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Sportsmanship in full throttle at Perth
by Boria Majumdar
Jan 20, 2008
By Boria Majumdar - Dreamcricket Special Columnist

"If you want to be loved, be lovable”, was one of the many messages scribbled on a board at the Indian dressing room on 19th January 2008. On a day when the Indians scripted history and India wanted to win much more than the Australian determination to not lose, the message assumes increased significance. As we celebrate an amazing Indian triumph at the WACA and debate whether it is the best ever in the 76 years we have been playing Test cricket, it should also be remembered that Perth 2008 was a triumph for cricket as well after the shame inflicted on the game at Sydney. There were defining umpiring errors at Perth, but none have made the headlines the world over. No side has called for the sacking of umpires, Asad Rauf hasn’t been forced to return to Pakistan, bats weren’t hurled at the dressing room door after being declared out and grassed catches weren’t claimed forcing a captain to suggest that one team was playing in the spirit of the game.

Rather, we were witness to Australians Brett Lee and Adam Gilchirst spending time in the Indian dressing room after the victory congratulating Kumble and team and also shaking a leg with the Indians. In fact, when congratulated, Lee was quick to acknowledge that it was a conscious effort to restore the respect and gentlemanly quality associated with cricket. In fact, amidst all their celebration with the tri colour, it was delightful to see the Indians shaking hands with Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson, who, Kumble acknowledged had indeed shown the hard nosed fighting spirit associated with the Australian brand of cricket. Yet another defining moment of the match was Phil Jacques quickly pointing out to the umpire that Kumble’s catch had not been taken cleanly and hence the appeal wasn’t on. The absence of such honesty had almost resulted in a breakdown of cricketing relations between two cricketing powerhouses post Sydney.

Sportsmanship was also in full throttle among the fans. Despite near packed houses on almost all of the days, Perth did not witness a single brawl between rival fans. There weren’t chants of “You are a wanker”, as was common all day in and around Bay 13 at the MCG and no fist fights between rival fans, a regular feature on Drivers Avenue outside the SCG on match days. Rather, several Australian fans speaking to the Indian media made the point that the Indian victory was indeed a good advertisement for cricket. The victory is being perceived as a wake up call for Australian arrogance, to come to terms with the fact that their supremacy can indeed be challenged. While some did suggest that India did not become the best by winning just one Test, they were quick to acknowledge that the competitive spirit shown by this team has indeed added spice to the series.

Just as R P Singh bowled Shaun Tait making real that cardinal moment a billion and more were waiting for, the Indian media seated at the Bob Simpson suite had jumped up in delight. Rather than disrespecting them, a few locals came forward to click a few photos to make sure the moment was captured for posterity. The WACA management staff made similar gestures. They were more than game to open up the Indian dressing room in the evening and on the day after, allowing Indian scribes to click photos where history had been made hours earlier. Some went out of their way to ask the curator, Cameron Sutherland, to give a few pieces of the “hallowed WACA turf” to a cricket mad Indian, who had flown in from India to witness the Test match.

Finally, when the Indian media was handed over a bottle of champagne after the match by the Indian team management to savour the moment, the restraint exercised was a treat to see. In fact, Irfan Pathan who was asked to open the bottle repeatedly made the point that they had just won one Test match and were still down 1-2 in the series and there was no reason to blow the top after one win. Whatever little celebration happened, happened at the team hotel making the point that you don’t celebrate on the field in a manner that might be disrespectful for your opponents.

It is perhaps just to make the point that for much of the above show of sportsmanship credit should go to the Indian skipper Anil Kumble. For the Australians, as Gideon Haigh suggests, Anil Kumble was already the most respected among the Indian players along with Sachin. After his heroics on this tour and the way he has conducted himself and commandered his resources, Kumble is perhaps the most loved as well. The first Indian to have picked up 600 wickets, Kumble is an icon is every sense of the term. His way of dealing with crisis post Sydney, his measured aggression on the field, his calm and composed manner of it at moments of adversity, his ability to stand up for the sport when it really mattered makes him special-a favorite who continues to inspire and also to amaze.

With Perth having done both, spicing up the series and also restoring cricket its much deserved respect, the entire cricketing world will now look at Adelaide in anticipation of what should be a great contest on the field rather than off it.

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