The Spirit of Cricket – alive & well…

1 08 2011

The damp squib of a Test series against Sri Lanka seems a dim and distant memory – a low-key, disjointed affair, a somewhat disappointing appetizer, if truth be told, compared with the absolutely compelling main course currently being served up by England and India.

The landmark 2000th Test Match at Lord’s, the 100th between the two countries, kick started the summer. The sun shone, at long last, illuminating a compelling sporting spectacle, highlighted by dazzling individual performances on both sides.

For the hosts there was KP’s 1st innings double century (positively circumspect by his standards), a swash buckling 2nd innings ton from Matty Prior (arguably the best keeper/batsman in the World), to go with his 71 in the 1st, five 2nd innings wicket for Jimmy Anderson and a top quality all-round performance from come-back kid Stuart Broad (7 match wickets & a sparkling 74* in the 2nd innings)       

From India we saw an immaculately constructed 1st innings century from Rahul ‘the Wall’ Dravid, his first at Lord’s, while medium pacer Praveen Kumar’s 1st innings 5 wicket haul gained him a place on the honours board.  

But there was to be no 100th international century for ‘the Little Master’, Sachin Tendulkar, who amazingly, in all his innings at cricket headquarters, has a highest score of just 37!  

England duly claimed a well-earned victory, in front of a packed final day crowd to take a one nil lead, in a series they need to win by a margin of two if they are to usurp their visitors as the World’s top Test team.

Just four days later it was up to Nottingham for Test 2001 at Trent Bridge, the 3rd oldest Test ground in the World and, with the possible exception of Lord’s, England’s most handsome. I am of course extremely biased.            

India, often slow starters in a series, surely wouldn’t be rolled over for the second time in a week and for Sachin, with such a good record at Trent Bridge (469 in 6 innings with a top score of 177), that 100th century surely wasn’t far away.

Trent Bridge is renowned as being bowler friendly when overcast conditions allow the ball to swing. It was therefore a good toss for India to win and invite England to bat, on a wicket with a greenish tint, under a cloud covered sky.

I took my seat in the upper tier of the splendid Radcliffe Rd Stand and watched on as England were  dismissed for a below par 221, which could have been far worse had it not been for a stirring counter attack from the local heroes, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, who plundered 75 runs for the 9th wicket.   

Although England struck back immediately, Jimmy Anderson dismissing opener Mukund with the first ball of the India innings, KP clinging on as the ball was scythed to him at gully, any kind of winning position still seemed a long way off.

It is now the last session of day 4 as I’m typing this, in between the regular clatter of falling India wickets. England have stood this match on its head. India have been annihilated, bowled out in their 2nd innings, for 158 in 47.4 overs, 319 runs short of the improbably large target of 478 set by England.

How unlikely it all seemed, midway through the final session of day 2, with India 267-4 and seemingly cruising towards a handy 1st innings lead. Enter Nottinghamshire’s very own Stuart Broad for a most devastating spell of quick bowling – 5 wickets in 15 balls for 0 runs, including a hat trick (the 12th by an Englishman in Test history).

It was a classic illustration of how quickly circumstances can change and how fine the margins  are between success and failure in top class sport, both at team and individual level.

Stuart Broad couldn’t buy a wicket against Sri Lanka and his England place was seemingly under threat. But in two games against India he has taken 15 wickets, scored 182 runs and has just picked up the man of the match award at his home, Trent Bridge, ground.

However, all of this might have been overshadowed by a uniquely controversial incident on the stroke of Sunday tea time when Ian Bell was given ‘run-out’, having left his crease to head for the pavilion, mistakenly believing the final ball of the over had crossed the boundary rope for four and was therefore ‘dead’ , and the session over.

It was, by Bell’s own admission, a ‘naïve’ piece of cricket, or to put it bluntly, down right dozy! He had batted beautifully, in difficult conditions, stroking his way effortlessly to 137 and was clearly ready to put his feet up with a cheese sandwich and a cup of tea, but he should have waited for the umpires to call the end of session. It was an elementary schoolboy error on his part, and the Indians were perfectly within the laws of the game, once the ball (which had not touched the boundary) was returned, to take off the bails and appeal for a run out.

What ensued during a dramatic tea interval was a hasty approach from the England captain and coach to their Indian counterparts asking them to reconsider and withdraw their appeal.

That the Indian captain MS Dohni, with the full backing of his team, concurred, averted a potentially ugly situation, diffusing the ill feeling that would certainly have surrounded the remainder of this game and series, and potentially endured for years to come.

Great credit goes to MS Dohni, who is having a nightmare series as a captain and player, and an Indian team who were being put to the sword, and could justifiably have stood their ground, safe in the knowledge that they had acted totally within the laws of the game.

Bell added a further 22 runs, eventually departing for 159, but opinion between ex professionals, commentators and journalists, as to whether he should have been reinstated, remains mixed.

James Lawton, writing in ‘The Independent’, argued vehemently that Bell’s return to the crease was a case of the rule of law being trampled, in what he termed, ‘a burst of sentimental cricket illiteracy’. 

Others, such as TMS cricket correspondents ‘Aggers’ and ‘Blowers’ (but not ‘Sir’ Geoffrey, of course) were more happy to accept the Indian decision to uphold ‘the spirit of the game’.    

I’m whole heartedly with them on this one. What did happen could only happen in the game of cricket and that is what sets it apart from other sports.

There is a just over a week to draw breath before the 3rd Test, at Edgbaston. I’ll be there on day 1, part of a crowd that is bound to have a large, lively and expectant Indian contingent.

I was lucky enough to see Tendulkar score a majestic 122 at Birmingham, back in 1996, and part of me hopes, fifteen years on, that history might repeat itself and that I’ll be able to say, ‘I was there’,  when ‘the Little Master’ finally achieved that illusive hundredth hundred milestone.

Who said Test cricket was dead?  It is more alive than ever, in body and spirit!   

 

 

                                                      

 

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