Friday, 12 July 2013

To walk or not to walk...

"I always walked... as soon as the umpire put his finger up" - Geoffrey Boycott

Last year I wrote something about the spirit of cricket. There'd been a bit of a furore in a county game after Murali Kartik Mankadded Alex Barrow, with half of the cricket community calling Kartik a disgrace, with the rest sticking up for the Surrey twirler, arguing that he was well within his rights to run-out the non-striking batsman. Where the grey area lay was over the much spoken about 'Spirit of Cricket' - the Mankad is allowed in the laws of the game, but strictly forbidden in cricket's all-important code of conduct that attempts to ensure the sport is played in a sportsmanlike fashion. The Spirit of Cricket used to be an understanding between sides that they'd play the game in the 'correct' manner, but was officially written into the Laws of the Game as a preamble in 2000, telling players "cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this Spirit causes injury to the game itself". Wise words indeed.

So to Stuart Broad, who refused to walk after a clear edge behind at a crucial point of the first Ashes test. Broad will argue that the umpire didn't give him, but what of the much vaunted Spirit of the game? Broad knew he was out, the fielders knew he was out, but the umpire didn't, and Broad remained. While in the spirit of test cricket Broad should have walked, the laws of the game state that the umpire's decision is final, and as Aleem Dar didn't raise his finger, the batsman is not out.

All of this spirit of cricket stuff is very murky, with players happy to apply it when it suits them, and happy to sneak a fast one when the umpire isn't looking. Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, as captain and wicket-keeper respectively  took it upon themselves to castigate Broad in their self-appointed roles as guardians of the spirit of cricket, yet both have decidedly shaky records when it comes to respecting the spirit. Clarke even took to Twitter during the last Ashes series to apologise for the exact same 'crime' of not walking when given not out, writing "I want to apologise for not walking off the ground when I hit the ball - emotions got best of me". Would he accept that same apology from Broad at the close of play?

The argument that's been doing the rounds on Twitter is that 'what goes around, comes around' - that these things even themselves up over time. Broad was given not out at a vital time in the test today, but what of Ashton Agar yesterday, who was also given not out stumped controversially before making his remarkable 98? Or of Jonathan Trott, given out by DRS when the umpire's decision was perhaps incorrectly overturned? Is the idea of cricketing karma enough to justify knowingly standing your ground when you know you've hit it?

For me, it all comes down to umpiring. The difference between, for example, Broad's dodgy edge and a fielder claiming a catch when he knows he didn't catch it (step forward Dinesh Ramdin) is that a fielder puts forward an appeal knowing it is not out, whereas Broad simply stood his ground to wait for a decision. It is not the batsman's role to give himself, or anyone out - it is the decision of the umpire, who on this case thought him not out. And with all the spirit of cricket in the world, if the umpire doesn't give you out, you don't have to go anywhere.

The spirit of cricket is a nice thing to have in the rules, it's a very vague statement which probably stops David Warner attacking people with his bat and allows cricket fans to look down their noses at fans of other sports and demonstrate how superior the 'gentleman's game' is. But while the "unique appeal" of cricket is nice on paper, in reality every team on the planet attempts to push the laws as far as they allow, and that's just the way of the modern game. Contrast, of course, Australia's reaction to Clarke's apology in 2010/11 where he was castigated for daring to say sorry for not walking, to the Australian agony and anger at Broad doing the same thing today. Every now and again cricket will throw up these unusual pieces of poor sportsmanship, but is this any different to a footballer scoring when he knows he's offside or a scrum pushing before the balls gone in? If the officials don't find fault with it, there isn't much anyone can do. While I am looking forward to Australia's new role as moral arbiters of the sport, I'm also looking forward to them relinquishing the role when their next batsman refuses to walk. The onus shouldn't be on the players to make the decisions, it should be on the umpires, and spirit or no spirit, that should be the way it stays.

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