It’s probably the last thing on most people’s minds, but spare a thought for Suraj Randiv. The young offspinner, expected to follow in Muttiah Muralitharan’s giant boots, is a mere stripling in international cricket — with all of two Tests and 16 ODIs under his belt. And yet, he’s already made the most embarrassing and public mistake of what should be a long career.
Randiv’s act of bowling a no-ball, with the scores level and Virender Sehwag on 99, has inevitably stirred a hornet’s nest. But just how much of the outrage is justified?
Randiv, even if he deliberately overstepped to deny Sehwag the chance of reaching three figures, is well within the laws of the game. What has angered the usual suspects, however, was that Sri Lanka were not playing in the Spirit of Cricket.
The problem here is a straightforward one — different people interpret the spirit of the game differently. In the early 1990s the Marylebone Cricket Club, still responsible for the Laws of Cricket, asked two eminent English cricketers— Ted Dexter and Lord Colin Cowdrey — to draw up a code that would “remind players of their responsibility for ensuring that cricket is always played in a truly sportsmanlike manner”.
In 2000, these recommendations were codified, as a preamble to the Laws. The seven-point Spirit of Cricket is something the International Cricket Council tries to enforce, through its umpires and match referees, with varying success.
Just as in life, where you and I obey laws rather selectively — who among us has not driven 10 km above the speed limit, or perhaps after a few drinks at an impromptu celebration? Both of these are against the law, and we know it, but don’t pay heed, not merely because the punishments, if caught, are relatively mild, and because peer pressure does not even come to bear.
It’s as though it’s okay to break certain rules.
In cricket, it’s much the same. “When a batsman edges the ball to the keeper and does not walk, he is called a cheat. But bowlers and fielders appeal for dismissals knowing fully well they’ve not dismissed the batsman, and this is ok,” said a former India captain. “When you sledge, it’s ok to use all kinds of foul language, but if you say something about someone’s mother or wife, it becomes a crime. Who sets these rules?”
Like any other sport, cricket only mirrors society at large. To make Randiv, or the person who instructed him to bowl a no-ball, the villain of the piece is at best short-sighted and at worst opportunistic.
“The Spirit of the Game is a grey area and asks captains to make moral judgements that sometimes are contrary to the laws of the game,” says Mike Atherton, the former England captain. “It demands interpretation, which, in turn, renders it worthless. One man’s sledge is another man’s aside.”
Atherton also debunks the myth surrounding the phrase “it’s just not cricket”, which has come to mean someone doing something that’s not right and suggests that cricket is somehow unique. “Cricket has had its share of controversies, enough to know that any mention of ‘unique’ appeal is utter rubbish. Match-fixing, sledging, racism, cheating — it is all there,” says Atherton.
Closer home and specific to the latest controversy, Ajay Jadeja has a practical view. “Sehwag would have done the same thing if he was bowling,” says Jadeja. “This is very
common in cricket.”
The other fact that is being glossed quite conveniently over is that incidents of this kind have happened as long as cricket has been played (see box).
Chandu Borde, who played at a time when cricket happened at a much gentler pace, recounted his experience. “When Gary Sobers was batting against us on 199, we ran him out by bringing in the field. We could have allowed him to make a double ton but we did not,” said Borde. “The lines between fair and unfair play have blurred.”
When Randiv sought out Sehwag in his hotel room to apologise, soon after the game, the matter should have been buried, as it had been sorted out, player-to-player, man to man. But since then Sangakkara has had a word with coach Gary Kirsten, and Sri Lanka Cricket has apologised and ordered a probe into the issue.
What more can they possibly do?