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India's Sachin Tendulkar opted to walk when Ravi Rampaul of West Indies had him out in a crucial World Cup game. Prakash Singh / AFP
India's Sachin Tendulkar opted to walk when Ravi Rampaul of West Indies had him out in a crucial World Cup game. Prakash Singh / AFP

To walk or not in cricket is a question for the batsmen

‘Spirit of cricket’ logic holds little water for batsmen as much as what is at stake for them.

It is finally time to come clean. Many, many years ago, during a club game on the kind of plush green, idyllic little village ground in East Sussex that the industry of a certain kind of cricket nostalgia runs on, I came into bat with my side five down for very few.

Memory recalls it being a beautiful, warm day, though in the mind, English club cricket is permanently frozen in that state.

There was the usual mix of ability around our side and that of the opposition: some good young cricketers, restless of energy and ambition; some older ones, content with a little fresh air, structurally affixed to first slip.

I was in the middle somewhere, young enough to retain eagerness, but old enough to not have any delusions about where this kind of thing may take me.

Serious enough, recreational enough. In hope I was a batsman, enough to lie about being a bowling all-rounder.

Maybe two balls into my innings, I received a bouncer but it was wide enough outside off-stump to attempt a cut over square or to third man. I missed but the ball flicked off my right thumb - audibly so - and was caught comfortably and ecstatically by the wicketkeeper.

I assumed everyone, umpire included, knew I was out and began to shuffle awkwardly towards the offside to begin walking back to the pavilion.

As often happens in these games, the umpire was from the batting side and I happened to catch a glance at him not having raised his finger. I stopped, pretended that my shuffling walk back was instead an admonitory regathering of concentration before the next ball.

The umpire asked whether I was walking, I said no and was duly given not out.

I ended up making my highest club score, 49 unbeaten, and helped ensure that we would not lose the game.

I am not blonde, 6 ft 5 in or really even a bowling all-rounder, but Stuart Broad knew he was out on Friday just as much as I did, all those years ago.

But, also like Broad, I suspect, and increasingly more modern-day cricketers, I do not possess any particular ideological stance on walking.

Far more than ideology, walking in the modern day makes more sense to me as a situational choice.

If my side had been 200 for five, or if I had batted well that season, or if I had taken wickets already in the match, I might have walked.

Maybe Broad would have walked had he taken seven for 32 in Australia's innings and not one for 40 off less than seven overs? Or if he had scored a 50 in the first innings? Or if England had not received a couple of poor decisions of their own in the innings already?

It is foolish to imagine that the environment at that moment in time does not impact instantly on any decision the batsman makes.

Does the existence of the Decision Review System (DRS) play a role in how batsmen react now?

Maybe just the presence of high-quality TV cameras and the weight of an entire world knowing you were out as opposed to one man thinking you were not?

Maybe it just depends on what side of the bed you woke up on that day. In the 2011 World Cup, for instance, Sachin Tendulkar walked after edging Ravi Rampaul without so much as turning around to look at what the umpire had decided; a few years earlier, he did not, despite edging Stuart Clark to Adam Gilchrist, waiting instead for Rudi Koertzen to raise his finger, which he did not.

Humans, that is, are humans, most of them amorphous and shaped by circumstance rather than defined rigidly by philosophical stances.

Who is - or has been recently - a consistent walker? Adam Gilchrist?

I am reminded of one of the greatest barbs thrown at humanity generally, from a hit Pakistani song from 2010, casually translated here: virtuous is only he who hasn't yet had opportunity.

The opportunity to walk or not walk never presented itself often enough to Gilchrist - or anyone really - to truly test their commitment to it.

The other thing about walking is that it places culpability on the player when it should instead be aimed at the umpire, or the TV umpire, or the fourth umpire, or whatever system is in place.

Why not allow more referrals?

Why not allow the TV umpire more power to overrule an on-field umpire?

Do any of that, rather than expect players whose careers often hinge on one delivery to morally police themselves.

Why not do any of that, rather than try to enforce one vague and malleable sense of sportsmanship - the Spirit of cricket - on a vast body of athletes who have emerged from different backgrounds and cultures and to whom this spirit may mean an entirely different thing to the bowler or batsman?


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