Tuesday, July 16, 2024

CLOSE-IN: The cricketing spirit evaporated many moons ago (IANS column)

The words of Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective come to mind – “Elementary My Dear Watson” – when one reviews the Jonny Bairstow stumping incident.

In a tight situation, especially, during a critical Ashes Test match, every cricketer on the ground is looking to get that one extra bit of advantage. The batter tries to stay on the wicket, whereas, the fielding side hopes to get one. The 10 modes of dismissal for a batsman are foremost on the mind of a fielding side.

Aspiring Cricketers right from their elementary days are taught to not fall victim to them. Bairstow, unfortunately, in a world of his own, forgot the basic rule, that the ball is not dead until the umpire says so. Strolling up to meet his non-striker captain at the other end with the ball in play was a folly that even a schoolboy cricketer would have avoided. The reason is, that school and club cricket is where one actually learns the importance of the rules of how one can get out. This is a growing-up process in cricket when one is still unaware of the rules and consequences that may arise by not adhering to them.

Jonny Bairstow knows he made an elementary error and quite rightly has kept quiet for others to debate the issue, rather than for him to get embroiled in it. The famous “Spirit of Cricket” and lack of “fair play” are some words that emerge from such incidents and “gamesmanship” from others, opposing it.

As an international Indian cricketer, I have been through many such incidents wherein opposition players and teams have tried every means in the book to try and get me out.

Yes, I have fallen victim to it on several occasions, annoyed at making myself vulnerable to the 10 commandments of getting out in cricket. I was once “run out” by a bowler as a non-striker for unintentionally being out of the batting crease. I remember when I was “timed out” for not coming to the wicket in the 2 minutes stipulated and for “hitting the ball twice”. The last was in anger in exchange for a verbal retort by the bowler. On all these occasions my team lost and I learned over time to be careful and not careless.

Cricket used to have that aura of being a gentleman’s game. One that was played hard but fair. This feeling, unfortunately, when assessed today, dates back to the initial days of Test cricket. Incidents of unfair play then were few and far between.

Douglas Jardine, the famous England captain in the Ashes series of 1932 in Australia, a gentleman by all accounts, was the first one to put a spoke on the spirit of the game.

In trying to stop the Australian run-machine, Sir Don Bradman, and to win the Ashes series utilized the famous “Bodyline tactics” to demolish Australia. He did not break the rules of cricket then, however, he destroyed the very essence of the game.

In today’s parlance, his tactics would have been the case study of success for several of the top business schools around the world. Jardine undertook many hours of research to plan and implement his winning ways and although it proved successful, his fellow gentlemen and members of the MCC disapproved of it quite vehemently.

The irony is that 91 years later at the famous Long Room at the Lord’s, the very members who talked and upheld the spirit of the game, booed and made ugly remarks of cheating when the Australian team came back to the pavilion victoriously.

The Long Room for a visiting cricketer playing at Lord’s is like walking through history when one is going out to bat or field. There is an aura that engulfs one. It gives one a halo-like experience and evokes thoughts that take one back to the legends who have walked through it, earlier. The Mecca of cricket is how Lord’s is identified and quite rightly so, being the centre point of all cricketing matters in the past.

The boisterous and uncanny behaviour of its members has truly tarnished the very ingredients of what it stood for. A behaviour that one disapproved of from the spectators at the cheaper stands has now entrenched itself amongst the so-called elite members as well.

Personally, as a former cricketer, the onus of playing fair lies in the actions of a cricketer. Winning is important, however, how one achieves it, is even more important. The rules are there for one to follow and sense should prevail when one applies it.

One marvel at Courtney Walsh not running out Saleem Jaffar in a crucial World Cup match in 1987.

Cricket has had umpteen number of such heartwarming and wonderful gestures as well in the years gone by. The famous line that comes to one’s mind is, “Playing is not about winning and losing but how you play the game”.

The Australians may feel that they have done nothing wrong in getting Jonny Bairstow out and quite rightly so. However, subconsciously they know it was not in the right spirit to do so.

The spirit of the game of cricket, however, had evaporated many moons ago, and one wonders whether it will ever come back.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)

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