Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Let's not go all Moral over Tendulkar's Walk

On Sunday 45000 people crammed into Chepauk to witness what they perceived would be a divine experience. When Sachin Tendulkar walked back into the pavilion ninety eight runs short of what would have been his hundredth hundred, the silence was almost resonant. Some would argue that by walking off the field before umpire Steve Davies could lift his finger – the general conjecture is that the decision would have gone the batsman’s way – a celestial experience is exactly what they got. But cricket, as Andy Bull rightly points out in this week’s Spin – Guardian’s weekly cricket column – is a game of skewed morals. The ethical code in cricket, Bull says, “exists in shades of grey rather than black and white.” Indeed a day before India’s game against the West Indies, Ricky Ponting having blatantly edged one to Kamran Akmal against Pakistan stood his ground, until umpire Marais Erasmus’s decision was overturned via the UDRS. Ponting has never been a walker and he makes no bones about it – “If I get a nick behind to the keeper, then I stand there until the umpire makes a decision.”

But before I get to the morality of the issue of walking or the aspect of decisions balancing themselves out over the course of a cricketer’s career, it is important to point out that Tendulkar hasn’t always been a walker. To exalt his decision to walk against the West Indies as a saintly act would, therefore, be a statement steeped in misconceptions. As Sourav Ganguly remarked in an interview with a television channel, “Sachin has never done that in the past, let's be honest, and he shouldn't because there have been times when he has been given out and he was not out.” The headlines in many Indian newspapers, such as the Times of India, which read “Sachin Tendulkar puts integrity above quest for 100th ton;” the Deccan Herald, which expressed his decision as “Walking tall on the cricketing pitch” and the Hindustan Times, which said that this was “another instance of the high standards he has set for himself,” are all not even worth the price of paper on which they’ve been printed. There have been numerous instances when Tendulkar has been happy to wait for the umpire’s decision; carrying on, in fact, had the decision wrongly gone in his favour. So let’s not idolize inconsistent acts and lose track of the distorted moralities of cricket.

The broad conception that has developed in recent years, particularly on the back of Adam Gilchrist’s decision to walk in a World Cup semi-final – it may also be worthwhile to point out that Gilchrist himself has failed to walk on odd occasions – is that it is the prerogative of the individual to choose whether to walk and that morality doesn’t dictate such actions. But the fact remains that cricket, albeit a game littered with individual statistics, is a team sport. Had Virat Kohli, who batted at one-drop, got a clanger from Steve Davis, I am not sure the Indian team would have been best pleased with Tendulkar. As Ganguly said in the same T.V. interview, “It could be a big game, India 100 for three, Tendulkar batting on 55 and holding the key to India's success. I would really not want him to walk unless an umpire has given him out.” A cricketer's decision to walk does affect the performance of his team and therefore to consign the choice as purely the prerogative of the individual is scarcely in the interest of the sport.

Further, a person's move to walk could impact an umpire’s decision-making. If a batsman renowned to be a walker stays his ground when he has, in fact, edged a ball even if he is honestly unaware of it, psychologically the umpire may think – hang on, this fellow usually walks, so he surely couldn't have edged it and rules, wrongly, in favour of the batsman. No doubt it is the umpire’s job to look beyond such possibilities and make decisions purely on the basis of what he sees. But that said I find it difficult to imagine that umpires, being only human, are unaffected by such psychological considerations. The game would be richer I believe if everyone did their own jobs without aiming to claim a moral high ground.

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1 comment:


HI atlast we have one common opine about the so called act of gamesmanship by sachin. I have never seen him walking for the past22 years of his carrier in international cricket.Nowadays the media has made it a point whatever he does keeps on praising him without any sense.But for MSD i have not seen any indian cricketer walks naturally and especially not sachin.i hope he walks when he is in nineties to prove the so called adulation of the media.My wish is that he should score his 100th international century and retire early from 50 overs cricket so that fresh young legs can take over india.