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By Sunil Gavaskar
Some time back in the last decade of the last century two former England greats and captains upset at the manner in which international players were going at each other on the field and the reluctance of the umpires to step in and cut it out, decided to write what was till then a vague 'spirit of cricket'.
'The Spirit of Cricket' has always been invoked but has always been an ideal that was not found in writing in any books on the game. The MCC, the custodian of the laws of the game took the responsibility for getting it written down and after much debate and discussion it was put down in black and white and called 'The MCC Spirit of Cricket'. What it basically says is that the players will play hard but fair and have respect for each other. It is a well meaning thought but in modern day cricket and even with all the technology available it is far from followed as players do play hard and generally fair but with hardly much respect shown to each other. It could well be the competitiveness or the very same technology that makes the players do things that they would not usually contemplate.
The followers of the game also have their own expectations and versions of what constitutes fair play and to a great extent it depends on whether it is helping their team win or not. If the spirit of cricket was actually followed we wouldn’t see the frivolous appeals that the players make nowadays knowing fully well that the batsman is not out. The concerted appealing is done in order to put pressure on the umpire so that after some time he may actually succumb to it and give a decision even when the batsman is not out. The number of times the keeper and close in fielders go up for a ball that has not touched the bat is incredible to say the least. The number of times they appeal even when it is clear that ball will be missing the stumps also cannot be counted on the fingers of more than a few hands. It is here that a strong establishment with the good of the sport at heart can step in and ensure that the spirit of the game is not just followed in spirit but also in the letter in which it was put down.
Then there are the usual conceptions of what constitutes the breach of the spirit of cricket. A bowler running the non-striker out for backing up too far out of the crease is one such. The general view is that it is unsporting for the bowler to do so even if he has warned the non-striker earlier about leaving the crease before he has delivered the ball. The fact that by giving hismelf an additional two yards or so the non-striker is getting an unfair advantage in stealing a run is forgotten as the bowler gets pilloried for 'browning' the batsman off. For those born in the last decade and half, history tells us that the first time it happened in Test cricket was in Australia when India's Vinoo Mankad warned Australia's Bill Brown about leaving the crease but then removed the bails when Brown failed to listen and ran him out. Western media termed the dismissal unfair and named it 'Mankaded' when in fact it was Brown who was at fault and so it should be really termed 'Browned'. Recently when another fine left hand spinner from India Murali Kartik did it in a game in England it raised a storm and he was called all kinds of names and the County had to give a statement.
Wonder where all those calling Kartik unmentionable names and asking him to apologise were when England’s Jonathan Trott appealed for a catch when it was quite clear that the ball had slipped out of his grasp and fallen to the ground before he scooped it up again and appealed for a catch. The TV replays showed what had happened and the TV umpire quite rightly gave it not out but there was nary a word on the unfairness of the appeal by Trott. Trott then showed what he thinks of the fairness of the sport when in the final Test at Nagpur he gleefully hit a ball from Ravindra Jadeja that had slipped and had rolled along to a near stop at silly mid on. If that was not a breach of the spirit of cricket I don’t know what is. Trott got away because a lot of the English supporters also said 'well he is a South African, so what do you expect'? Well he may have been born in South Africa and played a lot of his junior cricket there, but he is now wearing the England cap and so he is English. Technically he was within his rights to do so just as Kartik and the bowlers are but if you call Kartik’s act unfair then how is hitting a ball that has slipped from the bowler’s hands a fair act?
The game of cricket has moved on and become a world sport but at a certain level there is still a tendency to believe that the sub-continent indulges in chicanery while the old powers do not and that my dear friends is not only a great misconception but is simply also 'not cricket'.
Happy New Year and hope you get to see some wonderful 'spirited' cricket in the months to come.