World cricket woke up stronger on Monday morning. Not just because it had witnessed a pulsating game of one-day cricket between Sri Lanka and Australia in Dambulla – a rarity for such a formulaic version of the game – but because an ancient spirit of the game was awoken in the fierce heat of battle. Sportsmanship, an endangered concept in all modern day sport, blessed international cricket.
Australia had lost a flurry of wickets, slipping from 148 for 1 to 190 for 4. But with Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist at the crease and Michael Bevan, finisher extraordinaire, still padded and waiting in the wings, Australia were odds on winners, needing a modest 56 at a run-a-ball with six wickets to spare. Kumar Dharmasena was pinging down his flat off-breaks and Symonds edged an attempted pull onto his pads. Both bowler and wicketkeeper appealed instantaneously and Peter Manuel raised his finger. Sri Lanka had struck a crucial blow.
Symonds was shocked but kept his cool and walked. Gilcrhist, the non-striker, was equally appalled, his reaction tight-roping the definition of dissent. Sri Lanka celebrated in a huddle but they knew it was not out. "It was an obvious nick to most of us and it was awkward for a moment," said Marvan Atapattu, Sri Lanka's one-day captain. "I mean …it was not a bump ball or something like that. We did not really know what to do."
But seconds after raising his finger, doubt had spread across Manuel's face. He consulted first with Billy Bowden, his eccentric but cool-headed partner, and then turned to Atapattu. "He told me that he believed that he had made a mistake and that he wanted to call Symonds (now over half way back to the pavilion) back. He asked me whether I would have a problem with that and I said no. It was obvious to us he [Symonds] had hit the ball and this is a game after all – we have to look after its spirit. We were all happy with the decision."
What goes around comes around, they say, and perhaps it was Gilchrist who sowed the sporting seed when he walked during the 2003 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka, a remarkable decision that was greeted with stony silence upon his return to the dressing room. Now Atapattu has followed up with a return gesture, which in turn presents us with an intriguing possibility: will the players of both teams now play the rest of the series as graciously and fairly? [CricInfo]