Not Walking? Not Acceptable…
Of all the storms generated over nine days of cricket, the two most significant ones came at Trent Bridge in the first Test, including the one that ended the game. Brad Haddin admitted later that he knew he had nicked the ball when Australia were only 15 runs away from an improbable victory. When he didn’t walk, England challenged the umpire’s decision and a light smudge on the inside edge of Haddin’s bat brought the Test to a close.
The most significant decision of all was one that could not be reviewed. Stuart Broad got a thick nick off debutant Ashton Agar, one that everyone but umpire Aleem Dar saw. Broad stood his ground, and since Australia had run out of referrals, the decision could not be corrected. DRS apologists would have you believe that the technology is there to “correct the howlers” - and this was as big a howler as they come – so the fact that it could not be overturned makes it clear that the way DRS is being used pointless.
We’ll keep DRS aside for now though, and focus on how the players reacted.
Both Broad and Haddin did not do the right thing when the pressure was at its highest and the lights brightest. Both of them chose to stand their ground and “let the umpire do his job”.
Also, it’s worth noting that Broad eventually chose to walk when he edged one later in his innings, when England were in a much stronger position.
Basically, to walk or not to walk is just a matter of convenience, you see.
“If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” No one knows who said this first, but the phrase can be heard quite a bit on the American sporting landscape. When the second baseman fakes a tag on the runner and gets a call from the umpire, much to the consternation of the opposition player and manager, the second baseman is actually applauded as “clever”. The line itself has been repeated so often that people actually believe they haven’t tried everything to win until they have actually cheated.
But this attitude at what cost?
Former New Zealand fast bowler Iain O’Brien wrote on this website recently: “We have to remember about sports that it’s business. It’s cutthroat... Players get dropped, careers ended… It’s the official’s job to make sure the right call is made… It’s not up to the player to be honest. He is playing to win.”
I was surprised when I read this point of view, as I had heard him say on a recent video chat show that he wished he’d played his international career like he now plays club cricket. Now he said, and I’m paraphrasing him here, he doesn’t appeal for LBWs when he knows it is going to be missing the stumps.
So back to the question: Is honesty just matter of convenience? Of a career?
It shouldn’t be. A career does not depend on one bad umpiring call or one wrong decision: that would be to ignore everything that happened before that decision and everything that came after it. And anyway, there is no guarantee that a batsman wrongly given out would have gone on to play an innings that would set his career up.
There are three ways one could react to a situation like this, we’ve been told: 1) To do the right thing, 2) To not do the right thing, and 3) To do the wrong thing. The second and third points are usually used to illustrate why not walking when you know you’ve nicked one is different from claiming a catch when you know a ball has bounced.
Basically, in the modern professional cricketing environment, it has come to be accepted that not doing the right thing is not the same as doing the wrong thing. How is it alright? Why is it alright?
O’Brien makes an analogy with driving over the speed limit. Just a harmless little thing, isn’t it? There is a difference though: one chooses to drive over the speed limit knowing fully well that if you get pulled over, there is a penalty to be paid. But if a batsman does not walk despite knowing that he had edged the ball, there is plausible deniability. He only has to answer his own conscience, you see. And, apparently, contributing to the team’s cause by mortgaging your conscience is perfectly acceptable, and doesn’t deserve censure.
An international cricketer learns his game in his school, his club, his first-class side and then his national team. DRS is not used at any level of cricket below the international level. The core cricketing ethics of a player, of rights and wrongs, are inculcated through many years of non-DRS cricket and primarily through self-policing. I’m sure people who play club cricket or even some level of recreational cricket know the amount of opprobrium that’d come their way if they don’t play the game honestly.
But, somehow, all these ethics, which are the glue that bind our society together, are no longer relevant once a player enters the professional arena. Bizarre, isn’t it?
Professional sport doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Tomorrow’s cricketers, and more importantly the citizens of the world get their cues from watching these professional athletes. By consciously compromising the value system, we are making it okay to not do the right thing, which seeps into the amateur levels of sport, and broadly into the citizenry.
Sport shouldn’t be just about being able to bowl faster and hit farther; it should be about whether we can strive to better ourselves as human beings. Putting on a team jersey doesn’t change the fact that the person underneath is still a human being.
A sin of omission is a sin. We all ought to own up to our actions, and do the right thing.
Winning really shouldn’t be everything.
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