titmus, who had slipped over after colliding with the bowler, Neil Hawke. Grout took the throw, but did not remove the bails. That’s the spirit of cricket. At Lord’s, Alex Carey acted within the Laws as a dopey Jonny Bairstow wandered off. Pat Cummins and his team-mates were adamant the dismissal was legal: nothing grey. Would a quicker-witted umpire have called “over” before the stumps were broken? It is a dismissal that pundits, and Carey too, will contemplate.

Alison Mitchell, English broadcaster

The Spirit of Cricket is readily invoked in the professional game when there is outrage at an umpiring decision – usually a dismissal – that is perceived as unfair. Fairness, however, means complying with the Laws of the game. I don’t believe there is room in the professional game to allow a batter a second chance for being dozy, or a bit unlucky. Players ought to know the Laws intimately, and how to stay within them. Note that the Laws are not perfect, however, and so it is the lawmakers who should be lobbied if there is discontent with their application. Umpires should not be chastised for correctly applying them, nor players for appealing for an allowable dismissal. Just because a dismissal is rare, such as running out the batter at the non-striker’s end, or the keeper throwing down the stumps when a batter has left their crease without waiting for the ball to become dead, does not mean that dismissal is unfair or against the Spirit of the Game. The Spirit of Cricket has to be accepted as defined by MCC: playing hard but fair, accepting the authority of the umpire, and keeping your cool even when things go against you.

Arjuna Ranatunga, former Sri Lanka captain

As a kid, I was told by my coach, Mr Lionel Mendis, that we have the Laws of cricket, yes, but beyond that there’s something called the Spirit of Cricket. As a grown man, I probably stepped out of line when I lost my cool, but what my coach told me lingers in my heart. It is important you have knowledgeable coaches who educate players on these values. That is lacking now. We should start educating coaches, too.

In one of my first games against India, I tried to get under the skin of Kapil Dev. That was my competitive nature. I wasn’t even 20. He didn’t get offended. Instead, he went to our board chairman and said: “I like this kid’s fighting spirit. Look after him. He will change Sri Lankan cricket.”

The timed-out incident with Angelo Mathews at the World Cup shows captains now will go to any extent to win, because the game has been heavily commercialised in the last 20 years. We all do stuff in the heat of the moment, but what is unacceptable is not showing any remorse. Captains are now waiting to give Bangladesh a taste of their own medicine. I have seen a few incidents at Under-19 level, and that’s not pleasing at all. Being competitive is fine, but you cannot ignore the values of the game. I don’t see the ICC taking any steps, when I believe they should be educating players.