Monday, February 27, 2012

In the Spirit of Cricket

After the happenings in yesterday's game, and without really commenting on the impact that both those decisions had on the final result, i have a few thought's on what is out and not out in the context of the law's of cricket and as well as the so called spirit of the game.

Firstly, let's look at the Ian Bell run-out from the disaster that was the English Summer of 2011. Ian Bell thought the ball had gone over the rope, and was walking off to the Pavillion, thinking gleefully about the snack he was going to have with quite a few "did you see that one"'s to the rest of his teammates. The ball never really went out of play, and Praveen Kumar picked it up threw it back, one of the fielders took off the bails, while Ian Bell was casually strolling to the pavillion, honestly believing play had stopped, stupid yes, cheating or taking an unfair advantage, an emphatic no.

So when Dhoni, called him back, upon the insistence of the seniors, in an attempt to play to the Spirit of the game, it was applauded for that, because inherently everyone knew that it didn't really make a difference, they had not been good enough to get him out anyway, or anyone else for that matter, and when they would go on to lose, not only would they have lost, they would have done so, having taken advantage of something which had nothing to do with an active intention to commit an act on the playing field.

The Laws on this point are very clear though and tell a starkly different story. Law 38 of the Standard Test Match Playing Conditions clearly states that even if the batsman is not attempting a run, he is run-out if the ball is in play, and he is out of his crease, except for 4 or 5 express circumstances which are explained within Law 38 itself. So, as per the Law's of cricket, Ian Bell was clearly run-out. Take a quick look at Law 27 (Appeals) and you would get further supporting provisions, showing that India was within their rights to retain their appeal as per the Red-Letter law of the game. Even Rule 8 of Law 27 states that an Appeal may be withdrawn by the appealing team's captain, with the consent of the umpires, however, the act of withdrawing the appeal must be done before the batsman leaves the field of play, and even then, despite all the above if's and maybe's, the final decision still rests with the on-field umpires.

Therefore, it is a reasonably safe and logical conclusion that the umpires that day were so overwhelmingly in agreement with the sentiment of the Indian player's that they were prepared to bend quite a few rules of the game, such was the exceptional nature of the events of that afternoon. The drafter's of the rules try to make the rules and laws as foolproof as possible, but then sometimes some fools, just can't be accounted for.

However, the other three situations don't really fall under the category of someone thinking that play is over lets go eat, so let's look at higher ideal's of fair-play and the spirit of the game, these three situations deal with taking an unfair advantage so to speak over the other team, though in varying degrees of severity.The first one, where Ashwin mankaded Thirimanne, and Sehwag on Sachin's insistence withdrew the appeal, though Sehwag's response in the press conference, that they did it to avoid controversy, is slightly baffling. The fact that they withdrew the appeal is in itself quite baffling to me, and the fact that when you read the Laws of Cricket you realise, that it's the umpires who are completely in charge of the game, and if they chose to say at that time, "Hey Sehwag, you're a nice guy for letting them bat on, but this is expressly against the Law's of the Game. He was backing-up too far". Rule 15 of Law 42 (Fair and Unfair Play) clearly states that a bowler is permitted to do exactly that, and therefore the issue of spirit of the game would not arise itself, so where is the criticism or the controversy. And another disturbing off-shoot off that statement to me is that if a person is making decisions on field with the idea of avoiding controversy, then his concentration really can't be on winning.

The two events in yesterday's game though are a completely different ball-game. The David Hussey non-runout looked really bad, and couldn't have looked more deliberate, but the umpires believed that Hussey was protecting himself, even though the ball was much ahead of him, and did not give him out obstructing the field as they should have under Law 37 (Obstructing the field). Why did they not give him out then, because the umpires believe that it would be un-fair to David Hussey and consequently Australia to give him out as they believed he may have been attempting to protect himself. An extremely thin arguement, if you ask me, and not supported by the Law, other than the fact that the umpires are the final arbiters and that they believed that giving him out would be against the rules of fair play.

Then similarly with the Brett Lee - Sachin lovesong in the middle, Rule 5 of Law 42 (Fair and Unfair Play), leaves it to the umpires to determine whether the obstruction of the batsmen by the bowler was done wilfully or not, and if done wilfully, then it is within the umpires right to call a dead-ball. Now to determine intent in such a situation becomes next to impossible, and I am reasonably sure, the more people get away with such stunts the more it will gain popularity, it will become the equivalent of diving in football and flopping in basketball, which are criticized openly, but accepted as a part of the game because everyone does it.

The Laws, though extremely descriptive and valiantly attempt to be exhaustive, somewhere along the line leave too much discretion with the umpire and too much riding on concepts such as intent. Now this may sound farcical, but intent is all well and good for criminal trial under the legal concept of mens rea, but cannot be given too much importance in sport, because of the obvious reasons. This is where Dhoni's point in the press conference after yesterday's match validates my notion that we need to continue evolving the laws of cricket at a faster pace. Dhoni took up the analogy of a footballer who sticks his hand out while in the Box away from his body, whether or not his act was intended to stop the ball, and the ball strikes the hand, it would result in an automatic penalty.

In a similar manner, if batsman sticks his hand out whether or not he was trying to protect himself, and the ball strikes the outstretched hand, the batsman should be given out, if at that point of time the batsman was attempting a run and he was out of his crease. The Lee-Sachin scenario becomes slightly more tricky, but can be solved by just removing the determination of whether the bowler intended to do so or not, and let it remain at only on a simple determination of whether the batsman was obstructed without attributing any mal-intent on the part of the bowler. If the bowler somehow manages to obstruct the batsman through sheer dumb luck and the batsman is run-out, that would be enough for the umpires to give the batsman not-out and continue with proceedings. Because it is too easy for bowlers to say, I was just fielding the ball or attempting to receive a throw etc, make it the bowlers job to avoid the batsman and not vice versa, the problem would be solved there itself, and the life of the umpire a whole lot easier, and not subject to the vagaries of our romantic idea's and concepts such as the spirit of the game.

No comments:

Post a Comment