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HomeOpinionDiaryIs gentleman’s game, a cricketing oxymoron?

Is gentleman’s game, a cricketing oxymoron?

Though lucky to get away, Australian captain Steve Smith’s unacceptable cricketing behaviour with Decision Review System (DRS) is yet another episode denting the spirit of the game of cricket. Each ‘review’ is equivalent to a wicket.  Getting unfair edge means you are playing with an extra player. Handscomb’s “ignorance” or Smith’s “brain fade” holds no ground in any logical environment.  Whether it was an act of desperation or cheating, for Smith it is a ‘test’ of character. ICC better be more serious, else you are sending distress signals, not that I am suggesting that Indians are a bunch of puritans.

For too long cricket has boasted along merrily, carrying the weight of its own self-imposed, deceptive title – “gentleman’s game”.  But hardly does a year pass when the game is not embroiled in a major controversy or two. The day the Bodyline bowling was conceived just to stop Don Bradman from plundering runs, the spirit had taken a severe beating. No true sportsman talks about a batsman’s blood on the wicket. But Jeff Thomson did.

Cricket is cluttered with ugly incidents, on and off the field. Dennis Lillee vs Javed Miandad (1981-Perth), Mike Gatting vs. Shakoor Rana, the ‘dirt in the pocket’ affair at Lords, of all places, involving former England captain and today’s pundit Michael Artherton, the Monkey-gate row (Andrew Symonds vs. Harbhajan Singh), Kohli’s ‘Fingergate’ (Sydney)….

England key players reportedly urinated on the Oval pitch following England’s 3-0 Ashes triumph (2013), a shockingly uncivilised conduct, where other players used to kiss the earth after creating records. Indian all-rounder Vinoo Mankad, after the infamous 1947-48 ‘run-out’ incident, finds reference of his name in the cricket lexicon, ‘Mankad’ becoming both a verb and a noun.

Ills and evils

The integrity of the game is already blotted by various events like betting, bribery, match-fixing, spot-fixing, sledging, ball-tampering to the extent of crossing the line and making personal attacks, arguing with umpires, abusing and sometimes threatening the opponent players, and doping…. The ‘gentleman’s game’ has seen all such ills and evils in the last over 100 years, the ‘spirit’ worst affected in the 21st century due to the monster of money, that at times we doubt if some matches are fake encounters.

When you nick it, you wait for the umpire to give a decision. But when you nick it to first slip, you still wait. Stuart Broad nicked the ball and was caught by the Australian Michael Clarke, but not by the umpire. Broad didn’t walk off since the umpire did not see, but the rest of the world did. Murali Kartik in one of the IPL editions confessed that he edged the ball, but did not walk. Today, we have Third umpire, Technology, Match-referee, DRS….and what next?

The players you would have hated most would be the ones that you would most desperately want to see playing for your country, the likes of Miandad, Botham, Kohli. They got under the opposition’s skin with their air of overt aggression but they backed it up, time and again, with their exceptional skills. It may be gentleman’s game, but ultimately played by competitive attackers.

Of course, the sport is not without rare exceptions. In the 1987 World Cup, West Indies pacer Courtney Walsh simply refused to ‘Mankad” the tail-ender for backing too far at the non-striker’s end in a nerve-wracking quarter-final against Pakistan, though it cost them a berth in semi-finals.

Thanks to sporting icons like Walsh, G.R. Viswanath, Frank Worrel that cricket managed to hold its head high somehow. Worrel instructed Wes Hall not to bowl bouncers even when he was sending the last over of the Tied Test to Australia’s tail-ender in Brisbane in 1960, and was the first among those who donated blood to save the injured Indian captain- Nari Contractor- when the latter was felled down by a vicious Charlie Griffith beamer.

We would love to watch good cricket – Bat vs. Ball.  Asking a little too much?

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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