I thought I’d seen some ridiculous things in cricket.
July 22, 2005, for example, when Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire reconvened on the third day to complete a championship match at Edgbaston with the visitors on eight without loss, requiring 12 for victory.
Notts had begun their pursuit of 12 the previous evening but, in the single over left in the day’s allocation, Bears captain Nick Knight declined to make it easy to score the requisite runs.
Although there was no chance whatsoever of rain saving Warwickshire, everyone had to reassemble the following day for the four deliveries required for Graeme Swann to strike the winning runs. Ridiculous.
A sunny summer afternoon in 1986. Ace Stoneleigh fielder Tony Bottrill (he made Trevor Penney look like a snail) gets into place underneath a skier at long off, eyes firmly on the ball, only to be felled with a mighty ‘whump’ by a big, black labrador in pursuit of a tennis ball thrown by a mischievious spectator. Ridiculous, if rather amusing.
Then there are England’s up-and-coming fast-bowlers, the next generation, in theory, sent on training camps left, right and centre around the world during the winters. Guaranteed to wear ‘em out and store up injury problems. Ridiculous,
But all the above were topped by a few seconds of punditry last week during the tumultuous Test match at Trent Bridge. The clip in question would have been hilarious were it not so unedifying and deeply sad for the great game of cricket.
The third day in Nottingham closed amid furore about the Stuart Broad incident, Broad, of course, edged the ball to slip but umpire Aleem Dar somehow failed to spot this, so the batsman, WG Grace-like, declined to leave the crease. Australia were incredulous but having used up all their referrals, could do nothing about it. The umpire’s error remained uncorrected.
So, after play, Channel Five front man Mark Nicholas put this matter to his illustrious panel of Geoffrey Boycott, Michael Vaughan and Damien Martyn. And that’s where I came over all incredulous. The pundits were united in the fact that Broad had done the right thing. Far from criticising the batsman, in fact, Vaughan seized the opportunity to slaughter the umpire. “How can he have missed that?” raged the former England captain-turned-Rent-a-Quote. Not a word about the fact that Broad had palpably edged the ball to a fielder which, last time I looked, meant he was out, but had decided that was insufficient reason for him to leave the field.
Now, I’m not totally naive. I know that “walking” is largely an anachromism (though not totally – some first-class cricketers still do it). And, with the referral system, according to the rules, a batsman has every right to let the system take its course.
But come on! That was just ludicrous. Ludicrous, cynical and a horrible example to set before young players. “If an England player can get away with something like that,” they will say, “why don’t we try it on school and club fields where there is no review system so we can probably get away with all sorts?”
The incident, in itself, was shabby. But the defence of Broad by several “experts” was just crass. Vaughan, having evidently never made a mistake in his life, concentrated his fire on the poor old ump. Nicholas, to be fair, hinted that perhaps the batsman had not covered himself in glory but the panel were having none of it. Broad was within his rights, they said. Well, technically, yes.
So the moral compass can be parked at home?
It all makes the TV referral system look a bit silly, of course. But let’s be honest about this. Let’s be clear about a huge reason behind the involvement of TV replays in international cricket these days. It is not simply a crusade by the governing bodies to root out errors and promote justice.
There is another, rather less noble, element to it. The process brings television to the centre of the action.
Since Giles Clarke and the supine counties (including Warwickshire) sold English cricket to telly, they have pretty much been at its mercy. Cricket gorges itself on the dosh while dancing to the telly tune. TV sets the itinerary. It dictates start-times and sometimes which pitches are played on and has access to pretty much all areas. And now, thanks to DRS, the TV camera is actually part of the match.
Many of the most significant moments in Test matches now are not stumps flying or glorious strokes or brilliant catches, but television replays. All eyes are on TV. The goggle-box is a player. I would imagine that the broadcasters quite like that.
The overriding objective for DRS of course, to clear up doubt and prevent umpiring howlers. Ian Bell, erroneously given out by the third umpire in the ICC Champions Trophy final, might raise an eyebrow at that. But the Broad incident proves beyond all doubt that DRS complicates as much as it clarifies. Ditch it now.
And as for not walking for edges to slip – well, if that becomes part of cricket then it is a very, very sad day.