August 24, 2014

The joy of seeing a sledger receive his comeuppance

It's deeply satisfying to see a known potty mouth, especially one who has wound up your team, be defeated on the field - though it doesn't always work out that way

Indian fans had to suffer the ignominy of a series defeat and the tremendous success of enemy No. 1 James Anderson © Getty Images

As Jimmy Anderson turned at the top of his bowling run-up to steam in to Ravi Jadeja during India's first innings in Manchester, a familiar, and sickening, sense of despair enveloped me.

Anderson had taken the previous three balls away from Jadeja and everyone - as the commentators on Sky intoned - sensed the next would straighten into him. I also knew it was very likely Jadeja would play all around it and get bowled or be caught plumb in front, as had happened in the previous Test. Like a replay of a horror-movie sequence, that's exactly what happened and Jadeja became the fourth Indian batsman to be out for a duck (two more of which were to come). India were duly hammered by an innings defeat in under three days.

Anderson sneered as Jadeja - looking down and away - walked past him to the pavilion.

Everyone, of course, knows the back story to this encounter that made it of more than ordinary import: allegations of pushing and shoving, of verbal altercations, of Level 3 complaints and possible bans, lawyers and judgements, and all the rest of it. Anderson has got under the skin of his opponents on the field, including the normally stoic MS Dhoni, and of millions of Indian cricket fans off it, all of whom would have loved nothing more than to see him shrivel in defeat. Instead, he has taken wickets by the bucketful, notched the only 50-plus score of his entire career (Tests or first-class), and was a lock for Man of the Series. The more he succeeds, the greater our misery.

There is something deliciously satisfying about watching a known sledger get his comeuppance not through commissions of inquiry or even the perfect verbal riposte - but rather in the course of the game itself. Michael Clarke revealed the depths of pent-up Aussie anger against Anderson for all his chatter over the previous two Ashes series - both won handily by the English, with Anderson being a major reason for the victories - when he threatened Anderson with a broken arm for whingeing to an umpire. And in Mitchell Johnson, Clarke had an enforcer ready and able to deliver on the threat. But the real moment of satisfaction for the Aussies, and one that Anderson will cringe to remember, was his final over in the decisive Perth Test (England's last chance to avert losing the Ashes) that went 4, 6, 2, 4, 6, 6 - 28 runs hit off it by journeyman George Bailey and into the books for most runs conceded in an over. Anderson's figures of 105 runs from19 overs for no wickets in that innings are there for all to see.

The only satisfaction would have been if Anderson went wicketless in every innings while being carted for hundreds of runs, had been dismissed cheaply each time he got to the crease, and, of course, if India had won the series

Glenn McGrath, another great exponent of the moving ball and the mobile lip, got into an infamous altercation with Ramnaresh Sarwan during the fourth Test for the Frank Worrell Trophy back in 2003 in Antigua. Sarwan won that encounter verbally (with a comment that cannot be repeated on a G-rated website such as this one) but what ensures its longevity is that his century helped West Indies overhaul the Aussies in a record-setting victory. Long after the memory of Sarwan's retort and his own meltdown has faded, McGrath will remember that he was part of a bowling attack that was unable to defend 417 runs in the fourth innings of a Test match.

Dennis Lillee has had his share of encounters - verbal and otherwise - with opponents. In the third Test against India in Melbourne back in 1981, he won an lbw decision against Sunny Gavaskar, who had made 70 hard-fought runs. When the latter lingered at the crease indicating he had got an inside edge onto the ball, Lillee's comments ordering him on his way so enraged Sunny that he dragged his partner, Chetan Chauhan, off with him. Had the Indian manager not intervened to make sure Chauhan did not leave the field, India might have ended up conceding the match. Sunny's pique and Lillee's antics set the stage for a visceral encounter of epic proportions. Needing just 143 to win in the fourth innings and India minus a bowler (Shivlal Yadav having pulled up short) it looked like the Aussies would wrap up the series 2-0.

A stunning 5 for 28 from Kapil Dev, with tremendous support from Dilip Doshi and Karsan Ghavri, triggered a collapse and Australia were bowled out for 83. Lillee himself, no mug with the bat, was clean-bowled by Kapil for just 4. Of his Test victories as captain, I doubt Sunny will remember any with a greater sense of satisfaction. And for Indian fans, a rare overseas victory (in Melbourne, no less) came with the added pleasure of having tied the series and proven a point to Lillee.

As I examine my feelings about all this, I am struck by the importance of the visceral register in sporting encounters. For an Indian cricket fan, even assuming Anderson had been guilty of all that he had been charged with, justice would have been ill-served by getting him banned for a couple of Tests. In fact, if anything, it would have detracted from anything positive the Indians accomplished. The only satisfaction would have been if Anderson went wicketless in every innings while being carted for hundreds of runs, had been dismissed cheaply each time he got to the crease, and, of course, if India had won the series. If, for good measure, India's fast bowlers had dinged his helmet a couple of times and given him a bruise or three, so much the better.

For the English fan, on the other hand, Anderson's exoneration off the field hardly compares to the incredible vindication on it: he out-thought and outplayed the Indians at every turn, and looked lethal every time he ran in to bowl. Whatever the merits of the complaint that Dhoni and the Indians brought against him, Anderson's riposte was awesome. Ironically, for someone known for his verbiage, he let his game do all the talking.

Indians will remember the series with pain, not merely because of the one-sided scorecards but more so because they never managed to wipe that smirk off Anderson's face. As India continue their gyre into the abyss, the defeats hurt fans where it matters most - in the viscera.

Sankaran Krishna is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu