August 22, 2013

Cheating: it's in our blood

Cricket changes because we are inventive and have the capacity for underhand behaviour and self-deception. As we evolve, the rules must too
12

Deception, as in the case of Stuart Broad at Trent Bridge, is a pre-programmed ability
Deception, as in the case of Stuart Broad at Trent Bridge, is a pre-programmed ability © PA Photos

We are built to cheat. Our DNA demands that we take the opportunities that increase our chance of survival. In Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Arthur C Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is the bone-wielding apes who viciously club the unarmed apes. No lingering guilt about what is fair inhibits their bloody victory. But these are primates fighting over territory in a tooth-and-claw scrabble without values to impinge their survival instincts, distant cousins of refined cricketers imbued with a sense of moral duty to a sport that has long been elevated above other recreation as a bastion of fair play.

However, it is the codified rules, empirical rather than moral, that ultimately define a sport. In football you cannot touch the ball with your hands, in rugby football you can. Bereft of guidelines a sporting contest debases back to the savannah. Medieval, unruly versions of the beautiful game involved neighbouring villages fighting to move a ball from one field to another. These riotous matches, with surging mobs hacking, wrestling and lurching back and forth across muddied fields - much like a Five Nations clash from the 1980s - were banned in 1314 by an Edward II Royal Decree that declared "hustling over large balls" as an act "from which many evils may arrive."

Cricket, conversely, has often been taught in an effort to instil morality and sportsmanship. The phrase "It's just not cricket" has been popularised to describe underhand behaviour in wider society. The MCC, the owner of the Laws of Cricket since the 18th century, included a Preamble on this "Spirit of Cricket" in its updated 2000 code: "Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this Spirit causes injury to the game itself."

Occasionally players do contravene this near-mystical ethic of cricketing spirit. In 1981, six runs were needed from the last ball of the third World Series Cup final between Australia and New Zealand, and Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother Trevor to bowl underarm. New Zealand's No. 10 Brian McKechnie blocked the grubber and then hurled his bat away in disgust. Outrage followed, and the Australian Cricket Board acknowledged that Chappell's action "was within the laws of the game" but as the MCC would formally state, "that it was totally contrary to the spirit in which cricket has been, and should be, played".

The unwritten code of fair play had been broken, and a week later the law was changed to ban underarm bowling. Like religion, the Spirit of Cricket is a concept universally understood but not universally practised.

In the first Ashes Test at Trent bridge, Stuart Broad edged Ashton Agar to first slip and stood his ground when he knew full well he was out. Sensing that he might escape justice, his face was that of a boy wiping away the crumbs of a stolen cookie - never has he looked more like the nefarious Malfoy from Harry Potter than when he realised his stay of execution.

It is the same player, whether on the village green or Test match arena, stuttering "I really wasn't sure if I'd hit it" who demonstrates an ancient skill - not only to others but also to oneself.

"In a competition for mates, a well-developed capacity for self-deception is an advantage," writes philosopher John Gray in Straw Dogs. "The same is true in politics, and many other contexts."

Including, one would argue, when at the crease.

"If they believe the lie," says Victor Gombos, a psychologist at California State University, "it's easier to be convincing." That golden duck turned into a century is sweeter still if the guilty man can free himself of the crime.

The walk-or-not-to-walk conundrum is a direct test of moral fortitude against genetics - a measure of character extended to home umpires in club games when they, as well as the appealing fielders, are well aware that the ball held aloft in the keeper's glove did indeed feather their team-mate's bat - and a prime example of how lying, whether to oneself or to others, is a pre-programmed ability.

Cheating will advance too. Silicone tape and Murray Mints. Sunscreen made of beeswax. Each mutation of advantage will result in a tweak of governance

"Almost all children lie," notes the director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, Dr Kang Lee. In 2010, after studying 1200 children Lee claimed that lying "is a sign they have reached a new developmental milestone" and evidence of a fast-developing brain. He was quick to negate the link between juvenile deception and graduation into adult fraudsters - and, we presume, dishonest cricketers.

Whether Broad not walking constitutes a lie is debatable. No one asked him if he had hit the ball. And, as many great batsmen have done before him, he is entitled to wait on the umpire's decision. But a cheat? If so, he is certainly not the first, or the last.

In a 2013 survey conducted for the MCC and the Cricket Foundation, one in 20 children questioned admitted they were proud to have achieved victory dishonestly. With 22 players involved in a cricket match, that correlates to at least one dedicated cheater per game. This will to sporting power, to win at all costs, was highlighted in Dr Robert Goldman's 1984 survey that claimed over 50% of athletes would take an undetectable drug that assured them five years of glory.

Darwinism teaches that a quest for truth is often contrary to our survival. The truth is that Broad edged the ball to first slip, and the deception prolonged his life. Here, the "victory" gene, as I shall briefly rename Dawkins "selfish" original, is in conflict with what is considered fair play. Morality is built on the shifting sands of time, place and culture, and in natural selection the human mind pursues evolutionary success, not values.

Therefore as we evolve, the rules, and how they are applied, must adapt too. Sporting laws that fail to keep players in check will die off like dodos. Cricket changes because we are inventive mammals with the capacity for creativity - cheating.

The DRS will improve. Hot Spot and Snicko will see and hear with Orwellian focus. The Ministry of Truth will reign over every high-definition microsecond of every televised game, and on-field umpires - such as Tony Hill on the third morning at Chester-le-Street, when the big-screen replays confirmed his error and the players were halfway off the pitch before he raised his finger to an empty wicket - will be no more than conduits for decisions made by circuit boards.

And cheating will advance too. Silicone tape and Murray Mints. Sunscreen made of beeswax. Each mutation of advantage will result in a tweak of governance. While the coming youth play warped forms of our beloved game, and we casually forget this is a sport born on grassy meadows with curving bats and gates of sticks instead of stumps - an evolving game - our fading generation will hark back to a time when cricket was cricket, and a batsman could stand his ground whether he had hit the ball or not.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His first novel, Show Me the Sky was nominated for the IMPAC literary award

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ReverseSweepRhino on August 22, 2013, 18:08 GMT

    Professional sports often depend on small differences between players or teams to provide results. And, sportsmen need these small differences to keep their careers running. A wicket saved (or one taken) can mean the difference between making the squad for the next series, or sitting it out.

    Just like in any other workplace, professional sports need clear and objective rules, not moral calls on the "spirit of the game." The only true spirit of the game is to give the best performance one can, without breaking any rules. A batsman can't give his best performance by walking. Whether he chooses to walk is his call, but if he is not breaking the law either way, his decision should be respected.

    An "unwritten code" is nothing more than a mere suggestion. If it deserves to be something more, it should be written down, so it can be enacted and enforced. Otherwise, it should just sit on the stands and watch the game go by, groaning like the rest of the spectators when things don't go its way

  • dsuperguy on August 23, 2013, 20:53 GMT

    As a rule whenever Im out I walk...

    if the umpire gave me out I walked without question.

    BUT there was one time I edged the ball, knew I edged it but never walked... the umpires did not hear anything...

    I stood my ground and went on to make 54 not out.

    I'll never forget it....It is my one blemish and regret in my cricketing career

  • on August 23, 2013, 17:13 GMT

    cheating as you define it here focuses on the written rules but all sports are managed by the officials application of the rules. in this case the error was the referees, the fact some cricketers don't wait for the decision is down to them. it is part of the game from appealing when you know it is not out to not walking when you hit it. it is not cheating but survival, and if you get away with an umpire error so be it

  • alarky on August 23, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    Mr Hogg, I should also mention that I detest blatant cheaters! If they do it once, or even twice, I usually forgive them. However, any sportsman or woman who gains my perpetual criticism is one of those whom I have reason to know is a blatant cheat - having seen him/her do it more than three times! They do so to inflate their records for self glorification - this I think is wrong! For me, the gains they get from cheating only represents a false image of their true talent!

  • Not_Another_Keybored_Expert on August 23, 2013, 9:59 GMT

    when you talk about actions that are not within the spirit of the game you can add bodyline to your list as well.

  • Harlequin. on August 23, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    Having watched cricket for a while I am surprised that people, such as 'icfa' have only just seemed to have realised that sometimes batsmen will edge the ball to the keeper and not give themselves out. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb here and claim that the majority of batsmen do it. In fact, I am going to go out on two limbs here, and maybe even an appendage, and claim that it has happened in every single test match for the last 30 years. What was different here? The umpire didn't give him out (which is hardly a rare occurrence to be honest)

    So mr 'icfa', unless you come from one of the unlucky countries not to have played test cricket, I am willing to bet my years salary that one of your countries representatives has edged the ball to the keeper, not walked, and not been hounded to the gallows by his countrymen for destroying the moral fabric of the nation

  • crick_sucks on August 23, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    well said...it is in the DNA. How else can you explain the whole nation defending SB. Reflects on the moral fabric of the nation.

  • regofpicton on August 22, 2013, 19:38 GMT

    Underarm? 1981? Seems like yesterday. Never forget, never forgive! Never forget, either, that it was Mckechnie that got fined!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Optic on August 22, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    Interesting article.

    One point though, It's become a myth this but Broad didn't edge the ball to slip at all, he edged it to Haddin who gloved it to first slip. Huge difference when people are being accursed of cheating etc and it was that glove that made it look a whole lot worse than it was.

  • on August 22, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    Great article by Hogg. I don't agree with all his assumptions about human nature, but this is a thoughtful, witty, and perceptive piece of writing. Definitely one of the more intellectual articles I've read here.

  • ReverseSweepRhino on August 22, 2013, 18:08 GMT

    Professional sports often depend on small differences between players or teams to provide results. And, sportsmen need these small differences to keep their careers running. A wicket saved (or one taken) can mean the difference between making the squad for the next series, or sitting it out.

    Just like in any other workplace, professional sports need clear and objective rules, not moral calls on the "spirit of the game." The only true spirit of the game is to give the best performance one can, without breaking any rules. A batsman can't give his best performance by walking. Whether he chooses to walk is his call, but if he is not breaking the law either way, his decision should be respected.

    An "unwritten code" is nothing more than a mere suggestion. If it deserves to be something more, it should be written down, so it can be enacted and enforced. Otherwise, it should just sit on the stands and watch the game go by, groaning like the rest of the spectators when things don't go its way

  • dsuperguy on August 23, 2013, 20:53 GMT

    As a rule whenever Im out I walk...

    if the umpire gave me out I walked without question.

    BUT there was one time I edged the ball, knew I edged it but never walked... the umpires did not hear anything...

    I stood my ground and went on to make 54 not out.

    I'll never forget it....It is my one blemish and regret in my cricketing career

  • on August 23, 2013, 17:13 GMT

    cheating as you define it here focuses on the written rules but all sports are managed by the officials application of the rules. in this case the error was the referees, the fact some cricketers don't wait for the decision is down to them. it is part of the game from appealing when you know it is not out to not walking when you hit it. it is not cheating but survival, and if you get away with an umpire error so be it

  • alarky on August 23, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    Mr Hogg, I should also mention that I detest blatant cheaters! If they do it once, or even twice, I usually forgive them. However, any sportsman or woman who gains my perpetual criticism is one of those whom I have reason to know is a blatant cheat - having seen him/her do it more than three times! They do so to inflate their records for self glorification - this I think is wrong! For me, the gains they get from cheating only represents a false image of their true talent!

  • Not_Another_Keybored_Expert on August 23, 2013, 9:59 GMT

    when you talk about actions that are not within the spirit of the game you can add bodyline to your list as well.

  • Harlequin. on August 23, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    Having watched cricket for a while I am surprised that people, such as 'icfa' have only just seemed to have realised that sometimes batsmen will edge the ball to the keeper and not give themselves out. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb here and claim that the majority of batsmen do it. In fact, I am going to go out on two limbs here, and maybe even an appendage, and claim that it has happened in every single test match for the last 30 years. What was different here? The umpire didn't give him out (which is hardly a rare occurrence to be honest)

    So mr 'icfa', unless you come from one of the unlucky countries not to have played test cricket, I am willing to bet my years salary that one of your countries representatives has edged the ball to the keeper, not walked, and not been hounded to the gallows by his countrymen for destroying the moral fabric of the nation

  • crick_sucks on August 23, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    well said...it is in the DNA. How else can you explain the whole nation defending SB. Reflects on the moral fabric of the nation.

  • regofpicton on August 22, 2013, 19:38 GMT

    Underarm? 1981? Seems like yesterday. Never forget, never forgive! Never forget, either, that it was Mckechnie that got fined!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Optic on August 22, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    Interesting article.

    One point though, It's become a myth this but Broad didn't edge the ball to slip at all, he edged it to Haddin who gloved it to first slip. Huge difference when people are being accursed of cheating etc and it was that glove that made it look a whole lot worse than it was.

  • on August 22, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    Great article by Hogg. I don't agree with all his assumptions about human nature, but this is a thoughtful, witty, and perceptive piece of writing. Definitely one of the more intellectual articles I've read here.

  • alarky on August 22, 2013, 12:15 GMT

    Excellent Mr Hogg! However, I beg to differ on a few points. When you said, "Whether Broad not walking constitutes a lie is debatable. No one asked him if he had hit the ball". It is my view that a unanimous and prolonged appeal as the one that was made, in addition to the fieldsmen delaying antics to even go back to their positions constituted "more than the question of DID YOU HIT IT to Mr Broad! Secondly, you mentioned that ONE WEEK after Greg Chappell tried that stunt, the particular law was changed! I often wonder why do the authorities take so long to change those "BAD LAWS" that put the game into disrepute daily? You also noted, "And cheating will advance too"! Again, the authorities should anticipate this bit of truth and try always to be ahead of those whose DNA comprise 99.9% cheating. You even mentioned some of the ways that cheating can be done by players 'doctoring' their bats. The solution: The umpires should keep all bats used in the game - as is the case with the balls.

  • MostCulturedAussieSirLesPatterson on August 22, 2013, 12:12 GMT

    And here was I thinking: "We're English. We never cheat"!

  • MostCulturedAussieSirLesPatterson on August 22, 2013, 12:12 GMT

    And here was I thinking: "We're English. We never cheat"!

  • alarky on August 22, 2013, 12:15 GMT

    Excellent Mr Hogg! However, I beg to differ on a few points. When you said, "Whether Broad not walking constitutes a lie is debatable. No one asked him if he had hit the ball". It is my view that a unanimous and prolonged appeal as the one that was made, in addition to the fieldsmen delaying antics to even go back to their positions constituted "more than the question of DID YOU HIT IT to Mr Broad! Secondly, you mentioned that ONE WEEK after Greg Chappell tried that stunt, the particular law was changed! I often wonder why do the authorities take so long to change those "BAD LAWS" that put the game into disrepute daily? You also noted, "And cheating will advance too"! Again, the authorities should anticipate this bit of truth and try always to be ahead of those whose DNA comprise 99.9% cheating. You even mentioned some of the ways that cheating can be done by players 'doctoring' their bats. The solution: The umpires should keep all bats used in the game - as is the case with the balls.

  • on August 22, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    Great article by Hogg. I don't agree with all his assumptions about human nature, but this is a thoughtful, witty, and perceptive piece of writing. Definitely one of the more intellectual articles I've read here.

  • Optic on August 22, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    Interesting article.

    One point though, It's become a myth this but Broad didn't edge the ball to slip at all, he edged it to Haddin who gloved it to first slip. Huge difference when people are being accursed of cheating etc and it was that glove that made it look a whole lot worse than it was.

  • regofpicton on August 22, 2013, 19:38 GMT

    Underarm? 1981? Seems like yesterday. Never forget, never forgive! Never forget, either, that it was Mckechnie that got fined!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • crick_sucks on August 23, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    well said...it is in the DNA. How else can you explain the whole nation defending SB. Reflects on the moral fabric of the nation.

  • Harlequin. on August 23, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    Having watched cricket for a while I am surprised that people, such as 'icfa' have only just seemed to have realised that sometimes batsmen will edge the ball to the keeper and not give themselves out. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb here and claim that the majority of batsmen do it. In fact, I am going to go out on two limbs here, and maybe even an appendage, and claim that it has happened in every single test match for the last 30 years. What was different here? The umpire didn't give him out (which is hardly a rare occurrence to be honest)

    So mr 'icfa', unless you come from one of the unlucky countries not to have played test cricket, I am willing to bet my years salary that one of your countries representatives has edged the ball to the keeper, not walked, and not been hounded to the gallows by his countrymen for destroying the moral fabric of the nation

  • Not_Another_Keybored_Expert on August 23, 2013, 9:59 GMT

    when you talk about actions that are not within the spirit of the game you can add bodyline to your list as well.

  • alarky on August 23, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    Mr Hogg, I should also mention that I detest blatant cheaters! If they do it once, or even twice, I usually forgive them. However, any sportsman or woman who gains my perpetual criticism is one of those whom I have reason to know is a blatant cheat - having seen him/her do it more than three times! They do so to inflate their records for self glorification - this I think is wrong! For me, the gains they get from cheating only represents a false image of their true talent!

  • on August 23, 2013, 17:13 GMT

    cheating as you define it here focuses on the written rules but all sports are managed by the officials application of the rules. in this case the error was the referees, the fact some cricketers don't wait for the decision is down to them. it is part of the game from appealing when you know it is not out to not walking when you hit it. it is not cheating but survival, and if you get away with an umpire error so be it