SINCE when did cricketers — or any other sportsmen for that matter — become the moral compass of the people? Since when was it wrong to do anything that passed muster with the authorities in a sport in order to win?
The shrill chorus that has erupted over the action of England cricketer Stuart Broad, who did not walk after he was clearly caught at slip by the Australian captain Michael Clarke on day three of the first Ashes Test, is truly astonishing. Of course, the Australian media has a good reason to shout: this would be the ideal excuse for the defeat that is surely coming on day five.
All that happened was that the umpire, Aleem Dar, got slightly confused by the fact that the ball first hit the hands of Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and then went to Clarke. Haddin fumbled at it and missed it and Dar was unsighted by this. He gave it as not out. Each side has two chances to review decisions but by then Australia had no chances left; the second was wasted on a stupid review that Clarke called for.
(This is not the only stupid decision that Clarke made: in England’s second innings, when his bowlers had the English batsmen in a vice-like grip with the old ball, he opted to take the new ball. The floodgates were opened. Clarke also wasted one review on his own dismissal in the second innings when he had clearly edged a ball and been caught behind. A couple of dismissals after his were clearly debatable but Australia had no reviews left by then.)
At that point, England was six down for 297, a lead of 232. Broad was out 59 runs later, for 65. In that sense, Australia can well claim that if Broad had gone, then it would have had a better chance of winning the Test; in the end, it had to chase 311 for victory.
But just the previous day, Australian teenaged debutant Ashton Agar was stumped when he was nine and the total 133. After a review the umpire ruled that he was not out – one of several mistakes made by the officials. It was a crucial decision because Agar went on to make 98 and, together with Phillip Hughes, carry Australia to a 65-run lead.
But nobody made a song and dance over that. Why didn’t Agar walk and uphold the great traditions of fair play that the Australian team claims to champion?
And there’s more. Early on in England’s second innings, Jonathan Trott, top-scorer in the first, was adjudged to be leg before wicket, when he had clearly got bat to ball. This was evident from a front-on replay.
But the review system only checks this from a side view of the Hot Spot technology – and due to a screw-up by the operator there was no vision available. Shouldn’t Trott have been given the benefit of the doubt by the officials? He wasn’t, and a man in form was sent back to leave England at two for 11.
Yet no-one made a song and dance about this.
Broad was expected to be the moral flag carrier of the nation. He simply did what other sportsmen do these days – take advantage of a poor decision by an on-field official.
Australia is the last country which should be shouting itself hoarse about things like this – some years ago, one of its cricketers, Andrew Symonds, was given not out when he had edged a ball behind and been caught. That edge was heard all the way to the other side of the world.
Symonds did not walk. He went on to make a hundred and give Australia an advantage in that game. No Australian outcry was witnessed.
And I could go on with incident after incident where Australian cricket has taken the moral low road.
There’s one lesson from this: people who give in glass house should refrain from throwing stones.