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Stuart Broad did only what cricketers have been doing for half a century - but doing it in the full glare of the Ashes has unleashed the sermonising
July 13, 2013
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The Short Stuff : 'An appalling piece of umpiring'
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In Focus: Technology in cricket
Matches: England v Australia at Nottingham
Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of England and Scotland
The media likes nothing better than to moralise and Stuart Broad has felt its full force. He has been presented in some quarters as a symbol of cricket's moral decline, a disgrace to his profession and an appalling example to young children. He has been held responsible for everything except a sudden fall in house prices, although there is time for that yet.
Broad's offence was to do what cricketers - and not just professional cricketers - have been doing for half-a-century or more: he did not walk. But unluckily for him, he did it in the full glare of an Ashes series and so the sermonising has begun.
If technology is now so all-revealing that it offers the chance to readdress that custom, then this is a matter for the game's administrators, not for a young man caught in the crossfire.
Far from being a sinner, Broad is more properly seen as a victim of circumstance. He was not just a beneficiary of umpiring error, he became a victim of it. If protocol meant that Marais Erasmus, the third umpire, could not intervene to tell Aleem Dar he had committed a howler, then it is time to change the protocol.
He also suffered disproportionately because his edge was so apparent. But thousands of batsmen have not walked for thin nicks. Everyone of them deserves a consistent response. Or are we really now to believe that the more obvious the edge the greater the crime?
One of the problems with the Ashes is that non cricket-lovers try to impose their theories of morality on a game which for most of the time gets on perfectly well without them.
That is not to say that cricket does not need the widest possible audience because it does. That is not to say that Broad was not dishonest because he was. It is to observe that the game's traditions, embedded for many years, should play a part in any judgment on his behaviour.
Cricketers rarely walk. That is how it is. Get over it. The practice has always been justified by the fact that over time, fortune will tend to even out. It has also been accepted because it has been impossible to police: a concession to reality. It is not widely seen as unfair play, merely an unfortunate quirk in the game.
Not everybody likes it, but those who play and watch the game regularly understand that it is a personal choice. It is not an issue.
You might as well protest about rugby players illegally feeding a scrum or footballers appealing for offside. As offences against the Spirit of Cricket go, it is not in the first hundred.
ESPNcricinfo is indebted to Venkatraman Ganesan for reminding us of a study by Gary Becker, a Nobel Laureate and professor of economics and sociology at the University of Chicago.
Becker studied what drove dishonest behaviour. His Simple Model of Rational Crime concluded that before engaging in any act that might be regarded as morally inappropriate, the perpetrator would weigh negative implications against the positive.
There were overwhelming reasons why Broad should not have walked:
(I) There is no convention of walking in professional cricket (even in club cricket there is no definite view) which left him free to act as he pleased.
(ii) The umpire gave him not out and there is an ICC process in place to use technology to minimise umpire's errors.
(iii) There was an Ashes Test to win and the match was at a critical juncture. His team expected him to put collective aspirations ahead of individual considerations.
(iv) Australia's condemnation would be immediate, but brief, and it would not be followed up off the field, because they knew they would have done the same.
(v) Never before has a batsman been punished for not walking.
The negatives were purely that he would face a backlash in both the traditional media and on social media and be held up as an example of cricket's moral decline. These negatives have now been unleashed.
Broad stood to gain by holding his ground. He would have been embarrassed by the hand that fate had dealt him, he would have been aware even as he stayed put of the condemnation that would follow, but he would have felt he had little choice but to brazen it out. Becker would surely conclude that his response was entirely rational.
Even to compare his actions to dishonestly claiming a catch on the bounce is a false comparison. Not walking has long been became an accepted convention. That cannot be suggested about a falsely claimed catch and so cricket's view that this constitutes cheating rightly remains.
And as for the Spirit of Cricket? Well, it is a nebulous concept to be sure, but in some areas, it still serves a purpose by vaguely promoting the common good. It should not be paraded to condemn Broad. Neither has he destroyed it overnight. Even the man who wrote the Preamble, Sir Colin Cowdrey, was held by some only to walk for the obvious ones.
It is fun to watch Broad have one of his Malfoy moments. There has always been something of the look of Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter's chief antagonist, about him, as even the England dressing room has recognised by adopting it as one of his nicknames. This reputation has counted against him.
He was a sportsman seeking to do essentially good things: put his reputation on the line and strive to win an Ashes Test. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and now he must suffer the consequences.
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