That was the question former England captain Mike Brearley attempted to answer at the 11th Sir Donald Bradman Oration on Wednesday night.
Brearley, who led England 18 times in Ashes Tests, spoke not of T20 cricket, technology or anti-corruption, instead focusing on the work he’s been doing as a psychoanalyst since retiring from cricket 30 years ago.
The oration, which lasted 40 minutes, ranged from the roots of sports to co-operation and competition, avoiding the contest and rivalry.
QUICK SINGLE: Full Oration transcript
It was the last point that resonated most with the audience, using the 1977 Centenary Test as a prime example of sportsmanship in the heat of battle.
"One such occurred in the last innings of the Centenary Test in 1977, when Derek Randall made his fantastic 174 and Dennis Lillee took 11 wickets in the match (the result of which was precisely the same as the result of the original match, 100 years before, a victory for Australia by 45 runs).
"At this point on the last day Randall was well past a century at this point, he may have got 150. England were something like 250-2. Lillee was tired and there was a serious possibilty of us winning against the odds.
"Greg, the captain, was bowling and the ball squeezed through Randall's bat and pad. Rod Marsh dived forward to get the ball and the batsman was given out. After getting up Rod indicated to Greg that the ball hadn't carried and Randall was called back."
Brearley also spoke of the iconic embrace between Andrew Flintoff and Brett Lee following the dramatic finish at Edgbaston in 2005, symbolising humility and grace in fierce competition.
The unique qualities of sport cannot fully be captured by pen and paper, pointed out by Brearley with the use of the Don’s words.
"As Bradman said about the Invincibles: ‘Nothing can alter the figures which will appear in black and white in the record books, but they cannot record the spirit which permeated the side, the courage and fighting qualities of the players, for these things cannot be measured. They were on a very high plane."
Brearley believes sport unites people in a special way, not just those who are in a team, but families, friends and fans too.
"Team games give people a sense of belonging and a proper pride.
"And this can happen not on the small scale of a single team, but on a national scale.
"Sport may be the one place where a country can come together with good feelings about itself.
"I think this has happened through cricket in Afghanistan, whose national team have worked their way up from Division 5 in the World Cricket League in 2008 to be world qualifiers for the World Cup, here and in New Zealand, in 2015.
"Imagine what this means to that poor country, devastated by wars, corruption and poverty."
QUICK SINGLE: Sir Donald Bradman Oration Timeline
So what is the point of sport and cricket?
"The institution of sport, with its challenges and opportunities, its companionship with team mates and opponents alike, offers a setting for activities that enrich life, that build character, and that help develop the complex balance between being an individual and being part of a group or team."