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Can sportsmanship prevail?

Salute the spirit of Courtney Walsh but do not expect that from every player, writes Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2008 04:45 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

The Indian cricket caravan trooped out of the Australian capital early on Sunday morning, drove to Sydney before boarding a flight to Perth where the third Test gets underway on Wednesday. Apart from acclimatising and figuring out what the pitch would have to offer, the visitors have another worry.

Amid endless talk on how the umpires did them in Sydney and how unsporting the Aussies have been, they are also bothered by whether the three-Test ban on Harbhajan can be overturned. Under the circumstances, it’s a valid concern. It’s a question of refuting a school of thought that is trying to insist that the Indians are racist. Reams have been written on this, several hours of airtime consumed and all are saying how the gentleman’s game is losing its ‘gentleman’ tag at the hands of a bunch of unruly Australians. There is reason to indulge in such talk because Ponting has indeed led his team to doing things forbidden by the unwritten laws of the game. That’s why it seems the time is ripe to spare a thought or more on what these ‘laws’ or ‘spirit’ mean and how relevant they are in the age of die-hard professionalism.

To begin with, why should cricket be a game where sportsman’s spirit must prevail over everything else? At a time when there are innumerable cameras capturing the action from every possible angle for the third umpire to base his decision on, why should captains verbally agree that they would accept the fielder's word when it comes to unclear catches?

Can you imagine a football player falling in the rival penalty box without being touched by a defender and telling the referee that he shouldn’t award a penalty because he wasn’t brought down improperly?

The answer would be ‘no’ and that’s why it’s time to ask a few more questions. Why on earth must the Indians keep harping that they were victims of unsporting behaviour when they themselves benefited from wrong decisions? Did they call Ponting back after he was adjudged leg-before off an inside edge? And why must they agree to an absurd proposal that the fielder’s word would be final in case of confusion?

The umpires flopped big time in the second Test and it had a big impact on the outcome. Let us focus on that instead of talking about sportsman’s spirit. With huge amounts of money and a world of fame at stake, it’s asking for too much if you expect players to walk or recall the victim of a bad decision when there is technology available. You can salute when someone like Courtney Walsh refuses to run out Salim Jaffer for backing up too much at the cost of a World Cup semi-final berth, but you can’t demand that of every player.

If Ponting said that Michael Clarke took Sourav Ganguly’s catch cleanly in Sydney, you can criticise him, but not crucify him. He was within his right to do that because the match officials were present to ascertain the validity of his claim. They turned out to be incompetent and it’s strange that instead of castigating them, the Indian media and cricketers are going overboard about how boorish the Australians have been. Only a few pointed out that on Day V, eight of their batsmen were dismissed without a trace of controversy.

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