July 14, 2013

Would Genghis Khan have walked?

This isn't about Stuart Broad. It's about whether we're happy with blatant dishonesty in the game

Unless one of the Sunday papers has been sitting on photos of Darren Lehmann in a compromising position with Her Majesty, or Geoffrey Boycott claims to have been abducted by aliens during England's second innings, this first Test (of, God help us, ten) will be remembered for Stuart Broad's sheepish look; the look of a schoolboy who knows very well who left that whoopee cushion on the headmaster's chair but is saying nothing.

They say that every batsman knows when he has hit it, but sometimes it's hard for the rest of us to know, so we give them the benefit of the doubt. In this case, the nick was woodier than a gap year with the lumberjacks of the Yukon. He knows he hit it. We know he hit it. We know that he knows that he hit it, and he knows that we know that he knows that he hit it.

Has he cheated? By Graeme Swann's standards, he has. Graeme takes a dim view of this sort of thing. He had this to say last year when Dilruwan Perera stood his ground:

"The umpire was unsighted, but the batsman stood there knowing 100% that he was out and chose to cheat in my view."

I'm not sure I'd go that far, Graeme, but whether you call it cheating or not, it was dishonest. Of course, Broad isn't the first cricketer to do it, and it doesn't make him the reincarnation of Genghis Khan*. This isn't really about Broad. It's about whether we're happy with blatant dishonesty in the game. When asked, most of the decommissioned pros in the media evade the question. Not walking is common, they say, it happens.

True, but then lots of things happen. Sometimes people don't give up their seats for elderly ladies. Sometimes we find a £10 note on the floor and keep it. We fiddle our expenses claims, park in no-parking areas, exaggerate our injuries for the purpose of claiming insurance, play our dreadful music loudly on the train, refuse to cover our mouths when coughing, and occasionally accept money for bowling no-balls.

Let's tweak the DRS and get rid of the game-show gimmick of the player referral

The question is not whether it happens, but whether it is right.

Ex-pros seem unable to give a straight answer, and it's at times like these that the disadvantage of having our press boxes and commentary booths stuffed with them becomes apparent. With one or two notable exceptions, they close ranks and offer up the usual tatty rag-bag of rationalisations: Australians don't walk; it's the umpire's fault; Stuart Broad's a nice lad; anything to avoid exercising their grey matter on an ethical issue.

Sometimes they say we non-players can't understand because we've never played cricket at their level, but I'm not sure an ability to play a beautiful cover drive is a prerequisite for making moral decisions. I've never been an MP, but I know it's dishonest for an MP to fiddle her expenses. I'm not much good with a scalpel, but I know it's unethical for a surgeon to mislay a kidney, deny everything, and hope no one notices.

Winning at all costs may be the professional thing to do, but I don't watch cricket because I want one team or the other to win at all costs. It's a beautiful pastime; a game, not a life-or-death post-apocalyptic struggle starring Mel Gibson.

So since, like small children, pet crocodiles, and investment bankers, professional cricketers cannot be trusted, they need closer supervision. Let's tweak the DRS and get rid of the game-show gimmick of the player referral. (Ah, Michael, if only you hadn't already used your referral joker, you might have won the big prize. You go home with nothing, but you've been a great sport!) Let the on-field umpires have a stab at umpiring, have the off-field umpires correcting their bloopers as they go along, and we need never go through this nonsense again.

*Genghis obviously wouldn't have walked. He would have offered Aleem Dar a steely glare, before killing all of the Australians, the umpires, and the spectators, then burning Trent Bridge to the ground. At which point a retired Mongol soldier would pop up on the radio to explain that we shouldn't blame Genghis because Attila would have done the same.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here