January 27, 2006

2006 - A Glove Story

By H Natarajan

How times have changed! Here is a man whose reputation remained unstained amid the cauldron of match-fixing charges in the team. Bearing testimony to his squeaky-clean reputation and national pride was the widely-held belief that bookmakers refused to accept odds till he was dismissed. Here was that man, not in the best of form, making a decision that stemmed from intrinsic honesty. It was thus blasphemous to hear crazed minds talk that the decision to walk was because of a pact with the bookies. I have not come across a more patriotic cricketer than Sachin Tendulkar and it’s sad that somebody could even entertain such a thought. I am saying this having known him since his school days and having followed international cricket for well over two decades as a cricket writer.

Tendulkar walked back to the pavilion in the first innings of the Faisalabad Test after a Shoaib Akhtar delivery brushed his right glove and to be caught by ’keeper Kamran Akmal. Tendulkar knew that the ball had brushed his glove and his conscience did not permit him to stay wait for the umpire’s decision. But when a guy is bowling at 150 mph, things happen in blur. It was impossible for the naked to see what the slow-mo cameras saw: Tendulkar’s glove was not in contact with his bat which meant he was not out.

I suspect the character assassination by the ignoramuses has more to do with the circumstances India found itself in after Tendulkar’s decision rather than the decision itself. Whatever be the reasons, it’s just not on to point fingers at a person who has served the nation with distinction.

The corruption of the public mind is because the scars of the match-fixing have not fully healed – and, probably, never will. If Gundappa Vishwanath’s gesture in recalling Bob Taylor in the 1979-80 Jubilee Test that cost India the match were to happen today, even Vishy would have been suspected of some shady dealings. Vishy, today’s younger generation must know, was the ultimate gentleman and a champion walker right through his career.

A walker is one who will walk under any circumstances – the decision is never selective. Vishy would have walked with his score on 199; against Pakistan in a do-or-die situation for his country or even if he was fighting to save his career. Whatever be the stakes, it was honesty first and everything later.

A batsman widely perceived as a walker, with passage of time, may gain credibility among the umpires. Though the law stipulates the benefit of the doubt be given to the batsman, closes decision that look loaded in favour of the bowler may go against them because the umpire may be influenced by the batsman’s reputation as a known walker.

A batsman who walks may rightfully feel cheated when he has been wrongly given out. Sometimes charitable acts like that displayed by Vishy may be misplaced. It’s a ruthless world best exemplified by Javagal Srinath’s show of compassion after he had hit Ricky Ponting with a bouncer. Ponting hit back by shooing an embarrassed Srinath with a volley of invectives.

Ponting lived up to the image of the “Ugly Australians” image that gained currency during Ian Chappell’s tenure as captain of his country. It’s simplistic to brand successive generation of Australians as “ugly”, but that would be unfair to somebody like Adam Gilchrist who single-handedly has done more to erase that image than any other Aussie.

In the semi-final against Sri Lanka in the 2003 World Cup, Gilchrist was declared not out by umpire Rudi Koertzen after the batsman had swept at a ball and that appeared to come off his pad or glove enroute to keeper Kumara Sangakkara. Replays gave the impression that the ball had come off his pads. But Gilchrist walked. Obviously, he believed the ball had brushed his glove. Gilchrist made a sporting gesture that will remain etched in memory like the one involving Courtney Walsh and Salim Jaffer in the 1987 World Cup. Captain Ponting, however, said later that he won’t be encouraging any of his batsmen to follow Gilchrist’s act.

The Aussies were more voluble and less sporting when the rest of the cricketing world relatively still played the game in the spirit it was meant to be played, but now that most teams played in a manner in which no quarter is asked and none given, a few of the Aussie have paradoxically become more sporting. Barry Richards, now settled in Australia, said in his playing days that the Aussie will walk only when their car runs out of gas, but guys like Gilchrist has done much to refurbish that image.

The down side to this obvious act of sportsmanship is that it may inadvertently make the umpire look incompetent. In places like India, Pakistan and Pakistan where decibel levels generated by cheering spectators and their musical instruments drown the sound of faint nicks, but few realise how difficult it is for the umpire to make a correct decision in such circumstances.

Today, with the benefit of having modern technological marvels like the all-pervasive cameras, super slow-mo, snick-o-meter we realise the Oscar-winning potential of some of the players while making a song and dance in a bid to hoodwink the umpire.

Many players believe that good and bad decisions even out in the long run, yet few take both decisions with the same equanimity. They feel blessed when they get a wrong in their favour but feel cheated when a decision that should be in their favour goes against them. They want to enjoy the best of both worlds.

In a world order that believes that winning is not everything but the only thing, all seems fair. Digeo Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal is a good example. This is why the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid and Gilchrist must be seen as endangered species. These gentlemen could go back home and inculcate values of honesty to their kids. Their children will listen because their fathers have been exemplary on that count in the public eye. But will those batsmen who are seen to cheat the umpire – as opposed to waiting for his verdict on close and doubtful situations – be able to tell their children to be honest with similar conviction? Even if they do, will the children heed to such advice? The issue of morals cannot be discounted because cricketers, especially in the sub continent, are huge role models for millions in their country.

Garry Sobers has more than once in his Test career recalled batsmen who were at the receiving end of poor umpiring decision. Sobers played the game in a fair manner. When was the last time a captain recalled a wronged batsman in recent times? Even if there were instances, such moments have been far and few in between. Juxtapose that against the many, many poor decisions that the captain could have remedied and you know how much the game has changed. Nobody wants to risk their places and money, even if it means doing something that they normally won’t.

Which is why now, more than any other time, help from technology has to be maxed to eliminate errors caused by human limitations.


At 4:51 pm, Blogger Pratik said...

It's surprising that the name Lara doesn't crop up once in this article. Anyway, are you suggesting that Tendulkar and Dravid are walkers? From what I've noticed, they wait for the umpire's decision even when they know they'd nicked a ball that was caught.

This whole issue that prompted this article was really silly though. And so were the rumors making the round. It's not worth anybody's time to defend ludicrous accusations of Tendulkar walking because he was afraid of Akhtar, much less Tendulkar or Dravid's.


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