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.)