Sarah Lyall, in the New York Times, where the title is “Debate Erupts After English Player Fails to Call Himself Out“
It seemed like a small thing, a mere moment among thousands in the first week of the Ashes contest that will go on (and on) well into the lazy days of August. But to cricket traditionalists, the incident — in which an English cricket player failed to confess that he was out, even though the umpire had ruled him in — was a disgraceful reflection of how low the game had fallen. Why can’t we have it played straight, where cricketers act like gentlemen and do what we know is right?” lamented the radio host Peter Allen, speaking on Day 3 of the all-important 131-year-old England-Australia tournament known as the Ashes. “I always thought cricket was something different.”
Cricket is definitely something different, described by what seems to be it own language and governed by rules (“laws” in official cricket-speak) that make even the proudly dense game of baseball seem as simple and linear as Go Fish. From an outsider’s perspective, the closest thing to cricket in perverse complexity may well be Harry Potter’s favorite magical game, Quidditch, in which the balls literally have minds of their own.
In cricket, it is possible for one player to remain at bat for hours — in extreme circumstances, days — and to score dozens of runs at a time. It is also possible for a five-day match to end in a tie, even when one team is hundreds of runs ahead. Grown men occupy slots in the outfield that are called things like “silly mid-off” and “third man,” and they appear even in the most serious matches in a selection of headgear that includes helmets, baseball caps and broad-brimmed Australian bush hats.
To put into motion a rule called Leg Before Wicket, in which a batsman is sent out because his leg is deemed to have unfairly prevented the ball from hitting the post behind him, members of the opposing team are first required to implore the umpire to make a ruling, which they do by yelling, “Howzat?” and possibly other words at him.
Cricket is also different in that its players are supposed to adhere to what is broadly known as the spirit of cricket, in which fair play and sportsmanship trump competitiveness and ruthlessness. The concept is possibly more nostalgic than realistic, but it came up after last week’s incident, which provoked a widespread debate here about the meaning and purpose of cricket.
“It drives at the question of whether you think cricket is a different sport from other sports, and whether you expect cricketers to behave differently from soccer players,” said Benj Moorehead, assistant editor of The Cricketer magazine. “Others will say, ‘We’re living in a professional age — get real.’ ”
On Friday, England and Australia were in the third day of the first match of the Ashes, which they consider the most important tournament in international cricket.
The Ashes, in which the teams play five five-day matches spread over two months, is usually held every two years, with the exact dates set according to the needs and whims of various scheduling bodies. (In an odd development, the Ashes this summer is to be followed by a second Ashes this fall and winter, starting in November.)
England was batting. The batsman, Stuart Broad, had already scored 37 runs when the next ball came hurtling toward him. He did not hit it, per se, but it nicked the side of his bat and deflected into the hands of an Australian fielder for an obvious out.
Broad responded the way most players would while on a scoring streak in the middle of a fierce match: he hoped no one would notice what had happened. The fact that the ball had struck the bat was obvious to most; television viewers could hear the thwack of two objects connecting.
But one person who did not notice was the umpire. He ruled that the ball had not touched Broad’s bat and thus that Broad was not out, meaning that he would get to hit some more. Which he did, going on to score 65 runs. England eventually beat Australia, 590-576, a difference of 14 runs, to take the first match in the series.
When Broad refused to “walk” but instead stayed in — in cricket, this is known as standing your ground — Twitter erupted with criticism, and so did the Australian team.
Australia’s coach, Darren Lehmann, could be seen in the distance, possibly swearing (you are not really supposed to swear in cricket). The other players began yelling. But the umpire stood his ground, too, and his ruling remained.
The second Ashes match is scheduled to start Thursday, but cricket fans are still arguing about Broad’s nonwalk. Traditionalists have repeatedly brought up the example of the Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist, who in 2003 walked — this is defined as “the act of a batsman giving himself out, without waiting for an umpire’s decision” — in a crucial match against Sri Lanka.
“If there ever was a true Spirit of Cricket, it took the day off at Trent Bridge when Stuart Broad blatantly nicked a delivery to first slip but chose not to walk,” Paul Hayward wrote in The Daily Telegraph. (The match was played at Trent Bridge, in Nottingham, and first slip was the position of the fielder who caught the ball.)
But the cricket players who weighed in, including Gilchrist, tended to support Broad.
“Stuart Broad has clearly made it evident that he is not a walker,” Gilchrist said on BBC Radio 5. “Stuart or anyone who has stood before has not broken any laws of the game. He’s just simply waited for an umpire to make a decision and then accepted that decision.”
Gilchrist added, “In this day and age, it is no surprise to see a batsman not walk.”