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July 9, 2008

Samir Chopra

Keep walking

Samir Chopra
Adam Gilchrist walks back after being bowled round the legs by Virender Sehwag, Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth, 4th day, January 19, 2008
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In more formal settings, i.e., in an academic journal article, I've helped in constructing an argument whose conclusion went roughly like this: walking is a nice thing to do, but it's not bad if you don't do it. But there is a cricketing setting where you must walk, and this holds true, I think, even in 'hard-but-fair' cricket cultures. That setting is park cricket.

A reminder on how park cricket works when it comes to umpiring: the umpires are drawn from the batting side, and can be changed during an innings; the bowling side agrees, implicitly, to abide by their decisions. When the side bowling gets to bat, they supply their own umpires and soon. The fabric of a park game, and indeed, the entire competition if there is one, holding together is dependent on the bowling side not losing respect for the umpires and this convention continuing to work. When the bowling side starts to think umpires aren't being honest (and not just incompetent), accusations of cheating fly and the game quickly degenerates into acrimony and recrimination (retaliation by bad umpiring just makes things worse; in cricket, like life, revenge doesn't quite bring us the rewards we might like). Unlike international cricket it is quite easy for a park game to end because of a team walking off in a huff. But by and large this does not happen; umpires do their job reasonably well and the world of recreational cricket moves along. Indeed, recreational cricket would not survive if umpires could not be called upon from the batting side. In some lower-level settings it might be possible to call upon neutrals consistently but this is rare.

It should be clear why batsmen should walk in this cricketing setup. Umpires are doing a demanding, required job, and they can clearly be accused of self-interest when decisions go against the bowling side as they aren't neutrals in any sense. The umpires stand out in the middle, they don't relax on the grassy sidelines with the rest of their batting mates as they banter, score, drink beer, and relax. They miss out on camaraderie but cop all the tension and aggravation out in the middle. Under these circumstances, the umpires must be rendered all assistance possible. My feeling is that the following thesis underwrites park cricket conventions about walking: when umpires are not neutrals and are your own team-mates, you must help them do their job by walking when you know you are 'out'.

I hesitate to describe this convention as universal, because I've not played cricket all over the world, but it seems to me batsmen generally co-operate in these settings, and those that don't are not regarded favourably (I welcome clarification and education in this regard). When an edge flies into the wicketkeeper's gloves, batsmen walk. Those that stand around glowering and making faces when given out LBW run the risk of a dressing down from their team-mates. The umpire is your mate; he's doing a difficult job, exposing himself to the chatter of opponents; it behooves you to help him out. To be someone who gives his team-mates a hard time under the circumstances is not a very clever move in lots of ways; you can unravel your own team's fabric for one.

This leads me to my further claims: a) I suspect the not-walking convention comes about in settings where the umpires are not your team-mates i.e., in more organized or higher-level games; b) Not-walking is not universally accepted, even in cultures whose cricketers believe in not-walking in international or state-level cricket. It might be that not-walking even happens in the settings I describe, but I've not seen it other than as a species of behaviour which was not approved of. Walking is supererogatory in international cricket; in park cricket it is obligatory. This is a distinction, I think, which most cricketers recognise. And I think it complicates the easy lines we like to draw between different cricketing contexts and cultures when it comes to the ethics of practices like walking.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Chetan Asher on (July 11, 2008, 15:22 GMT)

Just a rejoinder to Mr. Wog - ICC's paid match referees understand that Australians, West Indians & Englishmen will occassionally bypass the code of conduct. They will turn a blind eye to their violations. The same match referees will not require even legally acceptable evidence when branding Indians / Pakistanis as hooligans / cheats & penalising them. ICC's allegedly neutral umpires will make "human errors" to favour Australia almost every time the Aussies are incompetent enough to be in trouble. The removal of Bucknor after Sydney which I presume you are referring to - Bucknor had made 4 errors on day one favouring Australia. On day 2, he decided incorrectly in Symonds' favour, refusing to take advantage of technology that his employers have invested in to prevent him from making an error. It was more important for Bucknor that Australia win, than Bucknor be considered honest. ICC have actually favoured Bucknor by not initiating an Anti-Corrurruption enquiry against him.

Posted by Geoff Howse on (July 11, 2008, 9:22 GMT)

Congratulations from Jakarta Indonesia - as a New South Wales umpire standing in JCA competition matches, I could get used to batsmen walking, provided that the ball was not a "No Ball".

Posted by Wog on (July 11, 2008, 3:43 GMT)

M, you make the point about charging International players for contrary conduct if they don't walk and the replays find them out. It's within the ICC's power to make this a playing condition (it's already a charge to appeal knowing it's not out). Problem, if it is a problem, immediately goes away.

More to the point, the MCC can put it in the Spirit of Cricket. They have chosen not to.

I think the ICC would rather complain and change the umpires when Symonds doesn't walk but keep the right for Sharma not to walk.

Posted by shirish nanavati on (July 11, 2008, 2:02 GMT)

If you are a man of character and if you nick you walk. Simple. there is no joy in scoring after what I call is dishonest and deep down you know you don't really deserve this and it is unfair to the opposing team and it is against the spirit of the game. Shirish CANADA.

Posted by Prabhakaran Sivanandham on (July 10, 2008, 23:23 GMT)

I personally feel umpires from batting side tries to be neutral. But if the Umpire in I Innings is not fair it automatically affects the II Innings Umpire. Walking depends on the situation. Some times you prefer not to walk in second innings if the team batted first didn't do a fair umpiring. I normally walk on thinner edges when playing with friends to escape from later accusing. In matches at higher level I don't walk for half heartened appeals.

Posted by CS Ramachandran on (July 10, 2008, 16:04 GMT)

I've played a lot of park cricket and we generally play very hard. Walking is something that comes naturally (although umpire is from the batting team, it evens out... remember, if you cheat and your opponent also can cheat). The main issue is with wides and we usually draw a line as a guide for the umpires. I see no reason for international players not to walk. Keep walking as Johnny walker says and it is healthy to walk mate.

Posted by Kishore Sharma on (July 10, 2008, 16:01 GMT)

Technology can be used to make umpires' jobs easier, but not in the ways that have been commonly suggested (i.e. usage of technology/referrals to judge whether a batsman is out). Instead, what I would like to propose is to start by taking away no-ball decisions and counting of balls per over away from umpires. Having umpired in club games, I can vouch that these can significantly distract from the core task at hand. Technology, as in tennis, can be used to detect when a bowler has overstepped and the third umpire can count the number of balls per over. That way, umpires can focus on the operational end. If this is done, I strongly suspect that we will as a result see an improvement in the quality of decision-making. So let us start with this basic step and only consider the next level (i.e. using technology for decisions) if this does not suffice to improve umpiring. Going to the next level is a lot more complicated and should only be considered once we have exhausted simpler options.

Posted by mooney on (July 10, 2008, 15:42 GMT)

It is not clear whether you are making a positive statement (as in "Batsmen in park cricket generally walk") or a normative statement (as in "If you are a batsman in a park cricket match, then you should walk."). The former refers to observed behavior patterns; the latter is a prescription for how one should behave. You seem to be doing both positive and normative analysis at the same time which I sort of find confusing.

Anyway, taking your analysis as a normative one, it is still controversial. As you can see from the comments, most of those who walk do so because "it is the right thing to do" not because "it will put my umpiring mate in a spot of bother." Now I don't believe in walking and I don't really see why that should change if my own team mate were the umpire. In either case, I leave the burden of decision-making on the umpire. Anyway, just my view.

Posted by Simon on (July 10, 2008, 13:49 GMT)

John, if you can't afford to lose, you shouldn't bet. That goes for all gamblers everywhere.

And if you're not going to walk in the event, I think you ought to explain that to the opposition beforehand. they may not want to play with you or at least to put money on it.

Posted by John on (July 10, 2008, 12:07 GMT)

How about if you're playing in the park, you're poor students, and there is some money at stake?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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