Let’s not go all Moral over Tendulkar’s Walk

Written by  //  March 23, 2011  //  Sport  //  18 Comments

On Sunday 45000 people crammed into Chepauk to witness what they perceived would be a divine experience. When Sachin Tendulkar walked back into the pavilion ninety eight runs short of what would have been his hundredth hundred, the silence was almost resonant. Some would argue that by walking off the field before umpire Steve Davies could lift his finger – the general conjecture is that the decision would have gone the batsman’s way – a celestial experience is exactly what they got. But cricket, as Andy Bull rightly points out in this week’s Spin – Guardian’s weekly cricket column – is a game of skewed morals. The ethical code in cricket, Bull says, “exists in shades of grey rather than black and white.” Indeed a day before India’s game against the West Indies, Ricky Ponting having blatantly edged one to Kamran Akmal against Pakistan stood his ground, until umpire Marais Erasmus’s decision was overturned via the UDRS. Ponting has never been a walker and he makes no bones about it – “If I get a nick behind to the keeper, then I stand there until the umpire makes a decision.”

But before I get to the morality of the issue of walking or the aspect of decisions balancing themselves out over the course of a cricketer’s career, it is important to point out that Tendulkar hasn’t always been a walker. To exalt his decision to walk against the West Indies as a saintly act would, therefore, be a statement steeped in misconceptions. As Sourav Ganguly remarked in an interview with a television channel, “Sachin has never done that in the past, let’s be honest, and he shouldn’t because there have been times when he has been given out and he was not out.” The headlines in many Indian newspapers, such as the Times of India, which read “Sachin Tendulkar puts integrity above quest for 100th ton;” the Deccan Herald, which expressed his decision as “Walking tall on the cricketing pitch” and the Hindustan Times, which said that this was “another instance of the high standards he has set for himself,” are all not even worth the price of paper on which they’ve been printed. There have been numerous instances when Tendulkar has been happy to wait for the umpire’s decision; carrying on, in fact, had the decision wrongly gone in his favour. So let’s not idolize inconsistent acts and lose track of the distorted moralities of cricket.

The broad conception that has developed in recent years, particularly on the back of Adam Gilchrist’s decision to walk in a World Cup semi-final – it may also be worthwhile to point out that Gilchrist himself has failed to walk on odd occasions – is that it is the prerogative of the individual to choose whether to walk and that morality doesn’t dictate such actions. But the fact remains that cricket, albeit a game littered with individual statistics, is a team sport. Had Virat Kohli, who batted at one-drop, got a clanger from Steve Davis, I am not sure the Indian team would have been best pleased with Tendulkar. As Ganguly said in the same T.V. interview, “It could be a big game, India 100 for three, Tendulkar batting on 55 and holding the key to India’s success. I would really not want him to walk unless an umpire has given him out.” A cricketer’s decision to walk does affect the performance of his team and therefore to consign the choice as purely the prerogative of the individual is scarcely in the interest of the sport.

Further, a person’s move to walk could impact an umpire’s decision-making. If a batsman renowned to be a walker stays his ground when he has, in fact, edged a ball even if he is honestly unaware of it, psychologically the umpire may think – hang on, this fellow usually walks, so he surely couldn’t have edged it and rules, wrongly, in favour of the batsman. No doubt it is the umpire’s job to look beyond such possibilities and make decisions purely on the basis of what he sees. But that said I find it difficult to imagine that umpires, being only human, are unaffected by such psychological considerations. The game would be richer I believe if everyone did their own jobs without aiming to claim a moral high ground.

About the Author

Suhrith Parthasarathy is a journalist currently living and writing in New York. Suhrith grew up in Chennai, India and studied law at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata. He practiced as an attorney for two years before giving up the law for journalism. He is presently studying for his masters at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. You can find him on Twitter (@suhrith) or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/suhrithparthasarathy)

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18 Comments on "Let’s not go all Moral over Tendulkar’s Walk"

  1. Biswa March 23, 2011 at 7:55 am ·

    Nice article Suhrith. There is no doubt that walking is definitely overrated and i haven’t seen any player who has been consistent in walking ( my dad says Gundappa Viswanath was one).

    In cricketing circles a lot of hue and cry is raised about integrity and honesty when a batsman does not walk or fielder claims a contentious catch but what about appeals by bowlers when everybody knows that the appeal is frivolous. What about appeals for distracting the umpire to stop him from giving a wide down the leg side, are they not being dishonest??Further, why have a concept of appealing? Why can’t the umpire give the decision suo moto? Somehow ridiculous appeals by bowlers to pressurize umps are ok, (shane warne being a master at that) but not walking or claiming a catch a serious offence!! Double Standards I reckon.

    With so much technology around the game, we have already established that we don’t trust the players. We can no longer take the players word on catches, on boundary calls etc. In light of that, I feel players have full right to stand their ground unless told to leave by the umpire. Agree with Ponting on that. On a separate issue, Ponting wants players to take words of fielders claiming catches, which i again think is double standards.

    The moral issue is just hyped up by the media, Tendulkar has walked/not walked in the past. Don’t think there is any clear explanation as to why he sometimes walks and at other times doesn’t. I have seen him walk when he was on 97 against SA. Walking as u had correctly remains an individual choice, but one should not criticize players for walking or for not walking.

  2. KK March 23, 2011 at 8:08 am ·

    Totally agree. In my opinion, Tendulkar – who had never walked in his entire life upto that point – walked simply because of the UDRS. He must have felt, looking at the vehement appeal, that the West Indies would have referred the decision anyway. Without UDRS, or had he known that the edge wouldn’t show up in replays, I don’t think he’d have walked.
    The triumphant headlines, as ridiculous as they were, didn’t surprise me at all. Nor did Sunil Gavaskar’s reaction in the commentary box, saying some bullshit about ‘this is why he’s such a great player’ or some such thing. He’s an intelligent man with a wealth of cricketing knowledge and insight, but he’s chosen to become a shrill, jingoistic bore.

  3. Arghya March 23, 2011 at 10:57 am ·

    Couldn’t agree more Suhrith. I was surprised to see him walk since he hasn’t done so on any consistent basis. I wonder whether the UDRS had something to do with it? It can be particularly embarrassing for caught behind shouts and may lead to a batsman being found out.

  4. Anirudh Krishnan March 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm ·

    Great post Suhrith. I agree completely. I can remember two instances when he did not walk- IPL finals last year and in 2002 in the West Indies in the match in which he scored a hundred to get on par with Don Bradman’s 29 hundreds. The two reasons why he walked against the West Indies are 1) UDRS and 2) the result of the match did not matter to India. I doubt he would walk if the same thing happens again tomorrow.

  5. Shivprasad March 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm ·

    Amidst the impetuous (and now pandemic) eulogizing over Sachin’s ‘walking’ it is pleasant to finally hear a sobering voice. One of your points is well taken: that it is very much an ‘open question’ whether walking is the morally right thing to do in cricket given how much fate mingles with desert in producing the outcome of a game or even of an individual wicket. And I also agree to something that immediately follows from this. That we should ‘go slow’ on moralizing about walking, given that it is an ‘open question’ in the sense that we should be slow to criticize the likes of Ponting who wait till the finger goes up.

    But I was less convinced by your argument that Sachin was not deserving of our moral approval or commendation because : a) in the past there have been instances where he has not walked b) it is still an ‘open question’ whether or not walking is the morally right thing to do.

    Moral judgments need not be ‘all or nothing’. You will no doubt agree, I could well morally approve of what Sachin did on this occasion, knowing fully well that he may have fallen short previously. This is one of those areas where our common sense intuitions get somewhat scrambled. We tend to attribute moral responsibility to that elusive ‘person’- an aggregate spread across all of that person’s existence- while in reality what we ought to be judging is the individual on the particular occasion in front of us. Once we unscramble that intuition and put attribution of responsibility in its right place, I don’t see why I cannot praise Sachin for what he did on Sunday, knowing fully well that he may have done otherwise previously. In short what I praise was what he did on Sunday. I am not praising that ‘elusive’ aggregate of 22 years on the cricket field.

    Secondly, given that it is an open question whether walking is the right thing to do, one must be slow to criticize the ones who don’t walk. But from this, I think you also wrongly conclude that we must not praise those who do voluntarily walk. It is one thing being ambivalent about whether X is the morally right thing to do and thus not criticizing those who don’t do X. It is totally another matter to praise and morally commend someone who does X, even if you are unsure whether it is morally required. Let me give you an example. Let’s suppose: I am unsure about whether it is the moral responsibility of children to give up their careers to look after their ailing parents as long as they financially provide for them. Now if A refuses to give up his career for his ailing parents, I should not morally criticize him. But at the same time if there is B, who has given up his career to take care of his parents, I could very morally commend him for act of great personal sacrifice though I am unsure whether it is morally required. Doesn’t that neatly explain why top gallantry awards are given for those who did things ‘beyond’ the call of duty? A soldier who did less than the hero, is not criticized; but the hero who did more is commended. The suggestion that the hero shouldnt be commended just because we wouldnt criticize the ‘normal’ less than hero soldier, would sound perplexing.

    According to me, then, there is nothing that should stop us from morally commending the honesty Sachin displayed on Sunday. And if that is ‘going all moral’ I don’t see anything morally suspect in it.

  6. Kalyan March 23, 2011 at 4:59 pm ·

    Com On guys, those people who say that Tendulkar never walked in his entire life must be new kids in the block. There were several occassions when he walked away even in the nineties. i havent seen him a walking lately an may be tahts just coz he was not so sure of an incident where he nicked the ball and umpire turned down the appeal. like someone said in the comments Gilly failed to walk sometimes, but thats just coz he was not sure. i dont think this walking need so much buzzz. like the article says the decision should be with the umpire. when you cant do anything about a decision that goes against you, you better not do it when it is for you.

    Moreover, walking means you are devoiding the TEAMs chances of winning. Walking to me means putting urself ahead of the Team

  7. Suhrith March 24, 2011 at 5:04 am ·

    Thanks Biswa. You make an interesting point on the appeals which are getting more and more ridiculous by the day. Sangakarra, for instance, appeals each time a ball is slipped down the leg side and I find that terribly annoying,

  8. Suhrith March 24, 2011 at 5:06 am ·

    I just wonder though whether the decision had Steve Davis ruled him not-out would have been reversed on the UDRS? And I don’t want to get started on the likes of Gavaskar and Manjrekar who have become utterly unbearable.

  9. Suhrith March 24, 2011 at 5:08 am ·

    I think the UDRS certainly may have played a part in Tendulkar’s decision. But I suppose only he will know. Regardless, I am not sure the cost of being found out should force a batsman to walk. Let the opposition use the review and especially without hot spot, I’m not sure the decision would have been reversed had Steve Davis ruled him not-out.

  10. Suhrith March 24, 2011 at 5:10 am ·

    Thanks Anirudh. That’s precisely the point. Even assuming the prerogative rests with the batsmen to decide whether they want to walk, I am not sure Tendulkar should be lauded for having walked on this single occasion.

  11. Suhrith March 24, 2011 at 5:17 am ·

    I am not sure if the analogy quite works. The point in your example is about a person giving up his entire career to serve his ailing parents. Here, we are talking about one occasion, a largely meaningless fixture in which Tendulkar has walked. So even assuming that we are right to make moral judgments about his decision to walk, I am not sure it can be judged without taking into account his past actions.

  12. KK March 24, 2011 at 7:42 am ·

    Well, Davis did rule him not out, but Tendulkar must have felt that since he’d edged it, it would show up in the replays and the decision would have been overruled.
    Manjrekar is okay no? I really liked him before, when he was on Ten Sports. He’s not as good now, I admit, but I wouldn’t bracket him alongside SMG just yet.

  13. Stupid March 24, 2011 at 10:50 am ·

    Disagree!
    Walking means maybe, just maybe you decide to follow the spirit of the game.
    The spirit of sportsmanship.

  14. Suhrith March 25, 2011 at 6:57 am ·

    Manjrekar began fine, like you say. But he’s gotten quite bad in recent times. For instance, in India’s chase against Ireland he was most concerned about which one of Tendulkar or Sehwag would get a hundred. He was suggesting that Tendulkar play some shots so as to ensure that he doesn’t allow Sehwag to take away what could be a sure-shot century. Of course the chase turned out much harder than he expected it to.

  15. shiven March 25, 2011 at 9:43 am ·

    Hey,
    I think you completely got it wrong. If sachin would have said that he did it to be a saint, then it is worth sayin what you are sayin. As he has confessed to some of his near friends, he says that with UDRS in place, there is no use of standing the ground. The opposition would anyway refer it and he would be given out eventually. To save this, he walked away.

    Again if you say Sacihn has never walked, see the youtube of his blistering 143 against aus in 1998. Tony Greig can be heard saying..”oh he is walking … he is walking”

  16. Varun Hallikeri March 25, 2011 at 7:11 pm ·

    I am not sure if any of you caught this – http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/507501.html. It is a good analysis of the impact of UDRS on ‘walking’.

  17. Dhruv March 25, 2011 at 9:18 pm ·

    Unless we hear from Sachin why he walked, it’s impossible and possibly unfair to put words in his mouth and assume one motivation over another. If he comes and claims a moral reason, he’s on shaky ground. In which case, we must ask that with 1 over and 14 runs to win the semis against Pak, with 9 wickets down and he gets an edge, would he walk? He’d have to, to maintain moral ground.
    But if he says he did it to avoid wasting time and looking silly ON THIS ONE PARTICULAR occasion, it’s ok. Doesn’t mean he’ll walk each time.
    With UDRS, it’s even more imperative that batsmen stand their ground, I believe. Fear of looking silly is all well, but the argument has always been that it’s the umpire’s job to send you off. With UDRS, it’s like a having a better umpire, near perfect. So even more reason to let the umpire/technology do the job. Batsmen don’t get second chances if they walk. Bowlers do, even if it goes against them.

  18. Suhrith March 26, 2011 at 10:56 am ·

    I agree that we shouldn’t attribute any particular motivation to the act, but that apart, like you say, he shouldn’t have been walking regardless of his motivation.

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