Indian Cricket Fever
Spirit of Cricket? My Foot!
By Gaurang
August 2 2011

When Indian Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni recalled Ian Bell to continue his innings after he was run out, it was hailed as a victory for the Spirit of Cricket.  But what it was, pure and simple, was a bamboozling by the English Cricket establishment, including especially the English media, which immediately reacted with fury at the perfectly legal action taken by the Indian Captain. 

The way that the English Media, including several former players on air, with the notable exception of one or two, reacted was as if Dhoni had commited an act so unspeakable that he was Satan incarnate.  But if one had even a little bit of perspective, one would have realized that this was hardly such an act.  Back in 1974, in an eerily similar incident, then England Captain, Tony Grieg, ran out the West Indian Alvin Kallicharran when he was ambling off assuming that play had ended for the day, with the ball still live.  Grieg was criticized immediately, but he did not recall Kallicharran till the next day, after urgent overnight discussions indicated that if he didn't a volitile West Indies crowd may resort to violence against the English team.  The English media at the time, made it a point to lay a portion of the blame on Kalli himself, saying it was surprising that a Test player did not know the basic rules of the game.  What is conspicuous by its absence in the present case is a similar criticism of Ian Bell not just by the English media, which can be excused for being one-eyed, but also by the Indian media which as usual showed no knowledge or perspective.  

Nor was this the only such incident.  In 2005 the Pakistani captain Inzamam ul Haq was bemused and befuddled when he was declared run out after Steve Harmison threw viciously at the wickets, while Inzamam was already safely inside the crease.  In his desire to avoid being nailed by the hard throw, he then moved away from the line of the throw and in the process was caught on slow motion replay with his foot centimeters off the ground, though clearly behind the crease when the bails were dislodged.  This was clearly against the Spirit of the Game, but England did not recall him, and instead Inzamam soon became the butt of jokes.  Similarly in 2006 New Zealand ran out Muttiah Muralitharan who spontaneously left the crease to congratulate Kumar Sangakkara upon Sangakkara reaching his century.  Murali innocently thought the ball was dead, when it was not, and the Kiwis promptly appealed and broke a key partnership.  They were technically within the law, but it was not in the right spirit.  So of course the ICC promptly named the Kiwi team as recepients of the ICC's Spirit of Cricket award.

This led Sunil Gavaskar to acidly remark, on air, that now that Dhoni had done what the Kiwis did, India should be in line to receive the ICC's 2011 Spirit of Cricket Award.  And ironically, after recalling Bell, India may actually receive that award and actually be deserving of it, though not in the sense Sunny intended.

But Gavaskar's view was clearly a small minority opinion in the commentary box, where even the notoriously fiesty Sourav Ganguly, pressed the Indian team to have a re-think.  The English press and on air pundits pontificate about how Cricket is a gentleman's game and the Umpires decision is final all the time.  Apparently that did not apply in this situation where the umpire had made the legally correct decision however. 

Thus, when the Indian team entered the ground after Tea, the Nottingham crowd fed by the home press over the break, about the injustice and even wickedness of the Indian Captain's actions, was intensely hostile, booing loudly, assuming that India had conspired to dismiss Bell.  But when the sheepish and dumb Bell re-appeared out of the pavilion the crowd's mood changed and they cheered wildly. 

The Indian team could have fed off the hostility of the crowd and lifted their game, in a one for all, all for one display of teamwork like they did after the Jellybean Incident in 2007.  Instead what followed was a session where the Indians looked like lambs to the slaughter, entering a bloody abattoir called Trent Bridge where gleeful butchers cheered every decapitation and disembowlment.  This was an amazing turnaround from the first day when England had entered the same ground after Tea on a dismal 124 for 8 looking right down the barrels of the Indian guns.

India still have a chance to hold on to their top ranking in Test cricket, if they can somehow turn the tide and win at least one of the remaining two Tests, while not losing either game.  But to do that they will have to dig deep and find some fire in the belly, some intense pride and belief, and some total bloody mindedness, that does not get swayed by the desire to be loved instead of feared, liked instead of respected, which says Spirit of Cricket?  My Foot!