Monday, 21 March 2011

Walking back to happiness

Kant - no great bat
but he always walked
At last the CWC has given rise to the issue which unites cricket and moral philosophy. According to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) the categorical imperative denotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself.  As he would put it:

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."

In the match on Sunday between India and W Indies, the great Sachin Tendulkar put his bat under his arm and set off for the pavilion despite the umpire having turned down the W Indies appeal.  He knew he had got an inside edge and he walked.  This contrasted with Ricky Ponting the previous day who stood and waited to be given out even though, as he acknowledged later, he was fully aware that he had nicked it.  Players are required at all time to respect the umpire's decision.  Tendulkar subverted the authority of the umpire.  Ponting respected it.  As Kant would put it - tricky. 

So what is the categorical imperative? If a batsman knows he hit it, should he walk or wait to be given out?  If you're a professional - and the umpire is a professional -  is there a case for letting the official decide?  After all criminals do not sentence themselves, nor do clodhopping centre backs award penalties against themselves when they take the feet from the balletic striker on the point of slotting home a goal.   And besides there is a chance that a batsman might actually be wrong in thinking that he hit it.
2003 - Gilchrist
about to take the law
into his own feet
Fantasy Bob long came to the conclusion that professional sport and honesty were separated at birth.  There is no point crying over that spilt milk.  Much as he would like to think that the code of honour of the Victorians still applied and batsmen in all forms of cricket would walk, and bowlers and fielders would only appeal when they were certain and Colonel Gaddafi would have done the decent thing long ago and resigned the captaincy, he thinks that these days are gone.  Professional sport does not provide fertile ground for the categorical imperative.  Regretably, it is a moral world apart.   Notwithstanding the spirit of cricket, (the preface to the laws of the game which says nothing about walking only referring vaguely to its traditional values), professional sportsmen are sportsmen first, human beings second, upholders of traditional values third.  It is pointless to look for moral models in that world - that is why it is always remarked upon when such as Tendulkar acts as he did.  While there are several well documented instances of walking - Gilchrist's in the 2003 World Cup semi-final - their rarity confirms that the Ponting view is the professional sportsman's view.  There is no traditional value only a win bonus.
But in the lower leagues inhabited by Fantasy Bob, the issue of walking takes on a different moral hue altogether.   Saturday cricketers are human beings first and sports people second.  They are the embodiment of traditional values.

As FB has mentioned in previous posts, umpiring duties in the lower leagues are shared by the batting side and a range of abilities and approaches can be observed.  Caught behind can be a difficult judgement for these occasional arbiters - it always comes as a shock.  He is comforting himself that at least there won't be an LBW appeal on that ball, trying to remember whether he is passing his ball-counting stones from left to right or vice versa (and in many instances it is both) when a huge cry of 'Howzat' shatters the silence.  The batsman is immobile, the wicketkeeper seems to have suddenly succumbed to St Vitus' Dance and the close fielders exhibit more animation than seems seemly.  'Howzat?'  What to do?  Moral guidance is required.

Long nano seconds pass.  The batsman's immobility changes - he may be pointing at his trousers, he may be scraping the toe of the bat on the wicket, he may be slapping his bat against his pad.  There is a lot of information to be processed.  Too much.

The mental instant-replay-super-slo-mo seems disfunctional.  You know you didn't hear anything - except the whole range of background noises that are usual in open public spaces - anyone of which could rouse Snickometer from its slumbers.  Well maybe, was there a  wooden sound?  FB accepts this could be a hugely relevant criterion, but he has no idea what it means.

More nano seconds pass.  The batsman has proceeded to mark his guard again, but has not caught your eye.  You know that batsman well.  You have played with him for 25 years.  To you he is a person of outstanding integrity.  You would trust your life savings to his keeping.  You are sure that if he knew he hit it, he would not be looking down at his left boot as if it was a photo shoot of Cameron Diaz in beach wear but would be in the pavilion already cursing his rotten luck.

Suddenly, what we started thinking of as the batsman's categorical imperative becomes your categorical imperative.   Read Kant's footnotes in the Critique of Practical Batting carefully, and you will find his suggestion that you must give someone out when they look too shifty.  As he said, tricky things these moral concepts.

As skipper, Fantasy Bob encourages all his players to walk when they know they have hit it.  He uses the argument above - to do otherwise puts undue pressure on the umpire who is their colleague and friend (at least he was at the start of the afternoon).  The umpire may be short sighted, deaf, incompetent or simply not paying attention.  He may indeed be all of these things.  He is not a snickometer.    If you don't walk you drag a team member into the same moral quagmire as yourself.  You are a corrupter and defiler of a colleague who only agreed to umpire for a few overs because the alternative was washing the tea things.  This is why walking in lower league cricket should be considered a categorical imperative.

Ah but FB recalls with shame he is an imperfect example.  He can recall many times being thanked by the opposing team for walking immediately - and this is a courtesy all fielding sides should adopt.  But a moment's hesitation can lead to the slippery slope.  It allows wished for uncertainty to become real uncertainty. FB recalls with shame a couple of occasions when he failed to walk because there was a hesitation.  Neither time was it part of a deliberate policy, but that shows the challenge of the categorical imperative.  Moral lapses just happened by accident.

While no plea of mitigation should be accepted, FB will recount the incidents to illustrate how narrow the path of virtue is.  He is prepared for the condemnation in the comments of readers.  He assures them that he has already paid his moral dues in sleepless nights.

On the first occasion, FB had an uncharacteristically huge swish at a ball a bit wide of the off stump.  FB generated more bat speed than Afridi or indeed at any time in his career before or since, so much that it took him off his feet.  There was a huge appeal.  FB took time getting to his feet and dusting himself down.  In those moments the categorical imperative was lost.  Watching this piece of slapstick, the umpire forgot the appeal had been made.  His finger did not go up.  He called over instead.  FB found himself in Ponting territory.  The umpire had not triggered him, so he cannot have hit it after all.  (As philosphers will know this is an instance of the fallacy of the undistributed middle).  There was a mild expression of disapproval and disappointment from the fielding side, which deepened as FB uncharacterically went on to score a few.  Tainted runs - but they are in the book for ever.  If FB could, he would remove them every one.

On the second occasion, FB again pushed outside the off stump but lost any kind of concentration as the bat began its downswing.  Fugue, the psychiatrists would describe it as.  Anything could have happened and FB would not have noticed.  Again the appeal came and brought FB slowly back to the real world.  FB looked at the umpire with a shrug.  He had no memory of who he was or how he got there. The umpire looked at him with disdain.  FB looked at his bat not really recognising it - as if it might tell him what had just happened.  The umpire looked at FB again.  Askance.  The emptiness in FB's mind was rapidly being filled, largely with an awareness of extreme aggression from behind him.  The umpire's  finger slowly went up.  After the game there was one of those conversations......'well I wasn't sure..............well, you effing middled it...............'  FB could only recoil in shame.  Again that small moment hid the categorical imperative.  In such a moment anyone can rationalise that maybe they didn't hit it after all.  Don't let that moment intrude!

Of course as a bowler, FB has been on the receiving end of batsmen brazenly standing their ground and blind, deaf and incompetent umpires looking the other way.  Of course, steam has seeped from every pore as a result of these decisions.  Some of these decisions might have been game changing.  But he reconciles himself with the thought that over a season or a career decisions even themselves out, and the momentary feeling of moral superiority.

We know how we ought to behave.  That is how we should behave.  Good on Tendulkar, good on Gilchrist.  And now from the Pavilion end, Immanuel Kant......................


  1. Perhaps the model adopted at casual cricket games around the world; of the batting team providing the umpires; seems the most trusted of all.

    The ICC should look into its benefits.

    Sometime solutions adopted by the crowd are better than the ones devised by experts.

  2. During the Jubilee test between Ind and Eng. GR Viswanath called back England's wicketkeeper (Taylor - I think) after he was wrongfully given out by the umpire.

    Do you know of such instances?

    The Pontings of today might think Vishy was evil to show such blatant disregard for the umpire's word

  3. Golandaaz thanks for raising Vishy and Taylor a celebrated incident indeed. FB is not aware of other similar ones, although there must be some. FB thinks this is on a different moral plane altogether and worth some further thought. FB has longed for the opportunity to call back a batsman after an injudicious appeal or decision - he has not yet found one. It is one of the feats of cricket that he has yet to achieve. He looks forward to this season.

  4. an instance of a batsman being recalled by a captain:

    (not sure the decision was THAT bad-and of course Symonds always walked etc...)

    excellent post btw-truly LOL (as young people say)...unfortunately I was reading it in a library...

  5. cje, thanks for sharing the link!

  6. CJE - thanks - FB doesn't see why it is unfortunate to read his witterings in a library - which seems to him a wholly fit environment for the perusal of such erudition.