Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The surprising history of walking in cricket

Though it wasn't the only incident of its type in the first test, Stuart Broad's decision not to walk after edging a catch and being given not out by the umpire gave rise to a lot of outraged comment.

A good example was Charles Crawford on The Commentator - which has nothing to do with cricket, but is a blog of right-wing opinion.

Crawford wrote:
In earlier years it was part of the moral code of cricket that a batsman ‘walked’ (ie left the field without waiting for any formal umpire decision) when he knew that he had been caught out. He would not want to take unfair advantage by continuing to bat.
...the spirit of our times is being redefined and dumbed down before our very eyes. Stuart Broad yesterday joined that swinish charge. It’s not about what is right or decent or fair or reasonable. It’s what you can get away with.
Yet the history of walking in cricket is more nuanced than Crawford believes.

The other day Backwatersman who a) writes Go Litel Blog, Go…, which all cricket lovers should read, and b) lives across the road from me, turned up a 1966 article by E.W. Swanton on just this subject.

Backwatersman calls Swanton the "Pope of Cricket", and if you doubt the status he held in the game, here is Matthew Engel contributing to Swanton's Guardian obituary in January 2000:
It is hard now to convey the influence he wielded in his prime. Perhaps only a thundering Times leader in the mid-19th century carried as much weight at Westminster as Swanton's pronouncements did at Lord's. But he was doubly influential; he was so deeply involved in the inner counsels of the MCC that what he said in private mattered as much as what he said in print.
In his post, Backwatersman quotes Swanton's views on walking - from 1966, remember:
Yet this is a new thing, and old cricketers in the Press-box out here such as J.H. Fingleton, W.J. O’Reilly, A.R. Gover and others fortify my own conviction that before the war the batsman waited almost invariably for the decision. Jack Hobbs, for instance, regarded as the beau ideal of a sportsman, always waited: so did a man of an equally highly considered integrity in the other camp, Charlie Macartney.
Not only that, Swanton goes on to cite four reasons why the practice of walking may not be good for the game. Behind them is the suspicion that some batsmen were careful to cultivate a reputation for walking when it did not matter so that they good fool the umpire by staying put when it did matter.

As so often, the appeal to a Golden Age proves problematic when you look at the evidence more closely.

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