OK, lots and lots have been written on the Ian Bell non-dismissal, and I guess I just have to weigh in. Among my most loyal readers I can probably count 2 or 3 avid cricket fans and the rest being mostly agnostic to that part of the world. So here’s a warning for you, in case the latter part of the previous sentence describes you – you can safely avoid reading further.
As for those who made it to this paragraph, in case you haven’t been following, this is what happened. So was he right or wrong?
My initial reaction was simply this – Bell was out and should have stayed out. If someone is stupid enough to give you a wicket, take it. Don’t ask questions. Yes, I’ve played all my cricket, whether tennis ball, rubber ball or the one season with leather balls that way. As for concepts like ‘spirit of cricket’ etc, which fall straight into the realms of tricky concepts like moral relativism, I believe in playing by the law book and playing fair. So no, I wouldn’t feign a misfield to induce an extra run for a runout. I wouldn’t stand in the way of a running batsman to get a runout. And, going by precedents, I wouldn’t bowl a last ball no-ball to deny someone on 99 a century. (And no, bowling wide to get a stumping when the batsman is advancing is not against any spirit. The batsman was just stupid enough to let me know he was advancing.)
If there is a ball to be bowled, bowl it fair and proper. If there’s a ball to be played, play it fair and proper, and when fielding field as if it’s the first ball of the match, no matter what the situation. As simple as that.
So coming back to the Bell dismissal, there were many things that were totally wrong about it.
1. Bell was out and he knew it. He was looking for an extra run and was getting waved back by his partner. He decided to continue for tea and got run out. He knew he was out. Everything after that was a put on act. Bell came out as a total hypocrite and I dare say it, a cheat, after that.
2. Strauss and Flower were wrong in going to the Indian dressing room. It was convenient that it was tea. What if it wasn’t? Also, what kind of captain and coach go begging for their batsman’s wicket? And where was Bell’s pride when that happened? Sorry, this was a tad like parents going to the captain asking to give their spoiled kid one more chance to get another shot. Also, I can understand Bell not seeing the point. But the captain and coach should have been the persons being objective about it and deciding that that was out. I am surprised there was no voice of reason in their dressing room.
3. Dhoni’s gesture, while truly laudable, was definitely not necessary. But once the captain and coach came to his doors, I believe there was really no choice for him. It’s one thing to make a controversial appeal and get a batsman out, and totally another thing to turn down a request from their captain and coach. Once they had refused to see reason and had come down to his doors, there was really not much maneuvering space for Dhoni. But it surely made him come out the better captain. And yes, his generally detached attitude to things, would have helped him a lot to analyze the situation objectively. After all, it’s just a game of cricket, and he was right in turning back the decision once they had turned up at his door. [Sorry, I don’t buy into the Sachin was the sole voice of reason thing. MSD is capable of making proper decisions himself.]
5. The crowd got played. They thought Bell had been wronged. It’s the same reaction that comes out when Sachin (famously) plonks down his bat and sits on his haunches making it look like the ball did not bounce at all and sneaked in at ankle length, when it was just a normal delivery he did not read. Crowds boo when they don’t like a player. India would not have been the first team to be booed nor the last had it happened. Ponting was booed during the whole of the 2009 Ashes. Arjuna and Murali met the same treatment in Australia back in the 90s. KP gets booed everytime he plays in SA. It’s part of the game. You can’t please every crowd you walk into. Close to tea, however, the crowd is just a (big) bunch of drunk no-gooders acting boorishly. And am sure with all that experience in that dressing room, India wouldn’t have made the decision just to placate such a crowd. They’d have seen enough back in India. Remember that Rahul Dravid was booed off by a 100000 strong crowd at the Eden Gardens when they had dropped Ganguly.
6. The Umpires. What were they thinking? Mukund removed the bails and appealed. They had to judge whether the appeal was legitimate or not, and if yes, was the batsman out or not. What was that about asking the captain thrice if he really wanted to appeal?!
So what about the implications. I don’t think it had any. India looked really jaded and would have been massacred by the next batsmen anyway. But the best part is that MSD came out all the better for a grand gesture which was totally unnecessary. Personally I had a decent amount of respect for Strauss and Flower. Am glad that Flower decided to stay with England. Him and Strauss are made for each other in their immaturity and lack of objective thinking.
And one last thing. For the life of me, I can’t understand how they managed to get Bell back in. Here’s law 27.8 from the cricketing law book.
8. Withdrawal of an appeal
The captain of the fielding side may withdraw an appeal only if he obtains the consent of the umpire within whose jurisdiction the appeal falls. He must do so before the outgoing batsman has left the field of play. If such consent is given, the umpire concerned shall, if applicable, revoke his decision and recall the batsman.
If I remember seeing properly, Bell went in, had a change of clothes, some sandwich and a cup of tea before padding up and getting back into the ground. So is the spirit of cricket greater than the laws of the game? That’s like having a separate religious law overruling the law of the land as laid down in the constitution. OK, let’s not go there…