October 3, 2013

Not walking when you nick it? That's cheating

You have no choice but to walk when you're caught at cover. It ought to be the same if you feather it to slip

Monday was a very English sort of day. The shared laughter of lunches and dinners; a judgemental fourth estate putting down its marker and an ongoing whisper of the Spirit of the Game. The Cricket Writers Club held its annual lunch and awarded gongs to Wayne Madsen, the County Championship Cricketer of the Year, and Ben Stokes, Young Cricketer of the Year. Stokes made a real noise in Durham's title-breaking match against Yorkshire at Scarborough with a lively hundred and some properly fast bowling. Even Geoffrey Boycott admitted he could play a bit. The consequence of Stokes' exciting summer is a place in the touring party to Australia. One supposes there are things more exciting for a 22-year-old but they have bypassed most of us. There is a freshness to his cricket that evokes a bit of Botham in his youth, but whisper it, for the moniker is hard to handle.

Madsen comes from fine South African stock. His uncle Trevor was a gifted left-hand batsman for Natal in the days when Mike Procter and Vintcent van der Bijl knocked over all comers on greentops at Kingsmead. Trevor could also play hockey, like a genius they used to say, but I cannot comment from first hand. He kept wicket too and had the most natural hands. Another uncle was Henry Fotheringham, who played in that same Natal side before he moved to the Transvaal and became a part of the mean machine that was so ruthlessly led by Clive Rice. (At its best, the team read: Jimmy Cook, Fotheringam, Alvin Kallicharran, Graeme Pollock, Rice, Kevin McKenzie, Ray Jennings, Alan Kourie, Sylvester Clarke, van der Bijl and Rupert Hanley. Perhaps the greatest provincial / state / county team ever.) In the Natal days Fotheringham played for the same club side as Procter, Berea Rovers, along with a couple of lesser lights from the first-class scene. Cricket in South Africa was immensely strong during the apartheid years.

Wayne Madsen is making a life in England with Derbyshire, the team he has led with inspirational and courageous performances of his own. Relegation will have hurt him deeply. There will be little consolation in the CMJ Sprit of Cricket award, which he received for walking in a match against Yorkshire. If you are a "walker", it is not something you see as heroic. It is just how it is. You nick it and go. Ask Adam Gilchrist and Brian Lara. Gilchrist was challenged by his Australian team-mates, who felt they were playing at a disadvantage if a key player was giving himself out - rather than leaving the decision with the umpire, which is the Australian way. Gilchrist decided to make the decision himself and this led him to become more conscious, analytical and suspicious of something he had long considered right and normal.

We carelessly say that not walking is fine, as long as you accept the umpire's decision without rancour. We add that we are too far down the road to turn back. But maybe, as cameras expose the game ever more forensically, reality will take hold. If a batsman edges the ball and stands, he is cheating. (At the very least, he is taking the main chance in an underhand way.) I know, I hear the howls of laughter already. But this is a fact. Just as when he hits it to cover and walks, so he edges to the wicketkeeper and stays! This act shows a disrespect for both sets of players, the umpire, and the game. Pretty much always, batsmen know whether or not they have hit the ball, and if they have, well, they are out. In this example of dismissal, there would be no need for the umpire, or for TV, or for the third umpire and DRS. No need!

There will be a rage against this view because we have been brainwashed by the idea that the umpire is there to make the decision. Indeed he is, but not if the cricketer has made it for him. When Tony Greig captained England he told his team - most of whom walked in county cricket because the umpires knew you well enough to nail you next time round - to stay put in Test matches, otherwise the opposition began at an advantage. You could hardly blame him. But from this attitude comes a list of corollaries, not least that deception is okay and therefore can be applied to other aspects of the game, such as claiming catches that are taken on the bounce, appealing when you know the opponent is not out and so on. How can this action have survived without debate or sanction? Former players look on from commentary boxes, discuss the pictures set before them and tut-tut at proven nicks that avoid the umpire's eye and ear. Lucky boy, we say, knowingly. Because people in glass houses must not throw stones.

From not walking comes a list of corollaries, not least that deception is okay and therefore can be applied to other aspects of the game, such as claiming catches that are taken on the bounce, appealing when you know the opponent is not out and so on

Ultimately, the game belongs to the players. Some are humiliated when television shows them foul, others simply admonished for a daft moment. But much of the confusion in the DRS comes from dishonesty and much of the insecurity, and thus inconsistency, in umpiring comes from the same. If the on-field umpire is to be saved, the players will have to take a lead. Stop grumbling about the fellows in white coats, gentlemen, and have a look in the mirror.

Now back to Monday in England. After lunch with the cricket writers was dinner with Wisden in the Long Room at Lord's. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the incomparable Almanack - that small, stubby book of record that is wrapped each year in its yellow jacket, read by magnifying glass and revered by collectors - the MCC generously put on a bit of a bash. There are 42 living Honorary Life Members of the MCC who have, at one time or another, been named one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year. Twenty-nine of them were at Lord's and were individually introduced, to thunderous applause from members and guests alike.

The room is a wondrous place for dinner, candlelit and atmospheric. Around the 200 diners hung the ghosts of the game - pictures of WG, CB Fry, Bradman and Jardine, Hutton and Miller, among other magnificent works of art. The MCC has a fine collection, both classical and contemporary. The one of Viv Richards in the library is almost scary, just as it should be.

Two heroes of 1963 at Lord's, Ted Dexter and Brian Close, had a natter. Alas, the third hero, Colin Cowdrey, who came to the crease against Wes Hall to save the game with his broken arm in plaster, has long left us for greater things. Peter Parfitt talked gloriously of Denis Compton. Derek Underwood spoke of his time as president when he met the Queen and told her that making a hundred at Lord's had always been his ambition. "You're dreaming," replied Her Majesty.

Darren Gough brought the room to its knees with a tale of his Strictly Come Dancing days and the consequences of victory. Graham Gooch thanked Geoffrey Boycott, Micky Stewart and Doug Insole for the influence they had had on his career. Insole acknowledged that he had played the first Test match among those in the room, back in 1950 against West Indies at Trent Bridge. Sonny Ramadhin got him twice in the match. Second innings stumped by Clyde Walcott. I don't suppose he walked for that but had he nicked it, well, of course he would, wouldn't he? It had been a very English sort of a day.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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