Controversy mars classic

4 04 2007

Today’s ICC World Cup Super Eight match between England and Sri Lanka was a classic encounter, the first of the tournament, and just what the tournament needed. It had all the drama you’d want from a big match-up, with all results being possible right up until the final ball. And yet for me the result was tainted by controversy. England were fortunate that Bopara and Nixon put on such a fine stand to put them into contention. Nixon has now twice formed vital partnerships in this tournament with young players lower down the order, first Plunkett and now the 21-year-old Ravi Bopara, playing only his fifth ever ODI. However Bopara scoring his maiden ODI half-century, in a high-pressure situation, with so little experience behind him, earnt hero status. Unfortunately for him he was robbed of the ultimate status by a sly piece of underhanded tactics, which I feel must surely emanate from the Australian coach of Sri Lanka, Tom Moody.

It was an act so cynical that it was entirely out of character for a country like Sri Lanka, and entirely in character for an Australian who grew up in a cricketing environment that encouraged cynicism, a win-at-all-costs approach to the game. Dilhara Fernando ran up to bowl what should have been the final ball of the match, with three runs still needed off it, knowing a dot ball or a wicket was exactly what was required, but even a single was risky in case England managed to run it hard and turn it into two, thus tying the match. Having completed his action he simply clung onto the ball and failed to release it. Bowlers often stop during their run up, before going into their action, but I’ve never seen anyone complete the entire action and simply hold the ball.

Based on the action having been completed Bopara played a stroke at thin air, but this gave Fernando all the information he needed about what sort of shot Bopara was lining up (in that situation any player would have to have a pre-meditated shot planned in order to get the winning runs). Using this information Fernando was able to alter his eventual final ball, and got the wicket. It wasn’t cheating, by any means, and ultimately England can only blame themselves as their top order failed to perform yet again (Strauss must be wondering what he has to do to take Joyce’s position, and Vaughan no longer justifies his place in the side, no matter how good a captain he is), but it left a nasty taste in my mouth and spoiled what should have been a classic. Had Fernando got the wicket with the original ball, I would be praising a fantastic performance by him instead, but I’d rather look to Bopara, who at least played the game in the right spirit. What Fernando did was cynical, and at odds with the spirit of the game, if not its laws.


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