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