In defence of cheating

A sidestep from my regular rambling about running, but there’s been so much nonsense spouted about Stuart Broad’s actions in the current Test Match that I felt compelled to write something down. 

As a starting point, I should say that the title of the post is misleading. Stuart Broad, in deciding to stand his ground after edging the ball to slip, did not cheat. There is nothing in the rules of the game to say – or even suggest – that in the event of any confusion about a dismissal that the batsman should walk, or “own up” to being out. The decision rests with the umpire, and that should be the end of the matter. 

To suggest, as Michael Holding has done, that Broad be banned for two games for “cheating” is just silly. Suspend the umpire for missing such an obvious dismissal, sure. But, Broad didn’t do anything wrong. Like almost every other batsman in the world, at any level of cricket, he let the umpire make the decision – that is why he is there. If you left to the batsmen to decide when they were out (something my elder brother used to favour in our garden matches) then all bowlers would retire immediately from the game. 

And I don’t understand those who say the offence was much greater because the edge was so obvious. What a perverse argument. Either you believe a batsman has a duty to walk, or you don’t. If you do, then the much greater offence is staying put after feathering one to the keeper and when there is a much bigger element of doubt for the umpire and fielding team. Walk then, and you can really display your virtues as an ambassador for the spirit of cricket. As if.

But what about Adam Gilchrist? The former Australian wicket-keeper, who would walk when he knew he nicked it. Well, firstly, the fact that everyone immediately thinks about Gilchrist when this debate comes up shows how completely singular he is in this regard. And secondly, Gilchrist’s uber-honesty at the crease did not go down well with his team-mates. On the radio last night Michael Vaughan asked any parents to call in who felt worried that their kids would change from being a walker to a stayer – quick as a flash the former Aussie batsman Damien Martyn chipped in “Don’t expect any calls from Australians.” Australians don’t walk. English batsmen don’t walk. Neither do Indians, Sri Lankans or South Africans. Batsmen don’t walk. With the odd, very rare exception. So, let’s stop trying to judge Broad by standards that simply don’t exist. 

And here’s the wider point. Has there ever been a Test Match, a game of football, or any sporting fixture of any kind where the participants don’t push things to the edge to try and gain an advantage? From biting the ball; a bit of dirt or bottle tops in your pocket; deliberate, tactical fouls or handballs; chirping/intimidating the referee; and absolutely everything that happens in the scrum in rugby union (and in the loose if you’re New Zealand) – cheating, bending the rules, it is part of the very essence of sport and cricket in particular. And this isn’t a modern phenomenon. I’m not even sure which came first, cricket or cheating. WG Grace, the man whose name adorns the gates at the Lord’s – the home of cricket and the very embodiment of ‘the spirit of the game’ – was a cheat of absolutely gargantuan proportions. He wouldn’t walk when he was clean bowled, let alone when he nicked it. 

It is not unknown for cricket to disappear up itself at times like this. When Trevor Chappell bowled an underarm delivery at Brian McKechnie to prevent him from hitting the ball for a winning six, Richie Benaud described it as “one of the most disgraceful things I have ever seen.” And as for Michael Holding’s comments about the spirit of cricket – perhaps he should be reminded about this spell of bowling. Still hotly debated, it has – quite rightly – its place in cricket folklore, as will Broad’s decision to stand still. 

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