Second Thoughts on Catches

On the final day of the 2nd Test between Sri Lanka and Australia at Pallekele, Michael Clarke standing at 2nd slip, took what can be described as a “ripper” to dismiss Mahela Jayawardene off the bowling of Trent Copeland. While the Australian players crowded around Clarke to celebrate the dismissal and congratulate him on the catch, Jayawardene hung around a bit as he was uncertain whether the catch was taken cleanly.

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Clarke noticing that Jayawardene was hanging around volunteered: “Mahela. One hundred percent. One hundred percent I caught that…” (You can watch the entire back and forth here). You can actually hear Jayawardene say, “I do walk mate. Just wait. Alright? Chill.” after Shane Watson chipped in with “Just walk mate.” (00:25). Right away, Clarke approached Jayawardene and said, “It’s up to you mate but I am hundred percent sure.”

The Cricinfo ball-by-ball commentary, as expected, was flooded with feedback wondering why Jayawardene wouldn’t take Clarke’s word on it, the loss of gentleman behavior in the game as well as those defending Jayawardene. As there was rain delay soon after, there was plenty of feedback and I have compiled all those that relate directly to the incident, but here are a couple of samples.

Jason: “Is Mahela the worst non-walker in the world? Stands there after every low taken catch. Surprised he doesn’t ask for a video review when he gets bowled

Aman: “The only way I would agree with taking the opposition’s word on catches is if they would also agree to walk every time they knew they had hit it…”

In my opinion, Clarke handled the situation perfectly even with Watson shooting off his mouth in the background. He told the batsman what he thought of it and left it up to him to decide to either walk or wait for confirmation from the umpires. By standing his ground, Jayawardene did not do anything wrong as he put the onus on the umpires.

An important aspect here is that the on field umpires did not adjudicate right away on the catch. If the batsman wasn’t sure, it is only fair to assume that the umpires who were that much farther from the action weren’t sure as well. Rightly, the third umpire with the aid of video replay was brought in to adjudicate and Jayawardene was declared out.

As you may have seen from the link I provided of the feedback, such situation bring along with it, a whole gamut of issues pertaining to player’s integrity, “the way the game is supposed to be played”, umpires and of course, rehashing of prior such instances.

Let us be clear about a few things. If we expect batsmen to walk if they know they have nicked, or take the fielder’s words that a clean catch has been taken, we cannot have two separate rules. The fielders who claim clean catches cannot be seen to be lingering around when they are at the receiving end. There have been pre-series documents signed by the captains that their players would accept the word of the fielder, and would walk etc., but all that goes out the window in the heat of the battle. Such noble documents and thoughts are hard to implement evenly across 30 men. All it takes is one Andrew Symonds (Sydney ’08) or a Sachin Tendulkar (known non-walker) to throw a wrench in it.

Such noble ideas are what the civilized society is based on. The idea that people on the whole will be kind to each other and do the right thing. However, we still do have policeman patrolling the streets just so that nothing untoward happens and the society doesn’t descend in to anarchy. Even in a society that may have the general safety of its citizenry assured, we still do not see people going to bed with their doors unlocked.

Similarly, we have paid professionals to adjudicate on the decisions on the field. Let them do their jobs. In the modern sport, we have the technology available as well to aid the umpires. Back in the day, when you did not have such tools to assist in making decisions, I do see a fair point in asking the batsmen to walk or take the word of the fielder on a catch but also, back then, you did not have bowlers and fielders going up in chorus appealing for anything and everything.

There is also a line of thought that “you win some, you lose some” when it comes to umpiring errors. It is easy for us to say that. Careers are made and have crumbled to dust based on umpiring errors. Sure, the umpiring mistakes may even out over the course of match or series, but from an individual player’s point of view that may not be so true.

Since the batsman has to leave the arena when given out by the umpire (rightly or not), it does bring in a sense of fairness if he stands his ground even when he knows he has nicked one. With the introduction of the Decision Review System, there is at least a way to redress when one team or the other feel wronged. Back in 2010, during the infamous Pakistan tour to England, Lawrence Booth wrote that implementing the DRS “could bring honesty back in to cricket.” We have not seen that come to be, as the DRS has actually become a tactical tool in the hands of the players, rather than simply a technical aid to assist the umpires.

I have led a group of men and boys in cricket matches before and it has been my personal belief that I will let the umpire decide it for me. I have always intimated to my team members that they are well within their rights to stand their ground till the umpire gives them out. However, I do leave it up to individual player’s judgment if they decide to walk.

Let the players play. Let the umpires (with or without the help of technology) take care of the rest.

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