The first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge was something of an instant classic. But as engaging as the contest was, it was nearly eclipsed by an incident that tested the cricket world’s internal logic. In choosing to remain at the wicket after edging a ball, England’s Stuart Broad did what countless batsmen before him have done. But this time was different. The act’s rank obviousness; the significance of the stage; the immersive, amplified coverage, not least on social media sites where matters quickly escalate: each contributed to the cricket world focusing on ‘walking’ more intensely than ever before. The irony involving the lead actors outlined the debate. The catcher, Michael Clarke, captains a team that has traditionally “let the umpire make the decision,” Adam Gilchrist being an exception. Clarke himself edged Anil Kumble to first slip in the fractious Sydney Test of 2008 and stood his ground before being sent on his way. As for the batsman, in June his father, match referee Chris Broad, banned Denesh Ramdin for two Champions Trophy matches. He judged that the West Indian wicketkeeper had failed to uphold the Spirit of Cricket in not telling the umpires that the ball had slipped from his grasp.
At the heart of the issue is cricket’s uneven interpretation of morality. The game sees bowlers who appeal excessively with disfavour and fielders who routinely claim ‘50-50’ chances with censure. But batsmen who as a breed refuse to ‘walk’ do no wrong. Indeed, many cricketers hold that ‘walkers’ are selfish and unprofessional. Gilchrist’s decision didn’t endear him to his team-mates. This conditioned bias — a consequence first of the English class system and then the game’s structure, both of which have privileged the batsman — has remained unchecked by cricket’s legal system. In the Spirit of Cricket, written in 2000 as the Preamble to the Laws, all instances of on-field “cheating or sharp practice” pertain to the bowling side. So “to appeal knowing that the batsman is not out” violates the Spirit, but to stay at the crease knowing one is out doesn’t. To be fair, both the Laws and the ICC’s Code of Conduct contain catch-all clauses that can be used to sanction what Stuart Broad did. But the disparity with which the ICC has acted in Ramdin and Broad’s cases shows what it thinks of the matter. And yet this incident has the potential to drive change: the increased awareness that has come as a consequence of visibility, and the questioning of the ethics involved, could lead to a more enlightened perception of ‘walking’. But as things stand, Broad is merely guilty of individual dishonesty; by cricket’s canons, his wasn’t an act of immorality.