Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains
—Spirit of Cricket: Preamble to the Laws
It was a peach. Pragyan Ojha landed a length ball on middle and leg, and Jonny Bairstow closed the face of his bat a trifle early. As was the case for the better part of the day, the ball went the other way. Reams have been written on Gautam Gambhir’s batting woes, but you are unlikely to find anyone question his reflexes at silly point. The ball rose awkwardly, but Gambhir recovered well to get his hands to it. However, he couldn’t seal the deal instantly. Here’s the operative part: the ball then hit the chest and went on to graze the helmet grille before landing in his palms for good.
The Indians were obviously jubilant, as was the nearly-packed Wankhede. The umpires called lunch and a forlorn but oblivious Bairstow made his way back to the hut with centurion Kevin Pietersen. The replay told the real story and Andy Flower requested the match referee to look into the matter. Roshan Mahanama couldn’t do much, but he did ask MS Dhoni to consider the opposition’s plea.
At Trent Bridge last year, Dhoni had turned from villain to hero in a matter of minutes. Remember the freak Ian Bell run-out? And how Andrew Strauss & Co stood on the balcony and applauded the Indians when the batsman was recalled? This time, though, Dhoni stood his ground. He turned down England’s request and it was Samit Patel who walked out with KP after lunch.
The law clearly states that, “...it is not a fair catch if the ball has previously touched a protective helmet worn by a fielder. The ball will then remain in play.” But who’s to blame here? Not Dhoni, of course. It was the umpire’s –– Tony Hill in this case –job to spot it.
The ‘Spirit of the Game’ is as abused a term as ‘Spirit of Mumbai’. “I think Dhoni was right,” said retired international umpire Pilloo Reporter. “The moment the helmet comes into the picture, it’s not out. But it’s the umpire’s job to spot that. The opposition can recall a batsman as long as he’s on the field of play. In this case, the umpires called lunch.”
Gambhir, on his part, said he wasn’t aware of the rule. “I haven’t spoken to Dhoni about it. It happened so quickly. I personally felt that once the ball hits your body and then the helmet, it’s out. It’s only later that I got to know (I was wrong).”