Sorry for the redundant blog titles, but I lead a sad, lonely life. It — my life, that is — does brighten up, however, whenever a deep cricketing ethical dilemma arises, like the one that Murali Kartik provoked when he didn’t walk after nicking a ball off Brett Lee. [See start of video.]
Apart from the aptly named Snicko-meter, we know that Kartik nicked the ball because he admitted as much in the post-match presentation ceremony. Rameez Raja, who seems to have a horse’s mane on his head, asked the question, and with only the briefest of hesitancies (that would have been the conscience saying, “Tell the truth, Murali”) , Karthik replied in the affirmative.
Immediately, the camera shifted to a few Australian bowlers — Brett Lee included, I believe — looking at each other as a fervent atheist might upon finding conclusive evidence that God does not exist. Ponting addressed the issue in his own interview, saying, “Murali’s just admitted he nicked that one but it would’ve been nice if he’d walked.”
There are several layers to this problem, and not just the usual debate over whether batsmen should walk if they know they are out (though that too must be discussed). More than that, we have to ask: should Karthik even have answered Raja’s question, and when doing so, should he have felt bad about his response? Did he?
The debate over whether a batsman should walk has been beaten to death in the cricket world. In its earliest incarnations, cricket was constructed as an amateur’s world, where winning and losing enjoyed secondary status to the way the game was played. According to this myth at least, “walking” reaffirmed this order, underlying that the batsman was, above all, a gentleman.
Rob Steen, a cricket writer, disagrees, and I do too. For one thing, Steen notes that walking became associated with the worst aspect of cricket: its rigidly hierarchical world. We walk, the argument went, because we are better than “them,” usually members of the lower-class or, you know, the “monkeys.” Later on, all sorts of manipulation were accepted: batsmen walked depending on their score (why walk on 99 or 49?) and some even walked innocently, as Derek Birley writes in “The Willow Wand,” just so that the umpire would not give them out in future decisions.
In other words, walking is hardly a morally absolutist world. Most modern players understand that, otherwise Rameez Raja would not have even dared ask such a sensitive question in the presentation ceremony. And yet, the tradition refuses to die: take Karthik’s hesitancy, or even Ponting’s passive-aggressive response. If everyone accepted that walking, even originally, was far from honorable, however, no one would have any qualms about what happened in the India v. Australia match.
It appears that the debate over walking has shifted: batsmen do not have to walk (just as bowlers can appeal for decisions they don’t really think should go their way). At the same time, however, no one should talk about these affairs openly, since everyone really knows what doing the right thing meant.