Gamesmanship? As we maintain, it is as old as cricket.
Almost all the great names to have graced the game were adept at it. WG Grace was an incorrigible master at the art. Warwick Armstrong was yet another colossus. And with Douglas Jardine, we get into a really murky zone.
Even Don Bradman was not far behind.
In his autobiography, The Gloves Are Off, the English wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans recalls an incident which places the all-time best batsman of the world in the same league as the current day cricketers in one rather questionable category. That of needless appealing.
It was early 1947, and Denis Compton was playing one of the most important innings of his life, battling the attack comprising of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Ernie Toshack in his bid to save the Adelaide Test.
England, already down 0-2 in the series, had batted well enough to post 460 in the first innings. And when Alec Bedser had dismissed Bradman for a duck, they had glimpsed an opportunity. But all that only led to them trailing by 27 in the first innings, with Arthur Morris hitting 122 and Miller hammering an unbeaten 141.
In the second innings, on the penultimate day, England lost Bill Edrich, Wally Hammond, Joe Hardstaff Jr and Jack Ikin in quick succession, to slump from 178 for 2 to 215 for 6. By now the hosts were like prowling leopards on the field, licking their lips in anticipation, sniffing victory.
But Compton held on, demonstrating a stubborn, tenacious side to his dashing debonair image. By the end of the day, he had lost Norman Yardley and Bedser, but was still unbeaten on 52 as the tourists finished on 274 for 8.
The match, though, was hardly safe as yet. The firepower of Australian batting could make a mockery of a small target.
But, the last day of the match saw Compton at his very best, sticking to the wicket and also scoring runs. At the other end, he had an able partner in Evans. The latter did not bother with scoring, spending over two hours at the wicket for his 10 runs. But time was eaten out of the game, and as Compton neared his hundred the lead extended to over 300.
The Australians were growing frustrated.
And now the incident happened, beautifully narrated in Evans’s book.
“Bradman, fielding at cover point, saw the ball hit Denis [Compton] on the pad and up he went with his ‘Howzat’ and he was told ‘not out’. Denis, never loath to express a view, said, ‘Don, how could you possibly see from out there?’ Don answered, ‘I couldn’t, but it might have been out, mightn’t it? That’s for umpires to decide, not me!’”
Yes, Bradman was on the right side of logic and law … but perhaps not that esoteric element called spirit.
But, then, as we maintain, the spirit of cricket is a curious concoction invented by armchair romantics of the game. It seldom transpires in the actual field of play.
Let us end by recalling what followed in the game.
Compton got his well-deserved hundred and England declared immediately, setting a target of 314. Given that Morris completed his second century of the match, Bradman hit an unbeaten 56, and Australia reached 215 for one in the little time that remained, there remains little doubt about what would have transpired if Compton had not stuck it out so manfully.