Why Two Cricketers Can’t Agree On Anything Anymore

During one of the warm-up games of the CLT20, Harsha Bhogle and Ian Chappell got into a bit of  a scrape. Jacques Kallis had just hit the ball to a fielder, who took a low-flying catch off the ground. Kallis, unsure about the validity of the catch, looked at the fielder, asked if it was clean, and, when told it was, headed off the ground. To Bhogle, this was the resurrection of cricket’s “gentleman” morality, one he hoped would be emulated around the world. By contrast, Chappell said it was all stupid; no one should expect the ‘spirit’ of the game to exist as it used to, and cricketers shouldn’t go around taking each other’s word.

What both were ultimately disputing was the reigning paradigm of modernity in cricket. In older days, when cricketers were amateurs, or even more recently, when they were still playing a fairly non-commercial game, the stakes were perhaps lower. Games were won, they were lost; no doubt cricketers cared deeply about results, but at the same time, the reigning paradigm emphasized good manners. That changed in recent years, to the point where cricketers can’t really trust one another. At some point, people began to argue that the ‘spirit’ of the game was nothing but a sham; there was nothing uniform or objective about it, and its application was far from universal.Why be a sucker in this scenario?

Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a new paradigm to replace it. Some have urged cricket to move from the personal to the modern through the introduction of an umpire review system. But it’s not clear at all that the cure works. Disputed catches are rarely, if ever, fully adjudicated through replays; more often than not, two fans (and two third umpires) will look at the same footage and reach different conclusions. There is an assumption that the modern replay system — and I include Hawk-Eye here — are scientific, objective versions of reality, but that’s just not the case. (Run-outs are, of course, an exception — except when they are really, really close.)

We’re going from an older paradigm — let’s try and get through this by gentlemen agreements and shared norms — to the modern administrative paradigm — let’s try and get through this by adding more rules, more technology and less ‘trust.’ The thing is, for all the failings of the old paradigm (Should a batsman walk? Should a bowler appeal even if he knows a batsman is not out?), I still think it was superior. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m wary of the new devices being unleashed, or because, deep down, I’m a Tory. (Uh-oh.)


8 thoughts on “Why Two Cricketers Can’t Agree On Anything Anymore

  1. fckingblog says:

    What is gentlemanly in asking the fielder? Take the umpire’s decision. Kallis is only transferring the responsibility on the fielder.

    • I don’t know — I think it’s pretty polite to ask the guy responsible for your wicket if he did, in fact, take your wicket. The equation works like this: I’m polite enough to ask you, and you’re honest enough to answer truthfully.

      Why not ask the umpire? Because in this case, the umpire didn’t see, and would have gone up to the third umpire. That’s the modern approach to the game. (If the umpire had seen, and could give a clear ruling, then asking the fielder would have been moot.)

      • fckingblog says:

        Umpires taking the initiative and having the third umpire review in such instances seems the most natural thing for me to expect. Pity it doesn’t for them.

  2. David says:

    Was there ever a consensus on what constituted the spirit of cricket? There are many reports of players like Cowdrey walking if they had got a hundred but not early on, and we all know about the deplorable behaviour of Grace. Certainly for many English amateurs hypocrisy often ruled the day. That being said, I agree with your broader premise and thank you for such sustained great writing!

    • David, you’re right that there was substantial disagreement about the full definition of what constituted as being within the ‘spirit’ of the game. But I think the way those disputes were resolved — competing definitions of fairness, accusations of cheating, shaming, apologies — is very different from the way current disputes are resolved, namely, endless replays, tinkering with the UDRS, reading technological reviews.

      In other words, the conversation has shifted. The way we reach ‘agreement’ has changed.

  3. Nash says:

    Paradigm? C’mon. What you or I or Bhogle or Chappel say or write about an event reveals nothing more than what it does about ourselves (individually). When you try to look for some unifying thing or thread that links a set of random events and peoples reactions to them to an “age” or other period of time, you will tend to find it because you want to, or because you think it exists. Its talk about talk, of little real relevance (in my opinion).

    100 years ago there were people for whom being honest (or placing faith in another’s honesty, like Kallis) mattered, whether in a moment or as a general policy, and the same holds true for today. I really don’t think it has anything to do with “the times”. I’m pretty sure that there were as many cheats who pretended to swear by the “spirit of cricket” in “older days” when cricketers where “amateurs” and the stakes were lower, as there are today. Just like the ones who try to be honest.

    And “Unfortunately, we don’t have yet have a new paradigm to replace it.” What Shit. Do you really think a “paradigm” is going to have any affect on solving a problem for the ages as old as truth v. lie.

    I don’t mean to be dismissive and rude, though I am pretty sure I have succeeded in being so. I like your blog, and enjoy your perspective on the game. I largely agree with your views on modernity and cricket. I just thought this post was bah.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Nash, thanks for the, er, rather forthright commentary. Perhaps paradigm was not the right word; I agree my account is largely stylized and perhaps colored by nostalgia.

      I was trying to borrow a concept from Thomas Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It’s a landmark work, so Wikipedia won’t do it justice, but here it is:

      “Kuhn argued for an episodic model in which periods of such conceptual continuity in normal science were interrupted by periods of revolutionary science. During revolutions in science the discovery of anomalies leads to a whole new paradigm that changes the rules of the game and the “map” directing new research, asks new questions of old data, and moves beyond the puzzle-solving of normal science.”

      Get it? Science, Kuhn seems to argue, isn’t just about people in lab coats shuffling around trying to answer questions. Instead, they are determined by communities, discourse, ‘paradigms.’ So, for example, I’m sure there were cheats in previous days, but maybe the ‘spirit’ discourse was a bit more important? Maybe people took it more seriously?

      For example, now, I don’t think anyone would begrudge a batsman for standing his ground and not walking. And it seems the way we adjudicate decisions — instant replay — is different from the way we used to (combination of umpire discretion and gentlemen norms). Sometimes, patterns do exist; they’re not just concoctions of silly bloggers.

  4. Nash says:

    Well Ducking (I hope its ok if I call you that), you seemed to have missed my point. I was suggesting that you had, in this post, over-analysed things to the point where they had no resonance with me (just me) as a reader.

    I can’t go into Kuhn because I know nothing of his work, and honestly I’m too lazy to even look it up on wiki. We both seem to agree that there were cheats in previous days, but I was suggesting that the ‘spirit’ discourse influenced different people in different ways in different instances. Maybe people took it more seriously. Maybe they cheated more, rather than less, as a result of everyone appearing to take it all so seriously. If there were some sort of data-set on this (which I know there isn’t), I would be highly suspicious of it and any analysis based on it, because of the nature of the subject itself.

    And seriously, could there have been a time when the ‘spirit’ discourse was more important than now? I would be interested to know if the words “spirit of cricket” (or the Rakshasa who lives in my garage) have ever been uttered as often, with as much passion, and with as much naivete as right now.

    People do begrudge batsmen for standing their ground, but in my opinion, all it speaks for is themselves. Having lived in India my entire life, I can assure you that if Ponting were to obviously nick one in an India-Australia match tomorrow and not walk, Aaj Tak, India TV, and a whole other bunch of trash channels would have a “yeh dekhiye” feast with a three second shot of Ricky pulling a foul face and arguing with someone on loop for ten minutes. And maybe somewhere else Gilchrist in his living room might silently wish his buddy had taken the high road. What do you think this says about any of them?That Gilchrist and Aaj Tak are alike? That Ponting is a cheat? That Ponting is a cheat because the Australian/Tasmanian/Global community didn’t talk about the spirit of cricket enough? (I can’t help laughing at the irony in that last question)

    I have little absolute faith in science, and much less in the humanities, landmark works or not. A sociological theory about science applied to cricket? That does sound like person in a lab coat shuffling around trying to answer questions.

    I’m sure patterns do exist. All the time. And that they are nothing like the concoctions of us silly bloggers. 🙂

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