The Indian captain has shown himself to be a great sporting figurehead for cricket and world sport
While England skittled India for a mere 158 at Trent Bridge to inflict a second huge defeat on their rivals in a compelling series, there was one particularly sad note when Indian captain MS Dhoni was trapped lbw first-ball not offering a shot to Tim Bresnan.
While it was magnificent to see the England bowling machine ruthlessly demolish the Indian batting line-up, no many would have begrudged Sachin Tendulkar hauling his side partially back into the contest with a 100th Test century. But even more so, the vast majority of cricket fans would have been happy to see MS Dhoni put up significant resistance and contribute to a more respectable scoreline than the 319 run defeat, which was especially astonishing given India were dominating the Test match for much of the first two days.
24 hours prior to his unfortunate dismissal, Dhoni had of course made the ultimate sporting gesture to reprieve Ian Bell when he had been run out as a result of a genuine mistake, with Bell believing a ball to have gone for four and the tea interval to have begun.
For all the wonderful cricketing performances from Bell, Broad, Bresnan and Dravid during the match, the Test match will forever be synonymous with Dhoni and the Indian team’s noble decision to re-instate Ian Bell to continue his innings, a sign of incredible sportsmanship which serves as an example to cricketers around the world and to other sports.
MS Dhoni showed great sporting qualities. Source: Pulkitsinha
There has been plenty of debate about the rights and wrongs of the original dismissal and the decision to bring Bell back to the crease. What cannot be denied is that it highlights Dhoni as a character almost without equal in modern sport.
One would struggle to name an international sportsman with more intense pressure placed upon him than by one billion fervent Indian cricket fans desperate for continual success as well as the high demands of the BCCI. The dismissal of Bell could have brought India right back into the match in a series that was fast slipping out of reach, yet it could have poisoned relations between the sides for the rest of the series and beyond.
Stripped of key figures Zaheer Khan and opening pair Gambhir and Sehwag, there must have been an element of temptation to uphold the dismissal of Bell and find a way back into the series. Yet it is a tribute to the man that sportsmanship was placed above success at all costs.
Throughout the rollercoaster of the past 6 months, from a victorious World Cup campaign to the trials and tribulations the Indian team has faced over here, as well as question marks over his own captaincy skills and form with bat and gloves, Dhoni has remained calm, modest, articulate and honest about his team’s abilities and failings.
Ian Bell. Centre of the controversy. Source: gareth1953
His entire demeanour throughout the Bell episode was fantastic, composed and measured. The sporting gesture was the correct thing to do and will be entrenched on his permanent record as the type of captain he was and the way he wished to see the game played.
There is a frequent charge against modern sport, most notably football but extending to most major sports, that an element of sportsmanship has been lost in the last few decades. Under attack from corporate interests, high financial stakes and the thirst for success at all costs, there has been a rise in unsporting practices, from diving and harassing referees to gouging, drug-taking and numerous match-fixing probes. This is not to suggest that they did not previously exist, but that they have become more prevalent.
MS Dhoni exhibited a genuine example of proper sporting conduct, rivalling Paolo di Canio’s catching of a football to ensure attention was paid to an injured goalkeeper during a West Ham v Everton match in 2000 or Andy Roddick’s arguing for his opponent’s serve to be called ‘in’, which ultimately cost him a match, in 2005.
Roddick sacrificed victory for sportsmanship against Verdasco. Source: mirsasha
Looking at cricket more specifically, two of the greatest cricketers of the past 20 years come to mind. Adam Gilchrist and Jacques Kallis, both legends in their own right, have earned plaudits for their sporting behaviour, whether that is ‘walking’ when they believe they are out or trusting opponents’ claims to have taken a clean catch.
The postscript to this the Second Test of England v India in 2011 will always centre on the conduct of MS Dhoni. He has added his name to the ranks of honourable sportsmen for all time.