“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” came into common use after American football coach Vince Lombardi uttered the phrase at a pre-season training-camp media conference. Later on Lombardi repudiated himself, implying that he meant, “Winning is not everything – but making the effort to win is.”

Ponting

Australia won the Second Test against India at the SCG today, but it was not a victory for the patriotic to take a picture of and sign & sell as memorabilia. After suffering the bulk of bad decisions India deserved a draw, however, the match, and eventually the result, was marred by poor umpiring.


It was the final session of the final day, the radio was broadcasting two seconds ahead of the television, and the hope was for a great finish to a controversial match. India needed to survive, Australia needed six wickets to win and equal their own world record of 16 consecutive wins.

Matt texted to ask when I would by home and if it was curry night. My reply: ‘Pictures on delay. 29 hours of play; result pending. Incessant appealing. Train leaves Geelong at 7:20pm.’

I often say that cricket is one of the most brilliantly stupid sports ever invented. To an outsider the logic of the game and intricacies of the rules are almost impenetrable. It must be the only sport where players are encouraged to appeal to the umpire to make a decision. If you don’t ask the question then the umpire can’t make a ruling either way, right?

The Australian team of the past 15 years have been very good at appealing, whether as intimidation, strategy, or to create momentum in their favour. Appealing is not done solely because you think the batsman is out, but to draw attention to how you want to get the them out.

Every time India’s wicket-keeper/batsman Mahendra Dhoni thrusted his pad out and didn’t offer a shot to a spin bowler Australia appealed. Most of the time the ball wasn’t going on to hit the stumps, but the law stipulates that if you are hit on the pad not offering a shot you can be given out LBW — normally, if you are offering a shot, the ball has to hit the pad in line with the stumps to be given out — and the unwritten law is that if the batsman doesn’t offer a shot they lose any benefit of the doubt.

Whether you would classify it as manipulation or intimidation on the Australians behalf, it worked.

Dhoni shouldered arms one too many times and was rightly, in my humble opinion, adjudged LBW by umpire Buchnor. If Buchnor had umpired flawlessly the decision may not have been questioned; if this were not Buchnor’s last game (surely he won’t get the nod for Perth) Dhoni may have still been waiting his turn to bat.

A lot of suppositions, I know, but the umpiring was of such a poor standard that you can’t help but wonder. The bias of bad decisions going in Australia’s favour doesn’t have a statistic on it, but the reason may be this idea of creating a feeling of dominance, not only in the mind of the opposition but the umpires as well.

Up until the morning of the fifth day, when Australia batted themselves into a position where they could only win or draw, and India could therefore only draw or lose, the game was evenly posed, not forgetting that India held the first innings lead at stumps on day three. But reputation, and the aggressive way the Australians bat, bowl, field and, no doubt, sledge, makes India appear to be the weaker opponent.

This aggression applies to appealing and the stranger issue of walking. A trait of a bygone era, walking off when you’re out is now only done by one Australian player, Adam Gilchrist. Symonds didn’t walk when he had obviously snicked it to the keeper (obvious meaning that you could see the ball deviate as well as hear it come off the edge). Michael Clarke edged a delivery to first slip, yet stood, looking somewhat perplexed as to why he was still there, and waited for the umpire to raise his finger. To walk, it seems, is to give an inch.

It is not too much to say, despite what he may say, that Gilchrist is a walker as a matter of honour. But, if the cricket media have any balls they would ask Gilchrist if has ever appealed for a catch which he didn’t think was out. The essence of all this nonsense, after all, is that Gilchrist is honest. I can understand him appealing for a catch if he is unsure, but on today’s evidence he would have to answer ‘yes’.

Gilchrist claimed a catch even though Rahul Dravid’s bat was behind his pad and nowhere near the ball as it passed. Out, said Buchnor. And then he appealed for a catch that Dhoni clearly hit into the ground first. Not out, said the third umpire. Admittedly, we have the benefit of slo-mo replay, but Gilchrist has the best seat in the house. Let’s not presume he holds the same beliefs as a wicket-keeper as he does as a batsman.

Anil Kumble

To play for the draw is a real test of character (read: ego) and although the captain of India, Anil Kumble, didn’t look comfortable, he never looked like losing his wicket; he didn’t, but his team, bad umpiring aside, didn’t show the same dogged determination to keep the series alive.

A bad decision by umpire Benson (Buchnor was resting up for the final over) brought the No. 11 to the crease.

The delivery spearing into the new batsman’s pad two balls later was more likely to go on and hit the stumps than the previous LBW decision. Strangely, no appeal.

India had to last eight more deliveries.

The pitch was drenched in magic hour sun, the fieldsmen surrounded the young, lanky Indian quick-bowler — the chatter in the stump microphones, the tension in the commentator’s voice. The last delivery of the match had a painful inevitability about it; the two-second delay between radio and television sealed the result before the ball had left the bowler’s hand.

Even after edging the ball to first slip, Ishant Sharma stood his ground and waited for the umpire to raise his finger. Mere folly, you might think, but after the previous five days you can’t blame the batsman for expecting another aberration.

Alas, don’t worry, any parent who has raised a competitive brat-child like myself knows that the Lombardi phrase has been shortened, and it’s meaning altered. Winning isn’t everything. It’s only the elite athletes that have to forget this.

If J-Ho is a cricket tragic, and K-Rudd a cricket hopeful, then I’m a cricket optimist.

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