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.
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.