Twice in the past few days, in entirely different contexts, the 'Spirit of the game' has been called into question. At the best of times, the spirit of the game is a grey area, totally subjective and open to interpretation; in many ways, it is used as an euphemism for 'cheating', though in the supposedly gentleman's game, to actually label someone a cheat is something that is frowned upon even in this day and age.
VB Chandrasekhar is a very fair individual, generally a positive influence with a broad mind who seldom has a negative word to say of anyone. Perhaps, Tamil Nadu's coach allowed his frustration to get the better of him when he hit out at Karnataka opting to bat on despite having reeled in Tamil Nadu's commanding 538 for 4 in their Ranji Trophy encounter in Chennai. The players could have shaken hands and walked off once the innings honours had been settled, but Karnataka chose to continue because the man who had taken them past the Tamil Nadu total was closing in on a maiden double hundred.
Ganesh Satish had every reason to want to celebrate having guided his team past the finish line with the landmark just a couple of big blows away. No one could have grudged him his 200 and, to be fair, the Tamil Nadu players didn't. To a man, Lakshmipathi Balaji and his boys applauded Satish as he reached 200; they didn't think Satish batting on after the lead was secured was against 'sporting spirit', as Chandrasekhar put it. Perhaps, VB himself would have felt the same way a couple of hours after the game was done and dusted, once the adrenaline rush had abated and the disappointment of having conceded the lead despite putting up a massive total had dissipated somewhat.
Not many seemed to think the spirit of cricket had been breached by Karnataka, but few would have held the same view watching Jonathan Trott claim a catch he clearly hadn't taken on day one of the first Test against India. Such was the sequence of events after Virat Kohli edged Graeme Swann that only Trott, at slip, could have known with any certainty whether he had taken the catch cleanly or not.
Occasionally, it does become difficult for fielders to know if they have taken the ball on the full, especially when they are diving forward, because their eyes are not always on the ball. In this instance, Trott actually picked up the ball off the ground with his forearms. There is no way he would not have known that the ball had hit the turf before he scooped it up. To even claim that he wasn't sure if he had taken the catch cleanly was a little hard to digest, but then again, teams have different interpretations of right and wrong depending on which side of the fence they are on.
Adam Gilchrist used to take great offence if batsmen didn't walk when they nicked, but that was only so long as the batsmen were from the opposition. I doubt if he ever advocated 'walking' in his own dressing room, though he was brazen enough to ask Mohammad Kaif to 'walk' after Kaif nicked a catch to Gilchrist in the Chennai Test of 2004.
Gilchrist also was often affronted when fielding sides appealed for a leg before after he nicked the ball on to his pads, though when he appealed successfully for a leg-before shout against Virender Sehwag in the Bangalore Test of that same series, he said in his defence that at that time, he had been 'convinced' that Sehwag was out.
And then, there is New Zealand, winners of the ICC's Spirit of Cricket award a few times, who use indignation and the spirit of cricket to their advantage. In June 2008, Grant Elliott was run out off a direct hit from mid-off, though in his quest for a sharp single, he had collided with Ryan Sidebottom, the bowler, at The Oval and been pole-axed halfway through. Paul Collingwood, the England captain, refused to withdraw the appeal and when New Zealand scrambled to an emotional victory in a tense run chase, their players refused to shake hands with their opponents, closeting themselves in their dressing room and letting England and the world know what they thought of Collingwood's refusal to call Elliott back.
Interestingly enough, two years prior to that in Christchurch, Brendon McCullum had run Muttiah Muralitharan out when Murali left his crease to congratulate Kumar Sangakkara on the latter reaching his hundred. Stephen Fleming, New Zealand's captain, had contended that the ball had been in play and Murali was naïve to leave his ground, even if only to congratulate his partner on reaching a milestone. All one can say is that if you play by the rules and let the spirit of the game be damned, then you must be willing to take as much as you are happy dishing out.
The furore in England when India ran Ian Bell out at Trent Bridge last year, when the batsman was under the impression that the ball had crossed the boundary ropes and was striding out to the dressing room under the impression that tea had been called, only died down 20 minutes later when Mahendra Singh Dhoni withdrew the appeal upon insistence from Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower. That same furore has been conspicuous by its absence in the aftermath of the Trott catch that wasn't. Perhaps because the 'offending' party this time was an Englishman, or perhaps because the Indians have chosen not to make a song and dance of it.