First They Came For the Run Outs
‘First they came for the run-outs, and I did not speak up, because I thought TV evidence for Third Umpires would mean fewer bad run-out decisions’
When was the last time something happened in international cricket that really wound you up? A talking point; something that sparked debate over the laws of the game, and sportsmanship, and the spirit of cricket?
I honestly can’t remember, and I’ve decided that far from being a great beacon of progress as the game has moved forward with technology and heightened professionalism, it sucks.
While Joe Root batted England to victory with what turned out to be some sort of calf strain (they’re keeping schtum about the details) in our opening Champions Trophy match last week, I lost count of the number of times I heard “no runners allowed, nowadays, of course” from various TMS commentators and contributors. That’s what sparked this chain of thought for me. Wasn’t it fun getting all riled because Inzy or Arjuna had suddenly developed a mystery injury just as soon as a run chase had become viable? Didn’t it feel good to be able to spout forth on all the previous occasions you could recall when just the same thing had happened? Wasn’t it great to feel just a little bit cheated by these underhand tactics, and then didn’t any ultimate victory feel that much sweeter, served with vindication on the side?
The increased use of technology in the game, driven by TV broadcasters more than the game’s administrators themselves, has done incredible things to make cricket ‘fairer’: to eliminate bad umpiring decisions and to ensure full scrutiny of every player, coach, data analyst, masseuse and bag carrier employed by any national cricketing body. But looking back, isn’t there a tiny part of you that is proud of the England team’s jelly baby ball-conditioning tactics, or the tried and tested ‘suncreamy sweat’ method for sorting the rough from the smooth of a Duke? Those sneaky little efforts to swing things our way (pun intended)?
Even the throwing down of jelly beans in front of Zaheer Khan in 2007 seems ludicrously amateur and distant now, and I’m sad about it. Most of you know I’m a teacher, and I’m sure lots of you, especially parents, are familiar with those moments when children do something stupid (but hilarious) and you have to pretend to be cross about it while actually turning away and trying to disguise the giveaway shoulder-shaking as you chuckle to yourself. But there’s always one teacher/parent/authority figure who overreacts and bans everything, ever, outright and spoils all the fun.
In a strange way, it feels like this is what’s happening to cricket.
Umpire(s) makes a run of terrible decisions that could be the talking point of a series? (Cf Andrew Strauss’ appalling treatment at the umpires’ hands on the 2006-7 whitewash tour of Australia) DRS has seen to that. Rotund opponent feigns injury in order to enlist the services of a particularly lithe runner? Gone. Nefarious appealing - a la Shane Warne - every ball to pile on the pressure? Useless now there’s the challenge to put the review where the mouth is. Umpires seem to have been relegated from headmasters to lunchtime supervisors.
I’m not saying I don’t want a game with better decision-making and dedicated players. It’s just that if it removes the characters and the controversy from the game as well, we’re left with a somewhat sterile experience and I’m really not sure it’s for the best.