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Aussies did not display spirit of game. Indians showed no spirit at all.
by Suresh Menon
Jan 07, 2008
By Suresh Menon - Dreamcricket Special Columnist

Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game, that’s all I can say”. Anil Kumble’s summing up of the Sydney Test echoed the words of Bill Woodfull, the Australian captain in the Bodyline series seven decades ago.

"“There are two teams out there,” Woodfull said in one of cricket’s most famous quotes, “One is trying to play cricket, the other is not.” Kumble chose to direct his ire at the opposition probably because he can be pulled up for speaking the truth about umpires.

Perhaps he also realised that while the umpiring swung between the incompetent and the biased, the Australians showed themselves to be a bunch of confidence tricksters, working on new ways to fool authority. To stand your ground when you know you are out is accepted these days. Ricky Ponting did so, Andrew Symonds did so, Michael Clark did so (although umpire Bucknor finally gave him out). The runs these men scored in their third and fourth innings made the difference in the end. Not walking is no longer a moral issue, merely a practical one.

But claiming a catch when you have turfed the ball (Ponting, off Dhoni) or appealing when you know the batsman hasn’t touched the ball (Adam Gilchrist, off Rahul Dravid) is beyond sharp practice.

Symonds had the effrontery to boast that he had nicked Ishant Sharma to Dhoni at 31. The umpire helped him make another 131 runs. India lost by 122. You do the math.

Ponting stood out. Not given out caught behind, 38 runs later he got the one decision that went against the home team. The Dhoni catch was disallowed, but Ponting will point to the catch he himself denied having made off Dravid in the first innings. A noble gesture? Or the arrogant gesture of a man who knows that the batsman is struggling and would be no threat? This is rather like ‘walkers’ (Gary Sobers, Colin Cowdrey) who stay put at crucial times hoping their reputation will allow them to fool the umpire. Just as you cannot be a little pregnant, you cannot be a little upright. Integrity is indivisible.

Still, the real culprits were the umpires. Over the years, Steve Bucknor has given so many terrible decisions against India that when he occasionally gets it right, fans party. If you thought that he has a hearing problem, he confirmed in Sydney that his sight isn’t so hot either. Then there is the attitude, first revealed in Johannesburg 15 years ago when he reprieved Jonty Rhodes, run out at 28 by at least a foot, by refusing to go to the third umpire. Rhodes made 91 and South Africa were saved.

“Why didn’t you ask the third umpire?” I asked him then.“Because I had no doubt in my mind,” he answered. Clearly nothing has changed. Mediocrity and arrogance make a deadly combination.

Having said all that, the crucial question remains: Why could India not bat two sessions on the final day? True, two decisions went against them. But what did the other nine batsmen do? Wasim Jaffar’s airy half-drive, Tendulkar’s by-now familiar under-edging to the stumps, Dhoni’s decision to pad up outside the off stump, Yuvraj’s attempt at doing something or the other which ended in an edge to the keeper, Laxman’s falling for the old three-card trick (two deliveries moving away, one darting back in) - how do you account for these mistakes? Poor judgement? Bad technique? Lack of conviction?

You only had to watch Kumble batting at number 8 for 111 deliveries to realize how awful the top order had been. He had heart - and in cricket, that is more important than a beautiful straight drive or a perfect square cut.

Australia may not have displayed the spirit of the game, but sadly for the hardworking captain, the Indian batsmen did not display spirit in the second innings. And that, in the long run, is a more serious problem.

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