Controversy February 2, 2008

Ponting and the 1950s

The leeway traditionally granted to certain kinds of cricketing deception is threatened by the camera's unblinking gaze

I met Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi recently at an NDTV India talk show called Muqabla (contest). Before the studio discussion, talk veered to Ricky Ponting's reply to Neil Harvey's withering condemnation of Australian sledging. Ponting had argued that the team's critics and, by implication, their notions of good cricketing behaviour, were stuck in the 1950s, i.e a time when cricket wasn't the professional sport it is today. Pataudi didn't see how that explained anything. "I learnt my cricket in the hardest school there was—at least at the time—the county game. Most of the people I played with were professionals, people who played for a pretty meagre living. Nearly everyone walked, and hardly anyone sledged. There were always one or two people who didn't walk, but they were marked out as cheats."

"There was the one time that I didn't walk," he said, grinning. "We were playing West Zone in the Duleep Trophy and the captain told us not to because the chaps on the other side didn't. So I stood my ground, but that was the only time." Who was the captain? I forgot to ask him. It must have been his Hyderabad skipper, ML Jaisimha.

During the show, a young man in the audience asked if it wasn't natural to retaliate if you were provoked as Harbhajan had been by Symonds. Wasn't it important to speak up, to teach your tormentors a lesson? "A lesson?" asked Pataudi. "Wasn't Harbhajan fined fifty percent of his match fees? You teach someone a lesson when the other man loses his match fees." The studio audience laughed and clapped. He thought Kumble was the only one who had emerged from the controversy with any grace. "He led India to a win in the Perth Test. That was the best possible answer to Sydney, to win on the field of play." Loud applause. Pataudi has a relaxed, ironical manner that makes cricketing chauvinism seem vaguely absurd.

I went up to Syed Kirmani to shake his hand. He was the best Indian wicketkeeper ever and the last one to keep his mouth shut behind the stumps. After him Nayan Mongia inaugurated the age of the cheerleader keeper. Now it's mandatory for a ‘keeper to chirp and yap and appeal non-stop, allegedly to keep his team's spirits up. "After I had played more than eighty Tests, my captain (who shall remain un-named) asked me to appeal more aggressively and frequently. He suggested I imitated another, younger keeper," Kirmani said.

Kirmani refused to name names even off the show, but the the fact that this happened to him late in his career, gives us a clue. I suspect the keeper he was urged to emulate was the young Sadanand Visvanath who was part of the one-day team that won the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1985. The way Kirmani told it, he asked his captain with awful calm if he (the captain) had ever felt a lack of support behind the stumps in the dozens of Tests they had played together. If he hadn't, why was he urging him to make dishonest appeals in the autumn of his career? Resounding applause followed this rhetorical flourish.

He told another story of the time he toured Australia. Bob Simpson was the Australian captain. Kirmani thought the umpires in Australia were one-eyed. He'd appeal for an catch, be turned out and Simpson (who was batting) would turn and swear at him. After this happened a few times, Kirmani made his move. He made sure, in between overs, that the umpire was in earshot and confronted Simpson. He began by saying that Simpson was a great man and that he, Kirmani, was a novice nobody so the swearing made no difference to him. On the other hand, being sworn at by a nobody ought to make a difference to someone of Simpson's standing. So Kirmani translated all the desi abuse he knew into English and gave Simpson a earful. The story didn't end there. In a dinner party after the match, Kirmani was talking to Sir Donald Bradman and his wife (or begum as Kirmani put it) when Bob Simpson came up to him and apologized. It's a lovely story and, oddly enough, Simpson comes out of it well: I can think of many senior Indian cricketers who wouldn't have had the grace to acknowledge that they were out of line.

I asked Kirmani and Pataudi when not walking became the rule in Indian cricket. Pataudi was categorical that every batsman in the teams he captained, walked. Both of them thought that the shift came in the Seventies. That seemed about right, anecdotally. I remember Gundappa Vishwanath (debut 1969 with Pataudi as captain) always walked, but Sunil Gavaskar (debut 1971 with Ajit Wadekar as captain) didn't.

There's been a lot of talk about the ethics of not walking, especially after the Sydney Test. Harsha Bhogle raised an interesting question. How could Ponting campaign for the fielder's word to be taken on trust in the matter of a catch, when the same player in his capacity as a batsman was willing to stand his ground knowing he had nicked the ball and been caught. Surely, as Harsha suggested, the player ought to assist the umpire in both cases if he was to remain credible. Ian Chappell (and subsequently, some Australian cricket writers) made the reasonable point that a batsman was merely exercising the accused person's time-honoured legal right not to incriminate himself. The fielder, on the other hand, had the greater responsibility, because claiming a dodgy catch was like perjuring yourself, something that could be severely punished. So it was reasonable to take the fielder's word on trust because the fielder knew that if he was found to have betrayed that trust, sanctions would follow.

But the batsman's right to remain silent is based on the presumption of innocence and that presumption is hard to sustain the presence of cameras. Every time you nick the ball and don't walk, the camera is likely to show you taking advantage of human fallibility. The procedures of law are created in large part to enshrine the benefit of doubt because judges and lawyers know that in a court of law you can't have God as a witness. But today, on a cricket pitch, you can and you do. The television camera's omniscience is beginning to create a crisis for the hard men who refuse to walk.

Behaviour once seen as merely tough or hard-bitten becomes harder to justify when the camera picks up the nick: witness the revulsion that followed Symonds' frank acknowledgement that he had been caught but not given out early in his innings in Sydney. The leeway traditionally granted to certain kinds of cricketing deception is threatened by the camera's unblinking gaze. To his great credit, Adam Gilchrist instinctively understood that batsmen couldn't brazen it out any more and led by example. It's about time that his peers, Australians, Indians and the rest, followed suit. For Pataudi and Kirmani, walking was a point of honour; for cricketers in the age of the camera, it ought to be an act of self-preservation.

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in New Delhi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on March 13, 2008, 14:59 GMT

    I think this was arguably Indias most significant win actually. Australia are now officially the best team ever. For the 1st time theyr under pressure from an up and coming team challenging thier dominance post mcgrath/warne era.India look like a team who are more than challenging Australia, theyr getting better.The Aussies theyre getting older.All of a sudden India look like they can become the best cricket team in world cricket in BOTH forms of the game. When has this been the case ever before in Indias history? Never...

  • testli5504537 on March 13, 2008, 14:57 GMT

    I think this was arguably Indias most significant win actually. Australia are now officially the best ODI team ever- 4 world cup including last 2 where theyve not lost a single game. They have dominated for long long periods. For the 1st time theyr under pressure from an up and coming team challenging thier dominance post mcgrath/warne era. Whats happend here is throughout this tour India look like a team who are more than challenging Australia, theyr getting better. For the Aussies theyre getting older and the standards arent as good as say 4 years ago. All of a sudden India look like they can become the best cricket team in world cricket in BOTH forms of the game. When has this been the case ever before in Indias history? Never...

  • testli5504537 on March 4, 2008, 17:53 GMT

    Kudos to the Indian team for a superb win. This wrestling series disguised as a criket series speaks volumes of the need to rid this non-contact game of the extra's that don't belong. Australia, learnt over a decade ago that in order for them to win and compete with the best from around the world they would have to bring in their thug mentality and tactics into a so called "gentleman's game". Shame on ICC and its cronies like Malcolm Speed for bringing shame to the game and allowing Australia free reign at it terror tactics. In the end its befitting that India finsihed what the Australians started. Kudos also to the Lankans for beating the bullies in their own backyard. If Australia had any sense of honor left in them they would NOT cancel their scheduled trip to Pakistan. It would be good for cricket not mention honor a prior commitment. It may just save Paksitan cricket from the brink of extinction. PCB and Naseem Ashraf are doing their best just to make sure that happens.

  • testli5504537 on March 4, 2008, 13:47 GMT

    How about another write up Mukul? It's been a while - On Australia's arrogance or on India's historic victory? Or on Tendulkar's Australian tour?

  • testli5504537 on February 27, 2008, 2:13 GMT

    Mukul, first of all congratulations for some great articles. I am requesting that you initiate a blog on the despicible behaviour of this Australian team. On, second thought what more is their to say or expect? Symonds has continued to provoke and gets away unpunished. Hayden, that un-cannonized patron saint of this team calls Harbajan an "obnoxious weed". The best Australian "weeders" alias "goondas" were Darren Lehman and his buddy (forget his name), could not be noteworthy, best forgotten. Then comes the defence of the teams behaviour from none other than Neilsen, their coach.Now, the likes of this Aussie element are recruited by the IPL and ICL for large sums of money. What kind of role models do the youth of the world and especially India need? Surely, not this Aussie team!! Is this sport? If it is then maybe we should put this team in an amphitheatre and release whatever is left of India's lions to do battle with them. Intelligent humans do not have to put up with animals.

  • testli5504537 on February 27, 2008, 1:38 GMT

    i am missing your flip flop comments write something my friend

  • testli5504537 on February 25, 2008, 18:55 GMT

    Dickie Bird mentioned [in his autobiography?] that Eddie Barlow, the legendary South African told him that while he would never walk, he would also never complain about any incorrect decision he received. That seems eminently fair to me.

    Bird himself mentioned that what troubled him were not the non-walkers, but rather the "strategic walkers": those who would walk after a hundred but not if they were on zero etc.

    Personally, I'd say don't walk. But then, like Barlow, don't complain. If you want to walk, that's your outlook: just don't expect everyone else to adopt it. Not walking [the way Barlow practiced it] is definitely morally superior to "strategic" walking, and I would argue, as ethical as walking. It is a stance which accepts the possibility of human error in umpire decision making and agrees to live with the consequences of such errors.

    And since Barlow played from the sixties to the early eighties, I am not sure that I buy Pataudi's claim that "almost everyone walked" in county matches.

  • testli5504537 on February 17, 2008, 13:34 GMT

    not walking is cheating....If you have the technology why not use it to call the batsmen back if he's not out or send him in the hut if he is.-recent post Sachin Tendulkar hit one right of the edge and didn't move a muscle and was incredulously given not out...... by the flavour of some posts some Indians would call him a cheat... or wouldn't they.....would other factors now come into play as to whether someone is a cheat...cloudy issue...

  • testli5504537 on February 17, 2008, 1:13 GMT

    Ricky Ponting has effectively admitted that Bradman as a batsman was a joke because as Ponting has said himself, the modern era of cricket represents professional cricket while Bradman's era represents amateur and schoolboy cricket. Thank you Ponting for admitting that Bradman was a joke.

  • testli5504537 on February 16, 2008, 23:48 GMT

    The solution is to level the playing field by banning walking and fining anyone who attempts to walk before the umpire renders his decision. Furthermore, this silly nonsense about playing the game the MCC way must be thrown into the gutter and maximum use of video and other electronic assistance must be deployed to ensure that incompetent and/or racist umpires do not destroy the game. Furthermore, umpires should be evaluated in percentage terms for the quality of their decisions, versus the electronic evidence, and the bad ones should be booted out of the game, or at the very least demoted to lower levels of the game where they can try and get it right for a change. Enough of this nonsense that the umpires decision is final. If he get's it wrong, he must pay the price for his incompetence. No-one is above the law, not even the umpires.

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