There is a group of people who subscribe to the school of thought which believes that Stuart Broad should have walked after veritably hitting the cover off an Ashton Agar delivery and being caught at slip. They are right, he should have.
There is a second group of people who believe that Broad is not alone among modern batsmen to leave the decision-making to the umpires, and that a professional cricketer should focus merely on runs and wickets. They are right, Broad did what anyone in his shoes would.
If it’s contradictory that two diametrically opposing views are equally acceptable, this is only because it is the third view that is universally despised. As a batsman, the worst thing you can do is walk when it suits you. When you know you’re obviously out and the umpire is going to rule that way, you “walk” in order to bank goodwill for times when you might actually need it. This kind of deception, or attempts at it, are not uncommon, but the cricket community is a small one and a player who tries to do so builds himself a reputation. He is then marked out, by the opposition, the umpires and occasionally even his own team-mates.
The Spirit of Cricket was first included as the preamble to the laws of the game in 2000, after a long and sustained campaign by the Marylebone Cricket Club, formalising a code based on a cause that Ted Dexter and Lord Colin Cowdrey, two former England captains and MCC members, had espoused. It is something players from around the world are constantly reminded about, and they are often roped in to promote this favourite cause of the MCC. However, in private, almost to a man, every player will tell you exactly how pointless this code is in the heat of battle. When someone’s place in the team is on the line, or the team’s victory is in doubt, or, indeed if a lucrative Indian Premier League contract hangs on a performance, spirit be damned, do what you must, is the attitude.
When Kevin Pietersen fronted up to the media at the end of the third day’s play on Friday (July 12), he was unequivocal on the team’s stance vis-à-vis walking, the spirit of cricket and such esoteric grey areas: “Each and every player who plays for their country, their club side, for their franchise or their county has the opportunity to wait for the decision the umpire makes, and you respect the umpire’s decision,” said Pietersen, building a laundry list of where all players might enforce this. “We play hard. We play fair and each individual has the responsibility and makes the judgement if he will wait for the umpire’s decision. Aleem Dar is a fantastic umpire and he has been rated one of the best umpires in world cricket over the last few years. Wait and respect his decision.”
While this sounded entirely fair, and credible – despite KP’s rather determined hardline stance and complete lack of empathy with the opposition – it did raise the question of exactly what England were doing, almost exactly two years ago, at the same venue, when Ian Bell was given out in contentious circumstances, against India. The incident in question happened when Bell completed three runs off an Eoin Morgan shot that was fielded on the boundary. Unsure of whether the ball was cleanly fielded, Bell jogged down the pitch even as Morgan put his hand up. Instead of returning to his crease, Bell continued on and when the throw came in, the bails were whipped off. While the on-field umpires consulted with their colleague who had the benefit of replays, India were asked more than once if they wanted to withdraw their appeal. They declined, and when it was found that the ball had not crossed the ropes, Bell was declared out, on 137.
If, England truly believed, as Pietersen insisted on Friday, that they played their cricket hard but fair and that they “wait and respect the umpire’s decision”, the matter should have ended there. We do know, however, that it did not. No sooner had the players walked off the ground for tea, the Indians being booed roundly, than Andy Flower, the team director, and Andrew Strauss, the captain, went over to the Indian dressing-room to ask them to consider withdrawing their appeal, invoking the very same Spirit of Cricket.
When Mahendra Singh Dhoni did so, in consultation with his team, boos turned to cheers and the England and Wales Cricket Board were quick with a pat on the back. “The withdrawal of a valid appeal at the tea interval was made in the spirit of cricket by the India team and demonstrates the true spirit in which the game of cricket should be played,” said David Collier, chief executive of the ECB. Would Collier agree today that Broad did not demonstrate that same true spirit?
Strauss had been similarly enthusiastic. “It’s one of those circumstances where there are always shades of grey but I think it was good for the game of cricket,” said Strauss. “In years to come, it will be looked upon as a step in the right direction for the game of cricket and hopefully other people will follow those decisions.” If the decision to play within the spirit and the rules set an example for others, do England somehow believe Broad is somehow exempt?
By leaning so heavily on the spirit of cricket one day, to the extent of asking for a decision to be overturned, and choosing on another to take refuge in the rules, England have clarified their position on one of cricket’s grey areas more loudly than a dozen press conferences could.
By standing, when he could have walked, Broad has left his father Chris open to a rather awkward question. So, Mr Match Referee, how do you reconcile banning a wicketkeeper for two matches for claiming a catch he might have known was not cleanly taken, when your son stays at the crease after being certain he was out caught?