With the 2011 cricket World Cup fast approaching, it is worthwhile to look back at some of the most memorable events in the history of this quadrennial event that will always be remembered as moments that had a huge impact on the game. One such incident that reiterated cricket’s stature as the ‘gentlemen’s game’ took place during the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup in a game between defending champions Australia and Asian cricket giants Sri Lanka.
It is probably the dream of every child to grow up one day and represent his country on the world stage. It is this pressure to perform well on the big stage that often makes most people overlook the ethics of sportsmanship and take to unfair means. The stakes become even higher when it comes to the grandest stage of them all, the ICC cricket World Cup. It is not often that you get an opportunity to make a mark by scoring big in the pressure cooker scenario of a world cup semi-final. However, there was one player who chose honesty over fame.
Coming into the semi-final, the Australian juggernaut was virtually unstoppable as they mercilessly smashed Pakistan, India, Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Namibia, England, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Kenya on their way to the knockout stage. However, it was not going to be an easy task as their opponents Sri Lanka, too, had been in pretty good form.
Having won the toss and elected to take first strike, the Aussies got off to a familiar blazing start with the explosive duo of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden smacking the ball to all parts of the field.
The hapless Sri Lankans needed a miracle to come back into the game as skipper Mahela Jayawardene turned to the experienced Aravinda de Silva to provide them with a desperately needed breakthrough. It was just the second ball of the offie’s first over of the innings when Gilchrist attempted a sweep. The ball ballooned up after getting a thin inside edge on to the batsman’s pads and was caught by Kumar Sangakkkara behind the stumps.
The deafening appeals for a catch by the Sri Lankans almost went unheard as South African umpire Rudi Koertzen stood silent. However, as the Sri Lankan hopes faded, Gilchrist, in an exceptional show of integrity, decided to walk on his own. The match was evenly poised at that stage and Gilchrist’s act could have been a huge mistake.
Nonetheless, it was an extremely chivalric and astonishing gesture in today’s competitive world where gamesmanship has taken the backseat to competitiveness. The act becomes even more commendable considering the fact that it came from an Australian cricket player, most of whom are known for their unsporting conduct on the field, in a crucial game like the World Cup semi-final.
Australia, meanwhile, riding on a brilliant 91 from Andrew Symonds, went on to make a competitive total of 212 before dismissing the Lankans for a meagre 123 to register a comprehensive victory.
Although Gilchrist’s choice to walk without being given out by the umpire had little impact on the outcome of the match, it will always be remembered as one of those rare sporting gestures that have kept the spirit of this gentlemen’s game alive.