No-balls and other recent unsporting misadventures

I’m not much of an athlete, but I know an unsporting gesture when it brandishes the finger in my face. And you may not have represented school, club, or country while playing the game, folks, but I’m sure you would recognize an unsporting g. when it rears its ugly head. One refers to the recent misadventure down Dambulla way, when a (shall we say over-zealous?) young bowler sent down a no-ball as his last delivery – ostensibly to prevent the batsman, who was on 99, from scoring his century (while, incidentally, winning the match for his mother country in the same stroke).

There was hardly a breathless hush in the close that night. After a shocking display of what is known in cricketing parlance as “chucking the game away”, the home side was clearly succeeding at losing what turned out to be a crucial match.

With a meagre aggregation of runs on the board, it was hardly likely, despite an early flutter of wickets, that the inevitable could be staved off. The danger-man in the opposing side had his innings well under control, and victory was all but in hand. So when the scores drew even, and the batsman had made a cavalier one-short-of-a-century, there was every expectation that the winning run would bring up his 100 as well. Until, that is, the aforesaid y. b. ran up to bowl what was eventually to be the last delivery of the match.

No ball

On his first attempt, he stopped short at the last minute and did not bowl the intended delivery. Fair enough – a bowler can change his mind for many reasons. He may not be ready to bowl, the batsman may not be ready to face the delivery, the umpire may have indicated that the ball was not to be bowled yet for some perfectly valid reason.

Only a few cynical spectators at the grounds, or in the comfort of their homes, suspected the abovementioned y. b. of ulterior motives. When his ultimate effort yielded a no-ball – one that was so by dint of the bowler (a ‘mere’ spinner at that) overstepping his mark by a good foot and a half – the balloon went up.

A chorus of cat-calls could have ensued, but they didn’t. A battery of boos would have reverberated around the grounds at a more civilized venue, but not here.

The only reaction from anyone in the know was a sharp intake of breath from the commentators’ box. Unbeknownst to them, all, and sundry, there was much sad shaking of the head at home. For if this was not a gratuitous act of calculated un-sportsmanship, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!

Surprisingly, at the interviews following the awards ceremony, no one owned up that a misadventure had taken place. Not least the injured party himself, who seemingly graciously told the overly inquisitive interviewer that it was all par for the course: “Anyone in cricket today would have done the same thing,” he intimated, “because no one likes to have a century scored against them.” Later, he bemoaned bitterly his lost opportunity. Most surprising of all was the nonchalant response of the reputedly sportsmanlike skipper of the home side, who is usually such a knight in shining armour that many of his opponents have wondered whether he is for real. In the live interview, he downplayed the whole affair, denying any knowledge that an incident (as these things are often ominously called) had taken place. And later, he sprang to the indefensible defence of his young ward by maintaining that he was a shining example of ethical conduct at all times.

Previously, one of the more pompous of the commentators had dropped a brick by saying that the no-ball was a slight on the bowler as well as a slur against his captain. Ironically, the no-ball bowler proved to be a star bat as well, coming very low down the order, and carrying away a ‘most rocking player’ award for his unexpected prowess with the willow.

No fair

Now I know you may be divided on this issue, dears. And enough ink has been spilled in the interim to muddy the waters. So let me help you make up your mind by offering a purely hypothetical example to illustrate the ethics at play here.

Suppose there was a losing captain who had utilized a star player to his optimum to win the war – sorry, I mean game. Then later, when the battle was all but done, imagine that the star player turned against his erstwhile skipper and ran for the presidency – er, captaincy.

Now charges were brought against the player, serious ones that could ruin his career for ever. And if the skipper had the power to have those charges dropped (in a purely hypothetical sense you might even say, if the captain could opt not to ratify the findings of the final court-martial), what would you have these players do? In an ideal world, the sporting leader would have been celebrated internationally, even in the camps that viewed him with a jaded eye, if he had been magnanimous and dropped the whole thing.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, do we? Petty politics spoils a whole lot more than an ODI. It’s odious when the rot starts at the top. It’s just not cricket, dears. Even if it is a riveting game to watch – in which the home side always loses when its star players are the most unsportsmanlike…

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