The names of two cricketers, England batsman Ian Bell and India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, were plastered all over the news last week after a moment of sportsmanship/weakness (depending on whether you were backing England or India). The edited highlights of the events can be seen here and doubtless hundreds of other places online.
In short, the last ball before the tea break, Bell’s batting partner Eoin Morgan hit a ball out towards the boundary rope, contact with which means 4 runs to England and the end of play for a 20 minute break. Praveen Kumar, one of the less unathletic Indian fielders, dived to stop the ball, got his hand to it, flicked it away from the rope hoping to prevent said 4 runs. The ball ricocheted onto his shin and Kumar’s momentum took him beyond the boundary rope. At this point, Bell and Morgan are completing a third run and Bell, seeing Kumar’s intervention, believes the ball reached the rope (as, it has to be pointed out, does Kumar himself). Bell turns to Morgan, says ‘4’ and starts walking off the pitch, the umpire gives the bowler his sweater back and it seems to everyone that it is tea time. Then the drama starts.
Missed the other “Reasons to love/hate sport” posts? Find them Here:
Kumar eventually gets up, throws the ball languidly back to his captain Dhoni, who, similarly without much haste or energy, passes it on to another Indian stood over the stumps in Bell’s now vacated end of the pitch, who breaks the wicket. After some discussion between the Indians, the umpires, and the 2 England players, who were stopped just before leaving the field once it became clear all was not well, Bell was adjudged run out- the ball did not go to the rope, therefore play was not over, Bell left his ground and the laws say that when the wicket is broken, the batsman is out.
Laws are one thing, etiquette another, in cricket especially, and the umpires were keenly aware of this and seemed to ask Dhoni several times something along the lines of “Are you really sure you want to appeal for this?” (if there is no appeal, the batsman cannot be given out). Clearly the answer was “Yes” and Bell was given out, to the absolute disgust of the majority of the crowd (i.e. the English supporters). The umpires and the Indian team walked off accompanied by many a shaken head and cold stare from the England team and boos from the crowd, and walked back on again after the break to much louder boos ringing around the stadium. The match, the series, relations between the two countries even, were on the brink of being irreparably soured. But no, wait, Ian Bell reemerges from the dressing, walks back out and continues his innings, after a last minute decision from the Indian captain to withdraw the appeal in the name of The Spirit of Cricket. Boos turn to cheers and applause, Dhoni is proclaimed by all to be a thoroughly decent chap after all and England dish out the hiding of their lives to India; everyone (except 1.2 billion Indians) is happy.
The story may not quite end there, rumours abound about how exactly the reprieve came about, how much the England captain and coach were involved and who in the Indian dressing room really instigated the reversal of the decision (the name featuring heavily in the whispers was Sachin Tendulkar, is there nothing he can’t do?). After all, if Dhoni is such a gentleman and respecter of the Spirit, why did he choose to make the appeal at all? Anyway, the right decision was made, and all is right with the world of cricket.
Why the ‘Reasons to hate sport’ subtitle? Simply, the reason that this story, and other similar gestures, like Andrew Strauss recalling Sri Lanka’s Angelo Matthews after he was run out following a perfectly accidental collision with an England bowler or Paolo Di Canio catching a cross when he noticed the opposing goalkeeper was on the floor injured, are so rare- 99.99% of the time, machismo and the almighty dollar mean that sportsmanship is squeezed out.