Will we ever get the likes of Sir Garfield Sobers and GR Viswanath again? Garry Sobers not only indicated more than once to umpires that he had caught the ball on the bounce but also declared his innings closed once in a Test match in spite of having two of his main bowlers injured and left a challenging target for England to get, all Garry wanted was to enliven a dead series.
GR Viswanath recalled Bob Taylor when he was given out by the unpire. Vishy, who was at first slip, immediately realised that Bob's bat had brushed the pads, which had misled the umpire into giving him out caught behind. Vishy walked up to the umpire and politely withdrew the appeal. The match was delicately poised then and the subsequent partnership between Ian Botham and Bob Taylor took England to a winning position. India lost the Test, but Vishy is remembered for that.
Today, thanks to the win-at-all-costs theory, appeals are made even though the fielders know that the batsman is not out. There is the other side, of course, where a batsman knows he is out but stays put and rubs some other part of his body if it's an appeal for a catch or shows his bat if there's an appeal for lbw. With the game being marketed aggressively by TV, the rewards have become high, and rightly so, but it has to a great extent taken away from the Spirit of the Game, where bowlers applauded a good shot and batsmen acknowledged with a nod a good delivery from a bowler who beat them. While today, in order not to give any psychological advantage to the opposition, there's hardly any applause from the fielding side when a batsman reaches a fifty or a century.
It's hard to understand how applauding concedes any advantage to the batsman, but we see it increasingly where, barring the odd fielder, the others feign total ignorance of the batsman reaching a landmark.
This is in stark contrast to my first series in the West Indies, where one could sit with the greats like Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Lance Gibbs at the end of a day's play and ask them about batting and how to improve. They were more than happy to give good sound advice, even though it was to an opponent and could be used against them the next day to their team's detriment. Rohan Kanhai occasionally grunted his disapproval from first slip if I played a loose shot. It wasn't that these great cricketers did not want their team to win. It was just the fact that they had supreme confidence in their own ability and believed that helping an opponent only produced good cricket and was good for the game.
How about the England team under Norman Yardley raising three cheers for Don Bradman when he came out to play his last Test innings? Mind you, if the England players knew that such gestures brought tears to the great man's eyes and got him bowled for a duck, then they would have done it every innings!
Such a gesture is unthinkable today where the opponents hardly greet each other and if there's anything to say it's invariably not very pleasant. The thinking is that with the stakes being so high, any friendly overture takes away from the competitiveness of the player.
Now I have heard it being said that whenever there's been needle in a match, words have been exchanged. That may be true, but what was banter in days gone by - and which was enjoyed by everyone, including the recipient of it - today has degenerated to downright personal abuse, and which is why the Spirit of Cricket had to be written.
They say sledging has always been part of the game, but is that true? I am not so sure. I played more than one Test match for my country with and against bowlers who took hundreds of wickets and there was hardly a word uttered in anger on the field. Yes, towards the end of my career I did get referred to a couple of times by a part of the female anatomy and, more than anger, it saddened me to hear that. In fact, one of those instances led to the most regrettable incident of my career, when I almost forfeited a game by asking my fellow opener to walk off with me. I was given out lbw in spite of getting a thick inside edge to the ball and, though I showed my disappointment, I was going back to the pavilion and would have ended up like all disappointed batsmen do - by throwing my bat or screaming myself hoarse in the privacy of the dressing room. But as I had gone about fifteen or so yards towards the pavilion I heard the abuse which made me explode and take that stupid action of asking my partner to walk off with me. Fortunately, the manager of the team stopped my partner from crossing the boundary and so we didn't forfeit the game but went on to win it. That and another time later on are the only instances that I have come across sledging and it's simply distasteful.
Javed Miandad was another with a sharp sense of humour. In fact, he was one of those rare species of batsmen who talked to the bowlers. Remember, I said "talked" and not "talked back". He would do anything to get under the skin of the bowlers and work it to his advantage. In a Test match at Bangalore, he was batting against Dilip Doshi, who was one of the hardest bowlers to hit. Javed had tried everything - the drive, the cut, the sweep and even going down the pitch to the crafty left arm spinner - but he simply wasn't able to get him away. Suddenly, in the middle of a fresh over, Javed started asking Dilip his room number.
This went on every other ball and even when he was at the non-striker's end. After some time, Doshi, who was making a comeback to the side, and so was concentrating hard on his bowling, couldn't take it anymore and exasperatedly asked him why he wanted his room number - to which Javed replied "Because I want to hit you for a six in your room". Now those who have been to Bangalore - and know how far the hotel is from the ground - know what an impossibility it was. Yet it worked: Doshi, anticipating Javed to give him the rush down the wicket, bowled it short, and Javed gleefully pulled it to the boundary and added for good measure that he was bowling from the wrong end, else he would make good on his promise.
Nobody minds such banter: in fact, it adds to the stories of the game. But all this banter was always a small part of the game and happened may be a couple of the times during five days of cricket and not just every other over, as is happening today.
Today, though, there is a Code of Conduct, the verbal bouncers go on pretty much unchecked and, unless something is done quickly done about it, the good name of the game that we all know will be mud. Just look at any school games anywhere in the world and we will see bowlers having a go at the batsman. They see it on TV from their heroes and believe that it is a part of the game, and so indulge in it. Here it is crucial for the coaches to step in and tell them, while the kids are at an impressionable age, that this is wrong and cricket has been played for years without indulging in personal abuse. Maybe we should tell TV producers that, just like they don't show any of the streakers at the ground anymore, they should not show close-ups of players verbalising each other. With the cameras being so good it is easy to lip-read and kids can see that it is not the bible nor the koran nor the geeta which is being quoted on the field. The sad part is that very little is being done about it. If a player even so much as glares at the umpire or stays a micro-second longer at the crease after being given out, he is hauled up and in trouble. If there is protection for the umpire from the players, why not protection to players from abusive players?
They say there is so much money in the game and that is what makes players resort to these tactics to win at all costs and forget good manners - but there is more money in other sports like golf and tennis but, thanks to tough laws, one does not find mis-behaviour or bad language there. There is today simply no such things as a silence zone in the game, right down to the school encounter. If it had enhanced the game, then it would had been welcomed - but it hasn't and, even at the highest level, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The problem also is mainly due to the fact that those at the receiving end of the abuse feel that they will be called wimps if they report it to the umpires or the match referee. In fact, by not reporting it, they are accessories to the "crime", if one is allowed to call it that. Their favourite defence is "Let's what has happened on the field stay there" - even if it is wrong and bad for the image of the game. Imagine if a murderer were to say that since murder was committed in the house, he should be allowed to walk the streets free.
Lest I sound pessimistic, let me say that out of a possible 150 Test cricketers from ten Test-playing countries, there are perhaps not even fifteen who indulge in this verbal abuse and intimidation, but unfortunately most of these belong to a champion side and it makes others believe that it's the only way to play winning cricket. Did Bradman's all-conquering side of 1948 practise these tactics? I don't know, though I know for certain that Clive Lloyd's champions of the 1970s and 1980s never uttered a word on the field to an opponent. A glare and raised eye brow were enough to put the scare in to you!
Still, while there is life there is hope, and to see both the England and South African teams take the field on the first day of the Test last week sporting black armbands, to mourn the passing away of Jacques Kallis's father, is enough to show that there are people within the game who understand human emotions and who believe that sharing in a fellow player's grief does not take away anything from their competitiveness but does help to lessen the grief.