Sunday, 4 August 2013

On Walking - Advice for a Fifteen Year Old

By Girish Menon

Only the other day at the Bedford cricket festival, Om, our fifteen year old cricket playing son, asked me for advice on what he should do if he nicked the ball and the umpire failed to detect it. Apparently, another player whose father had told him to walk had failed to do so and was afraid of the consequences if his father became aware of this code violation. At the time I told Om that it was his decision and I did not have any clear position in this matter. Hence this piece aims to provide Om with the various nuances involved in this matter. Unfortunately it may not act as a commandment, 'Thou shall always walk', but it may enable him to appreciate the diverse viewpoints on this matter.

In some quarters, particularly English, the act of playing cricket, like doing ethical business, has connotations with a moral code of behaviour. Every time a batsman, the most recent being Broad, fails to walk the moralists create a crescendo of condemnation and ridicule. In my opinion this morality is as fake as Niall Ferguson's claims on 'benevolent and enlightened imperialism'. Historically, the game of cricket has been played by scoundrels and saints alike and cheating at cricket has been rife since the time of the first batting superstar W G Grace.
Another theory suggests that the moral code for cricket was invented after World War II by English amateurs to differentiate them from the professionals who played the game for a living. This period also featured different dressing rooms for amateurs and professionals, there may also have been a third dressing room for coloured players. One could therefore surmise that 'walking' was a code of behaviour for white upper class amateurs who played the game for pleasure and did not have to bother about their livelihood.

This then raises the question should a professional cricketer walk?

Honore de Balzac once wrote, 'Behind every great fortune there is a crime'. Though I am not familiar of the context in which Balzac penned these words, I assume that he may have referred to the great wealth accumulated by the businessmen of his times. As a student and a teacher of economics I am of the conviction that at some stage in their evolution even the most ethical of businesses and governments may have done things that was not considered 'cricket'. The British during the empire building period was not ethical nor have been the Ambanis or Richard Branson.

So if I am the professional batsman, with no other tradable skill in a market economy with no welfare protection, travelling in a last chance saloon provided by a whimsical selection committee what would I do? I would definitely not walk, I'd think it was a divine intervention and try to play a career saving knock.

As you will see I am a sceptic whenever any government or business claims that it is always ethical just as much as the claims of walking by a Gilchrist or a Cowdrey.

I am more sympathetic to the Australian position that it is the umpire's job to decide if a batsman is out. Since dissent against umpiring decisions is not tolerated and there is no DRS at the lower echelons of cricket it does not make sense to walk at all. As for the old chestnut, 'It evens out in the end',  trotted out by wizened greats of the game I'd like to counter with an ancient Roman story about drowned worshippers narrated by NN Taleb in his book The Black Swan.

One Diagoras, a non believer in the gods, was shown painted tablets bearing the portraits of some worshippers who prayed, then survived a subsequent ship wreck. The implication was that praying protects you from drowning. Diagoras asked, 'Where were the pictures of those who prayed, then drowned?"

In a similar vein I wish to ask, 'Where are the batters who walked and found themselves out of the team?' The problem with the quote, 'It evens out in the end' is that it is used only by batters who survived. The views of those batters with good skills but who were not blessed with good fortune is ignored by this 'half-truth'.

So, Om, to help you make up your mind I think Kipling's IF says it best:

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss
And lose, and start again at your beginnings

Then, you may WALK, my son! WALK!

There is another advantage, if you can create in the public eye an 'image' of an honest and upright cricketer. Unlike ordinary mortals, you will find it easier, in your post cricket life, to garner support as a politician or as an entrepreneur. The gullible public, who make decisions based on media created images, will cling to your past image as an honest cricketer and will back you with their votes and money. Then what you do with it is really up to you. Just watch Imran Khan and his crusade for religion and morality!

The writer plays for CamKerala CC in the Cambs league.

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