Saturday, 13 July 2013

Stuart Broad and the myth of the modern walker

It always seems to be Stuart Broad, doesn't it? Like the headmaster's kid at school who is the most badly behaved child in the class, it's the son of the ICC match referee who always seems to be the England player involved in the controversies. Except the latest one - when he stood his ground and did not walk when he clearly edged Ashton Agar sip on the third day of the first Ashes Test and was given not out - wasn't really controversial at all.

First of all, let's forget the idea that there's any kind of row going on. None of the players seem to care too much. Australia's Mitchell Starc played the incident down in his post-match interviews. It hasn't started a row between the players, just between fans on Twitter, former players and members of the media - and that's what those people are there for.

The argument that players should walk feels thoroughly outdated. Diving in football, on the other hand, is horrendous and should be stamped out. There are subtle but important differences. Implicit in a dive is a false accusation of wrongdoing against an opponent, which is absent from what Broad did. Also a dive is designed deliberately to trick the referee - it is manufactured, false evidence to support your claim. Failing to walk is simply allowing the umpire to come to his own conclusion. It's not as if Broad shook his head and said: "Never touched it." Conversely, bowlers, wicketkeepers and slips constantly try to deceive the umpire. Countless times in a day they will appeal for a caught behind when they know full well there was no contact with the bat. They implore, they beg umpire to give the batsman out. Then when he is given out, DRS notwithstanding, nobody calls him back and says: "He never touched it." Why should a batsman have to put up with that, but then nobly fall on his sword when he gets an edge behind that the umpire misses? It's a clear case of double standards weighted, unusually for cricket, in the bowler's favour. So do you ask a bowler only to appeal if they're pretty certain the batsman's edged it? Do you stop the bowler from appealing completely in case he sways the umpire? Or do you just carry on as things are and have a bit more understanding when a batsman gets away with one now and again?

There was a great tweet last night, retweeted by the comedian and cricket writer Andy Zaltzman, which made an excellent point.

Commentators often talk about respecting umpires' decisions. Isn't that exactly what Broad did? Admittedly by doing what he did, he has forfeited any moral right to be upset when decisions go against him - a right one suspects he will be reluctant to relinquish. But equally, to be consistent, anyone who argues that Broad should have taken the decision out of the hands of the umpire by walking off cannot then complain if players express their displeasure when a tough call goes against them. Either you leave it all in the hands of the umpire or you don't. The argument from the pro-walkers is that Broad should have toddled off simply because he knew he was out. The flip side of that is that Jonathan Trott should have stayed on the pitch the previous day because he knew he wasn't out. Then he would have been roundly chastised for failing to respect the umpire's decision and certainly fined.

Another thing this further exposes is the ridiculousness of the ICC having fined and suspended West Indies wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin for claiming a catch he knew he had dropped. In a one-day game against India last month, Ramdin appeared to have claimed a catch which replays showed he had dropped, and Misbah-ul-Haq was duly given out. Ramdin did not join in the appeal with the slips and bowler Kemar Roach, but neither did he tell the umpire of his error. This was enough to earn him a two-game ban from the ICC for "conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game". It was a dangerous precedent to set. Once you start policing the spirit of the game, it's no longer the spirit of the game - it's the rules. In cricketing circles, falsely claiming a catch is seen as a far worse crime than failing to walk, perhaps because of the deception aspect mentioned above. But Ramdin did not appeal - in this sense he did not deceive the umpire - so this and the Broad incident are almost entirely analogous. The ICC has made a rod for its own back and must surely now punish Broad too. Fair enough, if they continue to do this (maybe they can fine bowlers for appealing for clear not outs too), they may well get their way and players will start to walk to avoid being banned and fined - but that will have nothing to do with the spirit of the game. It will just be another law for Stuart's dad and his fellow match referees to enforce.

No comments:

Post a Comment