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I came across a use of the word cricket today that was new to me. It was in an article written by an American author about his recent trip to Egypt and about the role of the U.S. in the current uprisings in Africa and the Middle East. Here's the quote:

In the 20th century, when Western economies began to run on gasoline, and the naked plunder of natural resources was no longer considered cricket, the great powers established a network of petty monarchs and "strongmen," local warlords they propped up, subverted or seduced—whatever it took to keep the oil flowing.

Crowther, Hal. "Arab Spring." The Independent March 2011

I looked it up and found this at Oxford Online:

not cricket

British informal a thing contrary to traditional standards of fairness or rectitude.

which I assume is the writer's meaning, but it just brought up more questions. He used it in the positive. Is this correct? Is this use of cricket related to the sport? Is it common?

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3  
I'd say "was no longer considered cricket" is negative –  Artem Apr 1 '11 at 2:27
    
@Artem: I meant the implication that it once was cricket, sorry. (See my comment under Robusto's answer.) –  Callithumpian Apr 1 '11 at 2:48
    
Well, if it can't be used in positive, then there is no implication that it ever was cricket - you have to use some other word to express that meaning in positive –  Artem Apr 1 '11 at 3:01
    
Note: This phrasing was used by Austin Powers in The Spy Who Shagged Me –  Jordaan Mylonas Apr 1 '11 at 4:20
    
Sticky wicket isn't cricket. –  oosterwal Apr 1 '11 at 5:20

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It’s not uncommon, in my (British) experience, and certainly doesn’t stand out as odd or archaic to me — at the very most, possibly slightly affected, depending on the rest of the writer’s style. The meaning would stay very similar in most cases, to my ear, if cricket were replaced with fair play:

In the 20th century, when […] the naked plunder of natural resources was no longer considered fair play […]

Here, I read it as deliberately contrasting the ideas of fair play, honour, and the like which had at some levels been very important to the gentleman of the 19th-century imperial powers, with their brutally arrogant “plunder of natural resources”.

It sounds somewhat less natural to me in a completely positive context:

?As long as you say something nice, taking candy from a baby is cricket.

but quite reasonable in a context, like yours, where there’s negation or doubt applied to it somehow, even if indirectly:

I’m not sure whether taking candy from a baby is ever quite cricket.

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The phrase "[something] was no longer considered cricket" means it was no longer accepted as it once had been. You could also say it was no longer kosher, tolerated, countenanced, and so on. I'm curious why you think it is used as a positive in this case; surely you saw the "no longer" in that sentence?

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I phrased it like that because he didn't use the actual phrase not cricket. Since I couldn't find any definition of cricket as "kosher, tolerated, etc." I thought maybe it was only used in the exact phrase not cricket. By writing "no longer cricket," he's implying it once was cricket. I'm wondering if the word is ever used in that way. –  Callithumpian Apr 1 '11 at 2:46
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Ah, I see. I've only ever heard it used in the negative construction. I figured it was one of those negative-only terms that don't have a positive, such as disgruntled (who has ever been gruntled?) –  Robusto Apr 1 '11 at 2:53
    
I was gruntled once... ...it made me very angry. –  oosterwal Apr 1 '11 at 5:24

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