To walk or not to walk? The big question at the World Cup has been debated since the contrasting attitudes involving cricket’s two most prolific batsmen emerged on the weekend.
There’s been nothing pedestrian about the criticism for Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who stood his ground until he was given out on a TV umpire’s review despite knowing he’d got a thick edge to Pakistan wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal in Colombo on Saturday.
Commentators and fans rushed to praise Sachin Tendulkar for deciding to walk in a caught-behind situation even when an umpire had ruled him not out six balls into his 450th limited-overs international. Headlines in Monday’s Times of India read: “Sachin Tendulkar puts integrity above quest for 100th ton.”
The Deccan Herald described Tendulkar, the Little Master, as a true gentleman and described his decision as “Walking tall on the cricketing pitch”.
India ultimately won comfortably against the West Indies at Chennai.
That set up a quarterfinal between Tendulkar’s Indians and Ponting’s Australia, the three-time defending champions, sharpening the focus on the senior statesmen of each team.
Tendulkar is universally admired for his sublime skill and unwaveringly calm demeanour. Ponting has earned the grudging respect of most of the cricket world for a hard-nosed approach that has made him one of Australia’s most successful players and captains.
Ponting has never been what is known in cricket parlance as a “walker”.
He believes that the lucky reprieves batsmen get when umpires err make up for the bad decisions they get at other times.
The problem is, the bad decisions are magnified these days with teams allowed to challenge calls and have them reviewed by a TV umpire.
The purists uphold the values of a bygone era when players of the gentlemen’s game adhered to unwritten rules of engagement and integrity. The hardened professionals in an increasingly cash-driven era point to the fact that not even the sport’s most sacred underpinning that the umpire’s decision is final — carries weight any more.
After all, the umpire decision referral system in play at the World Cup, and in many international series these days, gives each team two chances per innings to question an umpire’s call and send it for review by an official who has the benefit of video replay technology.
“It’s nice to see people walking but that doesn’t happen now I guess,” Pakistan coach and former fast bowler Waqar Younis said on the weekend. “There is a system in place now so that you can’t get away with it. I mean people still take chances and why not?”
Waqar was talking about Sri Lanka batsman Mahela Jayawardene’s decision not to take Nathan McCullum at his word when the New Zealander held a spectacular, diving catch in their Group A match at Mumbai. McCullum was infuriated when the third umpire decided that he couldn’t be conclusively, 100% sure that McCullum had his fingers under the ball when it first touched the ground. Jayawardene was given the benefit of the doubt. In an earlier match, South African veteran Jacques Kallis only needed to turn around and ask a rival fielder if he’d cleanly held a catch before he walked off, without consulting the umpire or asking for review.
Apparently, that’s old school. Besides, the gesture is not always unanimously well received.
‘A personal decision’
Ponting’s former deputy, Adam Gilchrist, caused a stir when he walked in the World Cup semifinal against Sri Lanka in 2003 after being given not out by the umpire.
Paradoxically, some critics questioned Gilchrist’s motivation. The main contention revolved around Gilchrist’s double duties as batsman and wicketkeeper, with the academic argument proffered that while walking when he knew he was out could be reconciled as a batsman, how could he appeal for a catch when a rival batsman wasn’t sure he’d edged it.
It will always be a matter for the individual.
Ross Taylor, who was standing in as New Zealand captain and had to intervene to cool McCullum down after the Jayawardene decision, said “it depends upon the person”.
“You put it up to the batsman to make the decision and at the end of the day you just hope the technology is right,” he said. “And if the technology is not right, well then don’t use it.”
Yuvraj Singh, who guided India to victory with a century after Tendulkar’s dismissal on Sunday, said he wasn’t surprised by his revered teammate’s decision to walk.
“He felt that he has to walk and he walked. It is a personal decision. It should be left to the person concerned.”
‘A true gentleman’
West Indies captain Darren Sammy was impressed with Tendulkar’s attitude after he feathered an inside edge off Ravi Rampaul to the wicketkeeper in a stunning start to the last group match.
“It shows the measure of the man. He is a true gentleman,” Sammy said. “After 17 000 runs, he could walk! That was brilliant on the part of Sachin.”
The International Cricket Council (ICC) doesn’t take a public position on the “when to walk” issue, but does have a very strict code of conduct governing players actions and reactions on and off the field.
As debate continued on Monday, the ICC’s president Sharad Pawar issued a general statement highlighting the success of the tournament to date.
“The ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 has attracted the attention of the world and it has also provided a show case for the great spirit of cricket as well,” he said. — Sapa-AP