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By Sunil Gavaskar
A couple of incidents over the last week or so has brought to the fore how, the winning at all costs mentality has changed the mindset of the players. Winning has always been paramount in the game and that is why one plays sport. However, while winning is what you want as a player when you know that you cannot win, then, in a Test match situation you try and see that you do not lose so that you can live to fight another day and so do better in the next game. In limited overs cricket the draw is not an option at all, and therefore, the focus is solely on winning. Players don’t entertain thoughts of losing and the nature of the limited overs game is such, that any team can beat the best of teams on a day and so go in with the belief that they can do it.
The first incident was when that feisty cricketer Dominic Cork bowled a short ball to Kieron Pollard, and the batsman’s attempted hook shot was so late, that the ball went between the open spaces in the grill of the helmet and hit him flush over the right eye. Pollard went down in a heap and Cork on his follow-through went up to see the damage he had caused. The blow closed Pollard's right eye instantly and it must have been a bad sight for Cork was clearly shaken by it and kept moving away and then going back to Pollard as he was being attended to by the physio and the doctor. Nobody likes to see a player get hurt in any sport and when an injury is around the head then there is more concern than if the player is hurt anywhere else. If anything, there is sometimes plenty of mirth and leg pulling if a player gets hurt amidships and that brings a smile on the faces of the spectators or TV viewers too. If a batsman gets hurt there, the bowler will go and have a bit of a wisecrack at his expense and the batsman despite being in pain that is hard to describe will grin back through his grimace.
That is why the discussion on TV by the commentators, whether Cork should go up to the batsman or just ignore him was interesting. There was an opinion being expressed that in today’s cricket not going up to the injured player is showing toughness. The debate was whether in the 'Tough New England,' should Cork have gone up to Pollard at all and check how serious the injury was… Cork of course, no longer plays for England and Pollard plays only the shorter format for West Indies and it was only a domestic tournament in England albeit the finals of the T20 tournament. There was thus no reflection on England’s toughness in this game, but that the TV pundits thought fit to talk about it was quite enlightening for the views that were expressed were not in favor of going up to the injured player.
That is hard to understand, even at the peak of their powers the West Indian pace battery were the first ones to an injured batsman, if he was hit by one of their deliveries and ask if he was ok. It was not a sarcastic question either, but one out of genuine concern. Nobody who played against the West Indies in those days felt that, because the quicks came up to see that the injury was not serious made them soft players. It is only a natural human reaction to check if a fellow human being is not seriously hurt. Not doing so, makes a person only callous not hard.
The second incident was the Suraj Randiv’s no ball, which was quite clearly a deliberate one to ensure that an opposition player did not get a century. Now modern teams are no different than old teams in their desire to ensure that, there are few landmarks registered against them, be it by opposition bowlers or batsmen. If Randiv had been a bit more experienced, he would have actually fancied getting Sehwag out again on 99 as he did in an earlier test match. In that test Sehwag went down the pitch was deceived by the straight through delivery and stumped by the proverbial mile. A more experienced Randiv would have known that after two dot balls, Sehwag would dance down the pitch come what may and have a go, and in doing so, there was every chance of him getting out in the same manner as he had in the Test match. Perhaps Dilshan's encouragement to bowl a no ball may have given him a way out, but it was one that actually got him out of the next game and also made him lighter in the pocket. The Lankan board was quick to take action and that is a good signal to the cricketing world, that there are still boards who wish to see that the spirit of the game is upheld. Sure in the hurly-burly of an intense game the spirit will get shaken badly and even bent a bit, and that is where the board has to come in and read the riot act to the offending player and take action against him, and not defend its players by suggesting, that international games are not tiddlywinks or some such throwaway comment like that and abdicate their responsibility with it.
It is true, that if a deliberate wide had been bowled down the leg side it may not have stirred such a big and sometimes angry debate about it, and also if Sehwag was on 80 or even past a century it would not have created the storm that it did. What it does show is that it is not just players themselves, but even those who cover the game who are also concerned with stats.
Two incidents that show the changing face of the game that we love. You tell me whether it is for the better or worse.