September 23, 2011

The spirit of cricket lives still

It's been a good week for the old-fashioned virtues

Sometimes, quite out of the blue, sport will throw up a tender moment, when hostility ceases and an opponent is acknowledged. Sadly these are rare, for more often you will see bowlers asking for a wicket they know they haven't earned, footballers asking for a throw-in for a ball they have kicked out, and players abusing each other in the mistaken belief that it makes them look macho.

But in Cardiff last week something else happened. Soon after the need for quick runs, and a clever ball from Graeme Swann, had ended his last innings in one-day cricket, Rahul Dravid found his hand vigorously shaken by each of the England players. Swann cut short a celebration to jog across to the man whose wicket he had just taken, fielders trooped in from the boundary rope, and Jonathan Trott provided a moment that will stay with me for a very long time.

As Dravid walked towards the pavilion, Trott wandered towards him and then took his cap off before shaking hands. With that simple gesture Trott elevated sport to another plane. He showed respect to an adversary on a field of play.

It is the best way to play sport. You try to get someone out, you try to hit him for a boundary, but you still find time to acknowledge greatness. In a series that had many memorable moments - more provided by the English than the Indians, it must be said - Trott produced another one.

A couple of years ago, in Johannesburg, when, too, he had been recalled to limited-overs cricket, Dravid spoke to me about why he plays cricket and how he measures success. Beyond everything else, he said, beyond numbers and wins, you see if you have respect in your dressing room. And in that of your opponent. Dravid has always had both, and in Cardiff it was there for us to see. We became spectators to a bond that exists even between opponents. If it was a movie, there would have been a soundtrack playing.

And then in Hyderabad I saw another. It didn't quite tug at the heart like the Dravid moment did, but it showed why there is another way to play the sport. Batting for the Kolkata Knight Riders, Jacques Kallis lofted a ball to midwicket, where the fielder stumbled in an attempt to take the catch. You couldn't tell straightaway if the catch had been taken, but even as the umpire asked for a replay, Kallis asked the fielder if the catch was clean, and when he heard "Yes", he walked off. It wasn't the first time he had trusted an opponent with his wicket, and as the replay came up I found myself wishing the catch was indeed clean. For there is no sadder sight than to see trust asked for and the request spurned.

In an ideal world everyone will play the game like Kallis did, life will become easier for the umpires, and youngsters making their way into sport will realise that using abuse and cheating is a rather lowly form of existence. But the desire to win tests not only your skill but your approach, and I greatly fear that Kallis will walk alone. The romantics will suggest a way out, will call for making an example of people who claim a catch when they haven't held it, but romantics tend to write books. Honesty and sport have long been estranged.

But commitment and success haven't. Australia showed it in Sri Lanka, where they battled hard and overcame the conditions and their opponents. A team seemingly in decline returned to their DNA and, though without the match-winners of yore, played tough, combative cricket.

And Somerset showed it in the early rounds of the Champions League. Like with Australia, they were defined by who they didn't have rather than who they did, but they showed what spirit and resilience can achieve. A third-choice wicketkeeper was Man of the Match, a little-known legspinner turned in a fine spell, and a batsman who wasn't threatening higher honours played a match-winning innings.

It doesn't always happen but it was a week that showcased the nice side of cricket.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on September 26, 2011, 11:42 GMT

    (Cont) The spirit of cricket captured a great moment in Dhoni's sporting gesture to reverse Ian Bell's run-out call - at Sachin's & Rahul's urging. Both teams stood tall by playing the Edgbaston Test, even while Birmingham & London were rioting. Just like when the English team agreed to resume its tour in Chennai in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Topping the match-winning 4 was Sachin's high moment to dedicate the bitter-sweet victory to his hometown victims. These class acts of reciprocity embody the Golden Rule of Sports: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. Interestingly, this universal Rule appeals to all world cultures & religions. Another gentleman who stood tall was the great Tiger Pataudi as he awaited his turn patiently (delayed by the sponsors) to present the Pataudi Trophy to the English team at the Oval. Sadly a month later he passed away. A true cricket legend: His legacy of sportsmanship & bold leadership will live on forever.

  • Jay on September 26, 2011, 11:30 GMT

    (Cont) Now on-field conduct has generally improved in international contests. Even the Aussies have curbed their "natural instincts" of sledging to play "hard but fair cricket." Maybe T20 has something to do with it, especially IPL. Good money apart, it's brought players from diverse nations/cultures together (incl. many Aussies) instilling camaraderie & cooperation. The Aussie-SL Test teams each had at least 5 decent IPL players, incl. the Man-of-the-Series: Michael Hussey: "Mr Cricket" is a popular CSK player, and possesses the same "old-fashioned virtues" as Kallis, Dravid & Tendulkar. The IPL culture is visibly unique: One sees "touchy-feely" gestures - high fives, chest bumps, head pats & hugs. "Soft" bonding vs. "Macho" sledging! Former foes Symonds & Harbhajan play (amid hugs) on the same MI team. Sharing the same dressing-room fosters positive relationships that rub off when players face off in international contests. It's healthy competition, not "combative cricket." (TBC)

  • Jay on September 26, 2011, 11:21 GMT

    Harsha -- You were doing OK with the "spirit of cricket" topic - until you strayed off into "commitment and success." The Australia in Sri Lanka story is incomplete. Yes, they play hard cricket but often use questionable tactics. Steve Waugh boasted of "mental disintegration": Using sledging as a tactic to abuse, intimidate & beat the opposition. Call it "sledging and success": Ponting escalated it with his own quirky confrontational behaviour (vs. umpires too). Funny you should mention "a team seemingly in decline returned to their DNA." Paul Marsh (head of Australian Cricketers' Assoc.) admitted the team's form has deteriorated because of players' fear of public & official backlash against sledging. The warning actually came from CA to "change on-field behaviour" after the infamous SCG Test. Your "match-winners of yore" were some of the worst offenders - eg, McGrath, Warne, Hayden & Symonds. Once the competitive advantage was lost, Australia became a victim of its own success. (TBC)

  • sudeep on September 26, 2011, 7:15 GMT

    trott's gesture was a classic .... i saw it the first time.... awesome to see such scenes... kallis's was another amazing example too ... good to see such players in the game ... \RESPECT/

  • Dummy4 on September 25, 2011, 19:29 GMT

    Loved reading it ... I too was touched by this moment and wished I could see more of such moments but I do see such kind respect for the players who have earned it ... Player like Steve Waugh, Sachin, Dravid, Murali, Kallis, Voucher, Kollingwood etc have earned this position ....

  • Sri on September 25, 2011, 18:17 GMT

    I really like the way harsha explains and makes a common spectator realize how great such moments are...i have always been a fan of harsha's commentary and his writings.Very beautiful piece.

  • Milind on September 25, 2011, 16:04 GMT

    We need more Trotts, Dravids and Kaliises in the game today. After all, cricket is just another sport, as long as the players realise that.

  • Dummy4 on September 25, 2011, 15:47 GMT

    Excellent article. A real feel-good story.

  • shanib on September 25, 2011, 15:01 GMT

    U are absolutely right Harsha..... Every young players watching out there should understand the respect that should given to the opponents.. Trott did a very small gesture,, according to u harsha trott elevated the game to other plane which will remain in our hearts for ever.. A very well deserved honor given to the great man..!! And the Kallis incident as well, was a great example of spirit of the game.. Very nice to read ur articles Harsha.. U picked it up very well...!!!!

  • Dummy4 on September 25, 2011, 10:49 GMT

    Trott proved CRICKET IS A GENTLEMAN'S GAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

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