Evening Standard

Sachin Tendulkar: India's cricketing God. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

Cricket has always been considered a highly moral game. To get decisions, players have to appeal to an official. Without that, the umpire will not do anything in certain situations such as leg-before-wicket or run-out. This is not so in other sports.

Indeed in football excessive appealing can get a player sent off. Cricket’s unique system works because both sides implicitly agree that there is a genuine moral basis to their appeal and the umpire is more like a judge in a court of appeal.

On the face of it, what happened in the First Test at Trent Bridge on Sunday was a great advertisement for cricket’s moral values. It was as if the Indian team have by their bedside that classic primer on sporting ethics: Tom Brown’s Schooldays. The Indians were well within the laws of the game to run out Ian Bell. He himself does not dispute that, except that poor Bell had only sauntered out of his crease thinking the game had come to an end for tea and was heading for a cuppa. After a plea by the England captain and coach, the Indians accepted that while they were technically correct, they had violated cricket’s moral code. They allowed Bell to resume.

The cricket authorities have been quick to hail the Indian decision as proof that, even in an age where sport is so corrupted, the cherished spirit of the game survives. Their eagerness is understandable. Less than a year ago, three Pakistani cricketers were so far removed from being moral guardians of the game that they were ready to accept money to bowl no-balls in a Test match. The three punished by the cricket authorities await their trial in the High Court.

However, it would be a mistake to read too much into this single Indian gesture. It was fascinating to see that it was the older players in the team who were in favour of the decision to let Bell resume his innings on Sunday. They are part of a generation that grew up in India just after independence and such moral gestures made them feel that even this new money-conscious India has not forgotten that it is the land of Mahatma Gandhi.

But this sentiment was not shared by many younger Indians who have made cricket their great religion with Sachin Tendulkar its god. They passionately want India to remain the top cricket nation and believe that sporting success comes not from moral goodness but from the old Australian desire to win at all costs. Yesterday’s crushing victory for England, with India’s batsmen showing little stomach for the fight, will have hurt them badly.

Indians living in this country see this series as a chance to showcase the new India – it’s not just a land of call centres but of sporting champions, particularly after India’s World Cup triumph. For them MS Dhoni acting as a sort of cricketing equivalent of Gandhi is seen as a sign of weakness, not strength. Indeed, some feel that wily old England has once again got one over India.

For many of these Indian supporters, victories on the cricket field matter more than moral success in the dressing room. So while the Indian gesture shows the spirit of the game is alive, by itself it will not redeem the game from its struggles against mammon and corruption.

Mihir Bose’s book about the spirit of sport will be published by Constable & Robinson in January


Share |
Categories: Cricket | No Comments »


Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact | Website development by Pedalo