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Be a sport and spare us the red cards

By Rituraj Borkakoty

“It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.” The footballing world knew these words came straight from the heart when Sir Alex Ferguson paid tribute to Roy Keane after a Champions League epic in 1999. After having inspired a three-goal blitz from two goals down, Keane – the then Manchester United captain – had to make a desperate challenge on Juventus talisman Zinedine Zidane to deny the ‘Old Lady’ a chance to equalise in that Champions League semifinal. Keane, who was carrying a yellow card from the previous round, knew a foul on Zidane would cost him a place in the final. But he was ready to sacrifice himself in order to see United get over the line. United, of course, famously went on to shock Bayern Munich with two late goals in the final at Camp Nou. But every soul that has ever sung Glory Glory Man United will never forget a man who played no part in the most iconic moment of the club’s glorious history. Keane was reduced to a mere spectator at Camp Nou. But it was his sacrifice that paved the way to the top spot for his team. Football, of course, will remain the most beautiful contact sport. For coaches all over the world, the art of beating an opponent for the ball with trickery will never hold greater significance than winning the ball back with a perfect tackle. Or sometimes, the greatest impact a footballer can make by committing what they call a professional foul. This is the ultimate act of sacrifice in a sport that Pele called the beautiful game and Keane remains its finest example. Unlike football, cricket is a sport that has no room for any physical contact – a sport that now provides archrivals India and Pakistan with the only field on which they can fight. The only contact that the romantics love to see is when the ball meets the bat to make the most beautiful sound in sports. You haven’t heard it yet? Well, watch a game of cricket at a sparsely crowded stadium where the peace of the players gets occasionally disturbed by intruding street dogs with no sense of sporting boundaries. But cricket sometimes sees players cross the line in the heat of the moment. The biggest incident was the one between Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad in 1981 when the two feisty cricketers almost threatened to turn the Perth stadium into a battlefield of wild beasts. Miandad, captain of the Pakistan team, was trying to save his team from an embarrassing defeat in that Test. With Lille – arguably the greatest fast bowler of all time, breathing fire on the fastest pitch in the world – Miandad had the unenviable task of reviving Pakistan’s second innings after they were bundled out for 62 in the first. While trying to take a quick single off Lillee, Miandad collided with the bowler and an angry Lillee kicked him from behind. If not for the timely intervention of the umpire, the situation could have spiralled out of control as Miandad was preparing to hit Lillee with his raised bat. It was the kind of incident that made the biggest names hang their heads in shame, with former Australian captain Bob Simpson calling it “the most disgraceful thing I have seen on a cricket field”. Now some 36 years later, the International Cricket Council (ICC) has finally introduced a card system in cricket. They made several changes including changes in the DRS ‘umpire’s call’ and close run-out decisions when diving batsmen lose contact with the pitch after reaching the crease. But the one that hit headlines was the introduction of the red card in cricket, which gives umpires the power to send off a player for unsporting behaviour. If these rules existed in 1981, both Miandad and Lillle would have been sent off. It’s incredible how a non-contact sport sometimes makes a player lose his sanity. Remember how Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir almost came to blows in an IPL match? These are not bad men. They are proud competitors who give their all for their teams, occasionally losing sight of the big picture. That it’s still just a game of cricket! That brings us back to Roy Keane who missed what could have been the game of his life due to that foul on Zinedine Zidane. The governing body of European football changed that rule in 2014. Now players who earn a yellow card from the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League don’t carry it to next stage. If that 1999 Champions League final was played under this rule, Keane would not have been a mere spectator at the hallowed Camp Nou! –(Courtesy–Khaleej Times)

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