The Stuart Broad “Walk-Don’t Walk” argument rumbles on and has almost overshadowed England’s decisive victory in the Ashes series. It still rumbles on and those of us who love the game more than we love bickering wish it would just go away. Cricket needs to attract crowds for the Test cricket to survive and Test cricket is an acquired taste, regarded by non-aficionados as extremely boring. When it starts to bore those who love it, it is in trouble and right now it is beginning to bore us.
To explain the argument, for anyone who doesn’t know but has persevered this far, Stuart Broad was batting when the Australians claimed a catch. The umpire gave it “not out” but the TV replays showed that the decision was wrong. The argument ensued when it was suggested that Broad should have “walked” – given himself out. BBC commentator Jonathan Agnew suggested that it was not in keeping with the “spirit of cricket” and Australia coach Darren Lehman accused Broad if being a cheat.
Yet let’s step back for a moment and examine the case more closely. What exactly did Broad do? He abided by the umpire’s decision. This is precisely what the rules of cricket say that he should have done. Lehman, who made his comments during the 5th Test, was fined by the match referee but he was lucky that Broad didn’t sue him; Broad abided by the rules of the game and to call him a cheat is clearly defamatory. So what about this “spirit of cricket” issue? Well, there have always been batsmen regarded as “walkers”, players who, believing themselves to be out, would leave the crease without waiting fore the umpire’s decision. Well, good for them, but they have always been the minority. Most players have waited to be given out and Australian “walkers”, especially, have been as common as hen’s teeth.
The point that has been completely ignored is the reason why the umpire’s decision was not overturned. For the decision could have been overturned; for several years now, Test cricket has used DRS – Decision Review System. This system gives each team two chances to review umpiring decisions. If either team reviews, the decision goes to the third umpire, off field, who examines the outputs of various computers, which, in theory, give him a better idea of what happened and help him to correct mistakes. If the third umpire upholds the review, the team does not lose the review and can review a later decision. The reason that Australia, convinced that Broad was out, did not review the decision was that they no reviews left, having squandered them trying to have marginal decisions overturned earlier in the innings. DRS was introduced to correct umpires’ howlers, not for teams to go fishing. In all this storm, no one seems to have had the gumption to question the “spirit of cricket” in Australia’s behaviour. Since it was known in advance that marginal decisions would not be overturned, the Australians were pretty stupid, too.
Throughout the series, the Australians were poor at deciding which decisions to review but in the first two, they were laughably inept. This is not Stuart Broad’s fault; it is the coach’s: Darren Lehman. That Darren Lehman should have been talking about it still, as late as the Firth Test, suggests an inability to focus; during a Test Match, the coach should be thinking of nothing but winning that match. Perhaps the Australian board should be thinking of getting a coach who knows his job.
The real issue, though, is not Lehman’s shortcomings but the impression that this kind of issue gives to outsiders. How can you convince outsiders that cricket isn’t boring when people who should know better rattle on like retired colonels, for months, about an issue that a minute’s thought will show was never an issue at all?