An old-fashioned cricket lover’s reaction to Thierry Henry’s handball — an obviously unsporting act that helped catapult France into the World Cup football Finals at the expense of a luckless Ireland — might have been, “it isn’t cricket.” The talented French striker did take less than exemplary advantage of a refereeing error, one of omission rather than commission, at a crucial stage in the game. But then, on the same scale of judgment, much of cricket “isn’t cricket.” Would a similar incident in a major, high-stakes international cricket tournament elicit as much invective as Henry’s transgression did in the British press? A cricketing equivalent might be the case of a top-rated batsman not ‘walking’ after edging to the keeper. (The rationalisation would essentially be the same as Henry’s, “I’m not the ref.”) Just as there is nothing in the laws of cricket that compels a batsman to ‘walk’ following an umpiring error, there is no rule in football that required Henry to call the attention of the referee to his own handling of the ball. For a Brian Lara or Adam Gilchrist or Kumar Sangakkara — three ‘walkers’ — there have been dozens of batsmen who have stayed put to take advantage of their good fortune. Gundappa Viswanath, a gem of a sportsman, recalled Bob Taylor at a critical stage in the Golden Jubilee Test between India and England in Bombay in 1980.
When it comes to chivalry, the track record of sport is actually mixed. To be fair to today’s players, their counterparts in the old days were not subjected to the scrutiny of multiple camera angles, Super Slo-mo, Snickometer, and Hawk Eye. As the stakes have skyrocketed in an era of hyper-commercialisation, sportsmen have often struggled to maintain high standards of fair play in the constant glare of spotlight. Relying on proven technology to minimise, if not to eliminate, subjective human error will certainly help. The Decision Review System being tried out in the ongoing Test series between New Zealand and Pakistan is a step in the right direction. The DRS delivered on the first day of the Dunedin Test when TV umpire Rudi Koertzen reversed Simon Taufel’s leg before wicket verdict against Brendon McCullum. In football, Michel Platini’s proposal to place more officials behind the goal for spotting errors holds a lot of promise; it has been put on trial in the UEFA Europa League. It would be naïve to expect sportsmen to be moral exemplars in the heat of battle. But review systems would help keep them on the straight and narrow and might eventually even lead to self-regulation. Who knows? Maybe, we will see more Laras, Gilchrists and Sangakkaras in the future.