Withdrawal of appeal against Ian Bell (R) has reignited the debate whether to play within the rules or to go by the spirit of the game © Getty Images
Withdrawal of appeal against Ian Bell (R) has reignited the debate whether to play within the rules or to go by the spirit of the game © Getty Images


By Vincent Sunder


Was Mahendra Singh Dhoni right in withdrawing the successful appeal against Ian Bell which allowed the English batsman to walk out to bat again after tea?


If the social media can be a barometer to feel the pulse of the Indian cricket fans, then quite clearly the decision by Dhoni hasn’t gone down well.


Former players were also divided in their opinions. Ravi Shastri stated Bell would have been having tea in the dressing room, implying he should not have been recalled. Sourav Ganguly was firm that the right decision was made in allowing Bell to continue. Wasim Akram, initially favored the view that he should not have been called back, but changed his views on the post-game show after ‘carefully seeing reviews’. He was drawn to the Tendulkar run-out incident in the 1999 Asian Test Championship game at Calcutta when he captained Pakistan; he squirmed as he stated that the umpires had told him that the batsman was out as per law, and he simply accepted it, not quite realizing the hypocritical and contradictory view he was now supporting!


Rahul Dravid explained that it was a decision proposed by Dhoni to the entire team at the tea break, and accepted unanimously by the side. Bell explained that he was naïve not to have realized the ball was still in play; he stated he was heading for the break after completing the third run.


The debate whether one should be playing within the rules or to go by the spirit of the game will continue raging for a while. We live in times where we need external help to rule on decisions made by umpires, rather than play the game in the old fashioned, ‘gentlemanly’ way. If the game were to be played in the spirit of the game, and give the rules a back seat, it will only create confusion since not all are quite gentlemen playing the “gentleman’s game”. There was nothing gentlemanly when Harbhajan Singh was given out lbw after a huge edge onto his pad. Right?


Gundappa Viswanath recalled Bob Taylor in the 1980 Golden Jubilee Test at Wankhede. The recall proved costly for India. England who would have been 85 for six at that stage went on to 229 before they lost the next wicket.


VVS Laxman was simply shouldering arms to a wide delivery from Shivnaraine Chanderpaul when his foot momentarily went up after the ball had passed into the wicket-keeper’s glove – he was out stumped and well within the rule book, sportsmanship be damned.


Viswanath’s gesture didn’t make anything to change the way the game was played, and the gesture to recall Bell is not going to make any change in the manner in which the game is going to be played in future.


Belonging to the old school, while one was happy with the Bell recall, from a larger perspective India did a huge disservice to themselves and their fans by allowing Bell to resume. These are hard-nosed battle days where no quarter is given or asked for, and you take the aid of technology when the onfield umpire’s decision is questioned. So, where does that leave the theory or argument for playing with a sense of sportsmanship?


(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play ‘gully’ cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well. Vincent gets his ‘high’ from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)