Competition in business is supposed to raise quality. In cricket, even though the game has become a business, competitiveness has led to a profound decline in the ethics of the game. Often referred to as the gentleman’s game still, cricket now has very few real gentlemen playing it. The Australian vice-captain, Adam Gilchrist, proved during the semi-final match against Sri Lanka that he is one of a vanishing breed. He walked when he knew he was out even though the umpire had ruled him not out. Most batsmen of the present era — Brian Lara being the honourable and significant exception — in a similar situation would have taken a fresh guard and counted their good fortune. This has become so much the standard and accepted practice that walking is considered an act of stupidity. Yet things were not always like this. One of the great stories from the archive of cricket lore recounts how Jack Hobbs, after he heard an appeal from Bert Oldfield from behind the stumps, asked, “What was that Bert'” The prince of wicket-keepers who never appealed unless he was certain replied, “I think you are out, sir.” Hobbs rejoined, “Then I think I better go” and he took off his gloves and began his walk to the pavilion without even a glance at the umpire. This was the spirit of cricket: a spirit informed by trust and mutual respect.
The action of Gilchrist is significant because it comes at a time when displaying one’s displeasure at the umpire’s decision has almost become fashionable. Even captains do it. It is nobody’s case that umpires do not make mistakes. They do and with the new technology that is available a mistake made by the umpire becomes public knowledge almost instantaneously. Players thus always have public sympathy when an umpire errs. The players could make the life of the umpire easier if they chose to walk. They don’t. Similarly, bowlers and fielders often appeal when they know — or should know — that it is not out. Appeals for leg before the wicket from point or square leg are familiar sights in today’s cricket.
To be fair, walkers have always been the exception rather than the rule. The great Donald Bradman was not a walker. His logic was that bad luck (given out when not out) and good luck (given not out when out) actually cancel each other out in one’s career. But — and this is an extremely important point — he never expressed even the slightest displeasure at the decision of the umpire when it went against him. In fact, it is said, that he never left the ground, when given out, without a smile on his face. This example from the greatest of all batsmen only shows that even without being a walker, it is possible to be gracious and gentlemanly on the cricket field. It is important to underline in the context of this example that the Don was a very keen competitor.
It has become a popular refrain that cricket has changed and one can no longer survive within it as a gentleman. Aggression is supposed to produce winners. Gilchrist and the admiration he has received from some of his fellow players for his gesture have shown that there are gentlemen left in the game, that there are traditions in the game which players still want to uphold. All is thus not lost for the purist and the genuine cricket lover.