It was an incident that overshadowed what was an accomplished and stylish century from a man who hasn’t always convinced the English supporters that he can make big runs when it really matters, but Ian Bell’s bizarre dismissal and re-emergence after tea on the third day of the second test against India provided an unfortunate talking point. And since everyone else has been talking about it, I thought I’d weigh in on the issue.
There’s no other sport quite like cricket. The ‘spirit of the game’ was upheld yesterday when India captain MS Dhoni withdrew his appeal – presumably a decision he was already coming to before England coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss knocked on his dressing room door. A lot of people make reference to cricket’s ‘spirit’ and old fashioned gentlemanly conduct, so I think it shouldn’t go unnoticed that, given the situation of the match, it was an incredibly bold gesture from Dhoni. I can’t think of many other sports where a captain and his team would make such a sacrifice to protect the game’s integrity while at the same time worsen their own chances of victory.
Of course, according to the rule book, Bell was out. I don’t think there is any argument about that. Even Bell has acknowledged that he was naïve in leaving his crease having presumed that the ball was dead. Since the umpires had not signalled a four or called time, the ball remained live and India were entitled to ask the question. In football we’d say he should have played to the whistle.
Dhoni has come in for some criticism for his original appeal, but in the heat of the moment, as I’m sure we all understand, you do what you have to do in order to win. Bell was trundling along nicely with a century already under his belt and the Indians would have felt the game – which, up until then, they had been in control of – slipping away. They would have been desperate for a wicket – especially Bell’s. No wonder they did what they did.
What seems unclear, however, is the role that Flower and Strauss played in the withdrawal of the appeal. Their approach sits uncomfortably with me – especially as Raul Dravid indicated in his end-of-day interview with Channel 5 that the Indian players were already unanimous in their decision to withdraw the appeal. It feels as though the England camp may have influenced the outcome. I wanted the Indian team to come to that decision themselves, not have us breathing down their necks and applying the sort of pressure that goes against this ‘spirit of the game’ we keep referring to. Of course, they probably did come to the decision themselves, but the involvement of Flower and Strauss only detracts from what was a great sporting gesture.
So was it the right decision, if we ignore the process by which it was reached? Yes. Ultimately – and I think this is worth highlighting – Bell was not going for a run or trying to gain any advantage whatsoever. He was in the wrong, but it was a completely innocent mistake. I’m sure he’ll learn from it.
The only other question that clouds the issue though is the one that asks whether Strauss would have done the same had the circumstances been reversed. Previous form suggests not.