The ethical dilemma – To walk or not

cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

It's the 2003 World Cup semi-final and Australia's opening pair of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden have got their team off to a good start against Sri Lanka with the wicket keeper-batsman hitting a six and a couple of boundaries in the first five overs of the match. Sri Lanka captain Sanath Jayasuriya brings on Aravinda de Silva to try and slow the pace down and what happened in the second ball of the sixth over in that match is now part of cricketing folklore.

Gilchrist, who was then on 22 and looking good to play an innings of significance, bottom edged the second ball off that de Silva over and it was safely pouched by Sri Lankan wicket-keeper Kumar Sangakkara. And, though umpire Rudi Koertzen ruled him not out, Gilchrist turned around and walked back to the pavilion even though it was an important game and he was aware that his teammates wouldn't understand his actions. Australia went on to win that match and the 2003 World Cup, but Gilchrist's act of backing himself and walking was one of the highlights of the tournament and a testament that even in modern day cricket, there are cricketers who do walk.

Fast forward to the last league match of the 2011 World Cup between India and West Indies in Chennai where batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar, with 99 international centuries to his name, walks in the first over of the match when he is caught behind despite umpire Steve Davis being unmoved in the face of frenzied appeals by bowler Ravi Rampaul and his other teammates.

Tendulkar's walking incident took place a day after Australia's captain Ricky Ponting admitted despite knowing he had edged the ball to Pakistan wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal, he stood his ground. Ponting was given not out by umpire Marias Erasmus, but the decision was overturned after being reviewed. The Australian captain though was nonchalant in his admission when he said: "There were no doubts about the nick, I knew I hit it, but as always I wait for the umpire to give me out. That's the way I've always played the game." And, just a day earlier, Mahela Jayawardene stood his ground when New Zealand's Nathan McCullum took a stupendous return catch. That decision was also reviewed and the third umpire Amish Saheba inexplicably ruled the catch wasn't 'clean' even though it was obvious to the rest of the world after seeing countless replays that it was a superb catch by McCullum. Jayawardene had this to say about the incident: "If I felt it was a clean catch, I would have walked."

Ponting and Jayawardene are but two examples where batsmen haven't walked despite knowing they had edged the ball or because they weren't sure the catch was clean.

There is no disputing that cricket now has become more than just a game with the amount of money floating around including contracts and sponsorships for cricketers and the increased interest in the game. Cricketers, like others sportsmen, are viewed as other role models, and statements like the one Ponting made don't really help either the game or the Australian captain himself. Ponting is a legend and he needs to act like one and set a positive example not only for his team, but also for other players and followers of the game.

Tendulkar and Gilchrist again are only two examples mentioned here, but their action was positive and makes people sit up and take notice for all the right reasons – play the game hard, but play it fair.

Umpiring is a tough job, with or without technology, and while glaring umpiring mistakes need to be criticized and action taken against the erring umpire, there may also be occasions when an umpire doesn't hear an edge and rules the batsman not out, and this decision could just influence the outcome of a match. The question then that needs to be asked is if the concerned batsman would be at peace with himself despite playing a significant knock after that let-off.

There may just be a need for the International Cricket Council to set in place a mechanism where cricketers are fined or suspended for not walking, because that is also a form of bringing the game into disrepute. It is time the ICC takes a proactive role in taking action in cases like Ponting's because a self-controlling mechanism for walking or not when a batsman knows he is out is the need of the hour.

It is also important that batsmen take the fielder's word when he says it is a clean catch. There are certain values the game has been based on, and the trust factor between players in such situations will make cricket a more endearing game, as long as the trust is not abused. 

At the end of the day, it is really the batsman's call to walk or not even when the umpire rules him not out, but at a time when cricket is getting embroiled in controversies, the custodians of the game – cricketers – owe it to the game and indeed themselves to take the moral high ground and walk even when on the verge of a personal landmark or at a crucial stage of a match.

The views expressed here are of the author and not the ICC.