July 13, 2013

Is there a different moral code for batsmen?

Why do we judge a player who nicks it and stands his ground differently from one who claims a bump catch?

Broad's heart may have skipped a beat but his body language betrayed no despair © PA Photos

The immediate public reaction to the Stuart Broad caught-behind incident overnight was predictable. Many of my cricket friends that I've spoken to, cricketers who have played a high standard of grade cricket in Australia, are nonplussed by the fuss being generated by the popular media, presumably driven by the sentiments of the public, many of whom have never played cricket at a high enough level to understand that mistakes of this nature are part and parcel of the game.

From those who have played the game to any significant extent, the reaction was that it was no big deal. Umpires make mistakes, even howlers. Batsmen are perfectly entitled to stand their ground, fielders are entitled to show instinctive disbelief and disappointment, and the game moves on. The very "Australian-ness" of the moment was not lost on any of the folk I canvassed this morning. It is a widely accepted truism that Australia has always been slower to embrace the notion of "walking", happy enough to take the good with the bad.

Peter Siddle said as much in his excellent post-match interview. In his laconic, laidback style, he made it clear that the Australian team had accepted that they had got the rough end of the pineapple, but that it was part and parcel of modern cricket. A few journalists tried to make mountains out of molehills but the burly Victorian wasn't taking the bait. The spirit-of-cricket rubbish was thrown up in the air and Siddle calmly defused that grenade by pointing to the fact that the Australians just got on with the game and were unable to dismiss Broad by the end of play. Their immediate disappointment, disbelief and frustration were as instinctive as they were understandable. From the highlights reel that I saw, it did not appear that Australia lingered too long in the aftermath. Fair play to all concerned.

The only people I encountered who appeared shocked by Broad's brazen insouciance were those who had not played cricket at a competitive level and therefore (quite understandably) did not appreciate that this incident cannot be viewed in isolation. Their understanding of the spirit of cricket seems to be based purely on what they think the words mean in a literal sense, rather than on an appreciation of the nuances of the term as it has come to mean in the modern professional game.

Perhaps it is incumbent upon the ICC or FICA (representing players' voices) to clarify exactly what the spirit of cricket is meant to cover in a pragmatic sense. I wonder if the intent of the spirit is to legislate against things like racist sledging, match-fixing, ball-tampering and umpire abuse? It is certainly difficult to believe that the clause was invoked to stamp down on such acts of dishonesty as not walking, because that just opens up too many inconsistencies.

For example, if one argues that Denesh Ramdin's recent suspenson was because he knew that the ball had dropped from his gloves, it is difficult then to believe that Broad also did not know that he nicked it. Likewise Ricky Ponting must have known that he nicked it in the last World Cup* against Pakistan when he calmly stood his ground, and to his credit, equally calmly walked off the field when the third umpire upheld the Pakistani referral. So merely knowing cannot be a valid criterion for breaching the code (although Ramdin appears to have been judged by it).

What is the difference between a batsman who knows he has nicked it and a fielder who claims a catch that he knows has been grassed? Is there one moral code that applies to the point of impact, when ball passes/hits bat, and another for anything that happens after that point of impact? As one non-cricketer asked me today (and a valid question it was too), does the batsman have some sort of immunity from morality that no other player on the field can rightfully lay claim to?

When I asked her to explain further, she wanted to know why the game places no expectation on a batsman to be honest but frowns upon a fielder who claims a catch that has bounced, or a fielder who steps over the boundary line and does not confess to it. Her point was that if it is perfectly acceptable for a batsman to stand his ground when he clearly knows that he edged the ball, and live or die by the umpire's verdict, why is it that there appears to be a different sort of moral obligation on that same player if he were a fielder and claimed a low catch that he knew to have slipped from his fingers?

The tension and bad blood stems from this lack of clarity. Is it in the intent, the knowledge of a crime committed, or something that happens after the impact zone of bat, pad and ball? As it currently stands, there appears to be two different zones of honesty

While I totally support Broad's decision to stand his ground, would I judge him any more harshly if he claimed a catch that did not carry? If I was being honest, the answer is yes. I myself am a victim of that duality of morality that we've come to accept because we've played the game, but for all that, it makes no sense to someone looking in from the outside without any knowledge of that invisible code of honour.

Where did we learn this honour code? Has it just been passed down from generation to generation, defying national boundaries and cultures? Is it enough to just shrug our shoulders and hide behind the "this is cricket" sort of statement?

That's where I think the ICC or FICA could articulate what the spirit of cricket means in the modern context at the professional level. It might help to ease the tensions and confusion when an incident like this happens. Their clarification needs to be clear about the fact that it only applies to games where neutral umpires are in charge, because we all know that if we are playing in a game where there is no neutral umpire, it is generally considered poor form to deliberately cheat when one of your own team-mates is the one reluctantly standing in the white coat.

Australia have set the standard in this series by accepting the umpire's verdict with as much grace as one can expect under the circumstances, given the state of the match and the desperation of the moment. They might cop a few more poor decisions before the pendulum swings back in their favour, as it will inevitably do over the next nine Tests. England will hopefully display similar grace under fire when they cop a few shockers.

No one expects any team to just smile and get on with it. There will be that flash of disappointment, that kick of the turf, the odd profanity that is involuntarily uttered, and the swish of the bat as a batsman walks away after a rough decision. To deny the player that moment of humanity is to suck the very spirit from the game. What remains unclear is exactly where the line in the sand is when it comes to that spirit. And that's where the custodians of the game can do us all a favour by clarifying exactly what this ubiquitous beast is. The tension and bad blood stems from this lack of clarity. Is it in the intent, the knowledge of a crime committed, or something that happens after the impact zone of bat, pad and ball? As it currently stands, there appears to be two different zones of honesty and that is an anomaly that needs to be clarified.

I must confess to a grudging admiration of Broad's split-second reaction at the point of impact. Unless he genuinely did not know he had nicked it (which I find difficult to believe), it was probably this lack of a guilty reaction that saved his bacon. I think back to times when I've tried to get away with a fine edge and it was often that first trigger movement or slump of the shoulders that gave the game away. Jonny Bairstow's reaction when he edged thinly to the wicketkeeper was more natural, that moment when reality could not fight deception. Broad's heart may have skipped a beat but his body language showed none of that despair. American singer-songwriter Lauryn Hill couldn't have been thinking of Broad when she opined that "reality is easy. It's deception that's the hard work".

*13 July, 2013, 09:41:31 GMT: The article originally said Australia played Pakistan in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. They played each other in the group stage.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sam on July 16, 2013, 6:02 GMT

    If there is a ban that needs to be put it should be on Chris Broad.

  • Darren on July 16, 2013, 4:29 GMT

    In the USA the Fifth Amendment says... "[n]o person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." Does walking come under self-incrimination? A fielder who claims a non-catch is trying to 'incriminate' someone else (the batter) and would not be subject to the same protection. Of course, no one pretends that the US constitution pertains to cricket. Just a thought...

    Anyway, how often does a fielding captain call back a batter when they are given out wrongly? Less often than a batsman walks, that's for sure.

    In the end, at the professional level where there are umpires and DRS and the like, the only way to achieve consistency is to leave everything to the umpires. I have no problem with this, except for the example it sets for younger players and lower grades, where umpires don't have all the extra toys to back them up.

  • chris on July 15, 2013, 16:46 GMT

    Thanks for another thought provoking article. The difference between a batsman who nicks it and doesn't walk and the fielder who claims a catch he knows he has dropped is in the word 'claim'. The fielder who claims the catch is using deception with the intention of influencing the umpires decision. The batsman is making no claim, he merely stands there and awaits a decision. If after edging the ball Broad had looked at the umpire and tapped the edge of his bat and shaken his head then there would have been a moral equivalence to the Ramdin case. He didn't.

  • Adam on July 15, 2013, 15:31 GMT

    Of course, its not restricted to batsmen, bowlers frequently appeal vociferously when they know perfectly well that the ball was missing leg stump. Do they call the bloke back after the finger has been raised? Of course not, you play to the umpire and if you get a lucky decision you keep schtum and apologise to the victim in the pub after the game (you should buy him a pint perhaps).

  • Clifford on July 15, 2013, 13:37 GMT

    @chris_gin: yours is the only reasonable explanation I've ever heard given in this respect regarding the fielder. In my opinion in professional cricket no batsman is under an obligation to walk. The umpires are supposed to be the best and highly experienced then humongous howlers as this one was said to be (I was listening on the radio) shouldn't happen. It's one thing at your local village game but when pay checks and national glory are at stake the standards aren't quite the same.

  • Adam on July 15, 2013, 12:50 GMT

    In my mind, its to do with what the umpires can and cannot reasonably be expected to judge for themselves. An lbw, a nick, a stumping or a close catch should always be within view of a set of attentive umpires, which therefore puts the onus on them to get the decision right, and relieves the players from the necessity of self-regulation.

    On the other hand, a fielder who fakes a catch in the outfield or picks the ball up the other side of the boundary rope is out of sight of the umpire (in the amateur game at least). Its therefore expected of him to signal honestly whether or not it went over. Interestingly this is now not the case in professional matches where the boundary can be checked by the 3rd umpire.

  • Aniket on July 15, 2013, 4:32 GMT

    Wow. Batsman's game through and through isn't it? Answer to the question posed in the article's title is simple (acc. to me anyways), YES batsman are judged on a different scale.

    My issue is if no one questions the old maxim that "benefit of doubt" must be given to the batsman coz he only gets one opportunity to score runs, then why can't it be expected of them to walk for "a single form" of dismissal, i.e. Thin/faint nicks behind wicket which umpire can't hear/see/judge, out of many others like LBW, run-out, which negate the question walking altogether? Why complicate this by fussing over exact definition of "Spirit of Cricket"?

    Leave aside ethics nd morals for a moment, what Broad did/does will be part of his legacy and people will remember him by that, but the law should be same for everyone. What''s the difference between Broad's and Ramdin's behavior? Both acted within their rights, but both were guilty of claiming something untrue. One was punished, so should be the other one.

  • Chris on July 14, 2013, 21:32 GMT

    The main difference between a batsman and fielder is that the fielder's word is (usually) taken whether he's saying he caught it or did not catch it. A batsman cannot say he did not nick it when given out, so therefore it's only fair that he doesn't have to say he did nick it when given not out.

  • Cricinfouser on July 14, 2013, 16:37 GMT

    Good article. The Spirit of Cricket is frequently invoked rather as people in the US claim something with which they disagree to be 'unconstitutional'. Individuals with no particular interest in and little understanding of the game love to point to supposed debauching of the Spirit of Cricket as proof of alleged declining moral standards in the wider world.