Is failing to "walk" in cricket symptomatic of a wider malaise?

The England fast bowler, Mr Stuart Broad, nicked a ball off Ashton Agar to the first slip, Michael Clarke, on day 3 of the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. The ball was cleanly caught and the entire Australian team celebrated. But, unfathomably, the (neutral) umpire, Mr Aleem Dar, did not give Broad out.

The by now distraught Australians remonstrated, but to no avail. Mr Dar is a very highly rated umpire, but how he made such a woeful decision remains a mystery. A bemused Mr Broad could hardly believe his luck. He stayed at the wicket and did not “walk” to the pavilion (and thereby concede to the umpire that he had hit the ball and was thus was duly dismissed). The England team prospered and Broad was eventually dismissed next day for 65.

The debate on whether batsmen should walk is a perennial one in sports circles these days. Many say no, the batsman should stay. The onus is on the umpire to give the player out and if he or she makes a mistake in your favour, so be it. There will, the apologists rationalize, be other times when the “rub of the green” goes against the player and the umpire will make an error that will go against the player. For every rum decision the umpire makes in our favour, there will an equal number of dud calls that go against us. It is a matter of swings and the roundabouts, ups and downs, all things evening out in the long run. Besides, everyone else is doing it. If the white boot had been on the other over-sized foot, an Australian batsman would not have walked either. It is hypocritical of the Australians (especially the Aussies) to complain. To be fair, they did not.

In a remarkable moral inversion, another apologist argues that Mr Broad is in fact a victim: a victim of technology. Thousands of others behave as he does, but do not have the camera on them.

Enough.

There is something rotten about the Broad saga and, at the risk of drawing a very long bow, it is symptomatic of the decline of Western civilization. It used to be said: “Well, that’s not cricket!” This quintessentially Anglocentric saying signified a state of affairs that was improper, lacking integrity, beyond the pale, not right, unfair, downright wrong.  Cricket and fair play were synonymous. Cricket’s ethics were a reflection of Ethics generally. Period. That venerable saying now has to be confined to the dustbin. It is an archaic aphorism. No, Del Boy, I’m afraid, “That is cricket”. Batsmen do not walk when they know have hit the ball and been caught. Fielders do not signal to the umpire “no catch” when they scoop up the ball from the grass on the half-volley. This is professional sport in the 21st century. Do what you can to win, bend the rules if need be, the race is to the swift, let the devil take the hindmost.

Sport is like life. We must look after number one and our own interests. The greater good, the Spirit of the Game, doing the right thing, these are quaint, sentimental relics of another age. As the UK Editor of ESPN Cricinfo so charmingly put it: “And as for the Spirit of Cricket? Well, it is a nebulous concept to be sure, but in some areas, it still serves a purpose by vaguely promoting the common good.”

The realpolitik is that if you can break the rules and get away with it, fine. If you can secure an advantage by acting unethically—lawfully, but unethically—then go ahead. Chivalry, let your conscience be your guide, honesty’s the best policy, go the extra mile, do unto others, what are they?  “There is”, reminds another cricket expert,”no ‘good samaritan law’, no requirement for a player to offer unsolicited assistance to an umpire. Nor should there be.”

So enough sermonising and regurgitating old fashioned mottos of a bygone era. That which is outdated is redundant and worthless. It may be written (prophetically?): “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” (Matthew 7:13). But save this for the pulpit and not the real world.

“The whole edifice of Christian virtues could be raised on the basis of good cricket.” (letter quoted in WA Gill’s Edward Cracroft Lefroy: His Life and Poems in David Lemmon (ed),  The Wisden Book of Cricket Quotations (Queen Anne Press, 1982) at 116). By the same token, bad cricket is a testament to the erosion of Christian morality.

Remember, progress, Del Boy, progress. People who rabbit on about walking have simply “never played cricket at a competitive level” or understand “the modern professional game”, as one cricket scribe opined.

His views are, it seems, widely shared. It was sad, but not altogether surprising then, when the vast majority of the crowd at Trent Bridge warmly applauded Mr Broad when he eventually walk off the field at the conclusion of his innings. What a man, what a player, what resolve, a blond beacon of excellence, a true indominable Englishman! Can I buy you a pint? Will you sign an autograph?  

Lest we be too tough on our cousins in mother England we should not pride ourselves that our response would have been much different. If it had been Mr Brendon McCullum at the Basin Reserve and not Mr Broad I suspect the New Zealand captain would not have walked and most Kiwis would have applauded him.

 It may be hard for future historians to pinpoint the moment in the history of the West when Christianity (or, al least, Judeo-Christian ethics) as the guiding ethos was wrested from its position of pre-eminence. The ushering in of postmodernity, the rise of relativist ethics, the cultural disestablishment of Christianity, these are complex matters that scholars will debate, both as to their empirical accuracy and timing. What we label the undoubted societal sea change that has occurred, and when it commenced, are things that continue to engage us.

But perhaps historians may look back one day and see a significant cultural marker in cricket. Something was irrevocably different, we were no longer the same. . . the day when batsmen no longer walked.

 

Comments (21)

by Andin on July 15, 2013
Andin

"The ushering in of postmodernity, the rise of relativist ethics, the cultural disestablishment of Christianity,"

Post modernity is a pointless phrase. Ethics is always relative, even christian ethics.

And its about time we were able to look at morals /morality without insisting such are somehow irretrievably bound to a religious setting. They may have had their origins in that historical context, but that is all.

by Andrew Geddis on July 15, 2013
Andrew Geddis

It's a nice thesis, Rex ... but I'm not sure the facts really bear it out. As this column from 2002 points out, complaints/discussions about the ethics (or otherwise) of walking date back to the late Victorian era (well before the bogey of "postmodernity" raised its head), when WG Grace apparently told an umpire who had given him out: "Play on, they've come here to see me bat, not you umpire."

That said, I'm sure the norm of honesty has diminished in the modern game. But a large part of that, I'd suggest, is that there's a lot more riding on results today than in the past. Sure, winning and losing has always been important in and of itself. Today, however, winning carries with it substantial financial bonuses ... so a player who walks not only risks losing that for himself, but also risks taking it out of the pockets of his team-mates. Or, simpler version, once you apply business incentives to a sport ("succeed, and you'll make more money"), is it surprising when business ethics begin to predominate ("if the regulator doesn't say it is wrong, then it isn't")?
by Chris de Lisle on July 15, 2013
Chris de Lisle

You are choosing to ignore how badly Christian values failed to encourage ethical action in times past, so that you can enjoy a tidy narrative of decline.

But there is no new thing under the Sun. The fact that English is spoken here, in Australia, in Hong Kong, in most of the places where it is spoken is a direct result of the fact that for centuries, people imbued with Christian virtue have felt justified in showing up and taking people's land.

The Opium Wars, the purchase of Manhattan for 60 guilders, the conversion of the Congo into the world's largest rubber plantation (as a humanitarian endeavour!) et cetera et cetera et cetera. All these actions were legal, were celebrated by the contemporary public and took unethical advantage of an imbalance in power.

Where were Christian values when these things took place? Too busy watching the cricket?

 

by stuart munro on July 16, 2013
stuart munro

I think you're on to something Rex.

Studies from the States these days correlate professional sport with an erosion of moral principles, and, flying spaghetti monster help us, these are the folk who end up running NZ inc.

Don't be too hard on Christianity guys - it's a road map for moral development, but the journey is private, not institutional. One of the successes of the Christian project is that you can see the wrongs of colonisation. The challenges for our generation are not the challenges of the 19th century, or even the 20th century. What are the wrongs of this age, freed from all the factional rhetoric and interest, and, are we solving them? Judging by NZ's routine underperformance in every meaningful social and economic indicator, I'm guessing not.

by Rex Ahdar on July 16, 2013
Rex Ahdar

CHRIS:  Where were Christian values when these things took place? Too busy watching thre cricket?

That Christian morality in action has left much to be desired on occasions (indeed, many occasions) cannot be disputed.The brief, and perhaps facile, answer is that the perpetrators of misdeeds were not acting on Christian precepts. And Christians in that previous age or era are as accountable for their lack of action (to stem or redress injusitce) as they are in this age.

ANDIN: And its about time we were able to look at morals /morality without insisting such are somehow irretrievably bound to a religious setting.

No doubt Richard Dawkins et al would concur. But is society better off without religion (or, more accurately, Christianity) and with some secular ethical or moral code instead? Has, on balance (taking all the beneficial and harmful effects into account) Christianity been a force for good (and how do we measure 'good') in society?

There has never a golden age of Christian morality, but that is a straw man. There were periods when, by and large, C precepts were more widely held and practised. In the 1960s one could leave one's home and car unlocked; murders were few and far between; Sunday was a day of rest etc. Just as C precepts were more generally, however imperfectly, observed in life, so on the sports field.

ANDREW: ...there's a lot more riding on results today than in the past. Sure, winning and losing has always been important in and of itself. Today, however, winning carries with it substantial financial bonuses...

"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil..." (1 Timothy 6:10) Be that as it may, I do not see why the fact an individual's act of honesty may rebound against his or her teammates is a compelling reason. All the means is that the individual's challenge to be honest is that much more demanding and greater courage is called for.

STUART Thanks for your support.

* * *

IMAGINE if Mr Broad had walked. His teammates may have been grumpy; the Australians no doubt baffled. Some what have railed: what a plonker. But I suspect a great deal of admiration and kudos would have flowed his way. His deed would be praised and his name a byword for the Spirit of Cricket and the best virtues society can aspire to.

AND For those interested on the positive relationship (correlation, I would contend) between Christianity and the West, see eg Harold O J Brown, The Sensate Culture (Word, 1996) and Niall Ferguson, Civilisation: The West and the Rest (Allen Lane, 2011) ch 6 , esp at 287-88.

by stuart munro on July 16, 2013
stuart munro

I'd add Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. People forget the work that galvanised the breadth of society from Jane Austen to Edmund Burke. Hutcheson's synthesis remains one of the premiere products of western culture. Here in Asia, post-modernism isn't much admired, but the enlightenment! That is considered valuable.

by Andrew Geddis on July 16, 2013
Andrew Geddis

IMAGINE if Mr Broad had walked. His teammates may have been grumpy; the Australians no doubt baffled. Some what have railed: what a plonker. But I suspect a great deal of admiration and kudos would have flowed his way. His deed would be praised and his name a byword for the Spirit of Cricket and the best virtues society can aspire to.

Which seems to tell against your actual argument. Because if it is true that many (most?) observers would have seen Broad's action in walking as being "the right thing to do" and morally praiseworthy, then we hardly can be living in a postmodern pit of relativistic ethics. Surely such a society would react to either decision (walk/not-walk)  the same way - with a shrug of the shoulders and an attitude of "whatever works for him"?

by Andin on July 17, 2013
Andin

"In the 1960s one could leave one's home and car unlocked; murders were few and far between; Sunday was a day of rest etc. Just as C precepts were more generally, however imperfectly, observed in life, so on the sports field. "

Ahh how rosy the past looks, through a certain lens...

And what has Richard Dawkins got to do with anything, get over it

by Andin on July 17, 2013
Andin

Ok Stuart

"Don't be too hard on Christianity guys - it's a road map for moral development, but the journey is private, not institutional."

Where are these morally developed individuals from the christian tradition?

If you are looking for someone/thing to point a finger at. How about the christian tradition which saw those with the least responsibility but higher up the food chain(the priesthood) blame those lower down (the"sinners" born that way according to their philosophy). A way of thinking that persists, amongst governments and businesspeople, even tho' the church's influence has declined to virtually nothing in everyday life, while the other has gained ascendancy in that void. And, yes, the current National govt is a perfect example. And Niall Ferguson is  joke.

by stuart munro on July 17, 2013
stuart munro

@ Andin - at least we can agree on Niall Ferguson, A tragic tail end to the british historical tradition. Try Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, at least he can write.

If you want to see morally developed Christians, join a charitable intervention group. Food banks, women's refuges, environmental groups contain plenty who are more concerned with helping others than moralising or prosyletising.

As for the Nat government - corporate facism - this is due to the empire abscondita. NZ was designed as a dominion, carbon-copying laws and economic policies from a parent government. It lacks the political traditions for deposing frankly corrupt administrations like this.

The churches really have very little to do with it, though I guess you could blame a god if you believe in one. If as a citizen you are dissatisfied with your government, it is your moral right to change it. Some writers would argue it is a duty.

 

by Rex Ahdar on July 17, 2013
Rex Ahdar

[Andrew]  if it is true that many (most?) observers would have seen Broad's action in walking as being "the right thing to do" and morally praiseworthy, then we hardly can be living in a postmodern pit of relativistic ethics. Surely such a society would react to either decision (walk/not-walk)  the same way - with a shrug of the shoulders and an attitude of "whatever works for him"?

There are, with due respect to my friend and erudite colleague, elements of conflation and non sequitur in the rejoinder above. If many would applaud Broad's action (in the counterfactual situation) then that just shows that not everyone adheres to the postmodern outlook. I had said he would receive a great deal of praise. That does not (to me) imply that I was saying a proponderance of the responses would be laudatory, just that a bunch (ie, an unspecified fraction) would. I did not say "most" (or a majority) would praise him. You have mis-read me ( but that I fear is due to the cryptic way I expressed myself). You are right that a postmodern oriented society would shrug its collective shoulders etc and that those would applaud him would be a distinct minority. But that society (people in general) would, is not the assertion I was making. 

There is always a "remnant" who refuse to bend their knee to Baal (so to speak)---to conform to the spirit of the age--- and this group is always a minority.

[Andin]  Niall Ferguson is a not a joke but a Scotsman.  (Moral: those who use psuedonyms deserve psuedo answers)

 

by Andrew Geddis on July 17, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Rex,

Well, we can parse the phrase "a great deal of admiration and kudos" in many different ways. So maybe what you meant is that a minority of observers would have very, very strongly reacted in a postitive way?

But a more serious point remains. I think there is a danger in pointing to an individual action (or, even the preponderence of actions by individuals) within a particular sphere of human activity and extrapolating it out to all forms of human activity. That is so for two reasons. First of all, the reason for the individual action (or even the preponderence of actions by individuals) in that sphere may be particular to that sphere alone. And second, the selection of one particular sphere of human activity over another may lead to differing results.

Let me take a personal example. Football - my chosen sport of preference - is repleat with cheating. I'd go so far as to say that diving (and other forms of "simulation") threaten to so devalue the game at the top level as to make it not worth watching. Yet, I play a regular, thrice weekly game of social indoor football with complete strangers that has no referee or external monitor. Instead, we have a set of rules as to how the game is to be played (no slide tackling, the ball must stay below a certain height, only the goal-keeper may touch the ball in the goal area, etc, etc). We then individually and collectively police those rules - to the extent that the debates about whether a rule has been breached as often involves someone saying he himself committed a foul, and the "wronged" party denying it and insisting that play should continue.

Now ... why isn't our experience of ethical self-policing the archtypical experience of a "postmodern world" in which random strangers can unite in a common practice, recognising and abiding by the ethical demands of that practice, and all get along together without the need for some higher authority to guide or judge us? Or, to put it even more bluntly, why is Stuart Broad the poster boy for "the way we live now", and not the people involved in this episode? Because even if the death of God has left us in a more relativistic moral universe, it turns out that people still jump into rivers to save the lives of total strangers.

So are the examples we choose really forced upon us by the way the world is, or is it that we choose the examples that show us what we want to see?

by Andin on July 18, 2013
Andin

" join a charitable intervention group. Food banks, women's refuges, environmental groups contain plenty who are more concerned with helping others than moralising or prosyletising."

And those who are non-christian do this as well I was hoping you would provide me with examples. This means nothing.

"(Moral: those who use psuedonyms deserve psuedo answers)"

There is another use of the prefix "pseudo" which probably fits you, if you are going to be rude. Scotsman or not Niall Ferguson is a lettered fool

by Rex Ahdar on July 18, 2013
Rex Ahdar

Andin:   Apologies for my rudeness. It was uncalled for.Fair call.

 I do not see why someone whose viewpoint you disagree with (or whose writings you dislike or do not rate) deserves being describes as a "joke" or a "lettered fool". To borrow another sporting aphorism:  "play the ball, not the man". 

by stuart munro on July 19, 2013
stuart munro

@ Andin, I'm sorry that virtuous religious people don't meet your standards. They are abundant in such roles. I consider such work quite meaningful.

 

 

by Colin Gavaghan on July 20, 2013
Colin Gavaghan

Late to this one, but this dispute between my two esteemed colleagues is interesting:  

Andrew: so a player who walks not only risks losing that for himself, but also risks taking it out of the pockets of his team-mates

Rex: I do not see why the fact an individual's act of honesty may rebound against his or her teammates is a compelling reason. All the means is that the individual's challenge to be honest is that much more demanding and greater courage is called for.

I am reminded of the moral and (putatively) cultural clash that played out a few years ago, when the English footballer Jay Bothroyd was plying his trade with Perugia in Italy's Serie A. Bothroyd's decision to stay on his feet after being fouled in the penalty box incurred the scorn of his Italian manager, Serse Cosmi. As described by the writer Tobias Jones, Cosmi's belief was that the player's first responsibilities were to his team-mates, his employers and his supporters, and not to some abstract principle of fair play. 

If this is true, then the challenge for Bothroyd was not merely to do the 'right thing' in the face of personal pressures, but to recognise the 'right thing' in the face of competing ethical obligations. And competing ethical obligations are not the unique preserve of post-modernists and relativists, but are a facet of pretty much all moral codes, religious or otherwise.

(It should perhaps be added that the ethical standards on display at A. C. Perugia have not always been of the highest.

(And not all Italian footballers would share Cosmi's view of sportsmanship.)

by Rex Ahdar on July 21, 2013
Rex Ahdar

Colin

Thank for that comment. Competing ethical obligations are, I would think, faced by all moral agents. I was interested by the FIFA annual Fair Play awards noted in your final link. The difference between football and cricket is that the latter, of all sports, was synonymous with fair play--- at least once upon a time. Now, the equation of cricket and right conduct may have been a little grandiose, even pompous, but as a cultural marker I found it intriguing. So when demonstrably unethical/ dishonest conduct is not only tolerated but staunchly defended by many in the cricket fraternity, that tells me something has been lost.

by Andin on July 22, 2013
Andin

"play the ball, not the man". 

I was playing the ball, what he writes just bring to mind insults. My problem for sure 

I'm sorry that virtuous religious people don't meet your standards. They are abundant in such roles. I consider such work quite meaningful.

 You are reading an awful lot into what I say. Me being judgemental for one, abundant? Umm I doubt that. But whatever, they still cling to a Lie. So virtuous on the one hand, lying to themselves on the other. And such as Rex wonder why our species seems lost at times, even, in parts of the whole, in decline/ lost.

by stuart munro on July 26, 2013
stuart munro

If you don't want to be considered judgmental Andin, you'd better say what you mean.

And those who are non-christian do this as well I was hoping you would provide me with examples. This means nothing.

 

 

 

by stuart munro on July 26, 2013
stuart munro

(Damn box ate half my reply)

What kind of examples do you expect? And why do people already doing good work have to produce them for you?

by David Griffiths on August 06, 2013
David Griffiths

Adam Gilchrist used to walk, so it's not perhaps an Australian-led distortion of the game. Mind you, I'd say he was something of a non-proselytising agnostic in this regard, so I wouldn't extrapolate from his example.

I would direct posters to Tom Stoppard's play Professional Foul (1977) for a full working out of the issues discussed in this blog - including whether sporting ethics have a broader application in our culture. I do recommend the BBC TV version, which is available on Youtube. See in particular this clip (at 3.20 mins mark onwards), where the issues come - rather literally - to a head:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_YiethFMbU

In this vignette, which takes place in Prague in the 1970s, a group of Englishmen are having a somewhat desultory late-night party in a hotel room. Two of them are academics in town for a conference; 2 are footballers who earlier that day had lost in a World Cup qualifying match to the Czechs; the other 2 are sports journalists. In the football match one of the footballers had made the eponymous professional foul in order to prevent a goal being scored. Needless to say, and this is where the play gets interesting, he is not the only person in the room to have committed "professional fouls" against the ethics of his profession...

More generally, I have to say I agree with Rex about something being lost in sport when people cheat and that it probably does signify a wider malaise, although I am confused in my own mind about cause & effect issues. For myself, sport simply becomes less interesting when it merely reflects the venalities of the real world.

Professor Anderson, the main character in the Stoppard play, sums up in secular terms the origins of ethics thus:

"There is a sense of right and wrong which precedes utterance. It is individually experienced and it concerns one person's dealings with another person. From this experience we have built a system of ethics which is the sum of individual acts of recognition of individual right."

I wonder what Stuart Broad et al would make of that? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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