The Calvin Report: Walk? Only if the car runs out of petrol
Don't listen to the self-appointed guardians of Stuart Broad's conscience. These are the Ashes – hard, tense Test cricket with no prisoners taken
Sunday 14 July 2013
For someone depicted as the destroyer of childhood dreams, Stuart Broad took notoriety in his long, languid stride. The sanctimony of strangers, and the selective scrutiny of self-appointed guardians of his conscience, was an utter irrelevance on another burnished, breathless day at Trent Bridge.
Broad played a full part, with bat and ball when his critics would have had him appear on his home ground in a ball and chain. He received a standing ovation when zealots would have had him sent, in shameful silence, to solitary confinement.
When such arbiters of moral rectitude as Piers Morgan perch on their hind legs to pass judgement on a batsman's refusal to walk, and a professional sceptic like Richard Dawkins speaks about the England all-rounder with the fervour of someone who has lost his religion, we are in surreal territory.
There was something portentous about Broad's central role in what is likely to be the key moment of an insistently intense Test match. He found the edge of Michael Clarke's bat, but umpire Aleem Dar could not bring himself to give the Australia captain out before he had received confirmation the ball had carried to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Clarke, perhaps piqued by the indignity, promptly used up his side's final review. Despite the marginal nature of contact, it was futile. He trudged off, with a poignant glance across at England's exultant celebrations, to the sound of choreographed booing.
The tone of the Ashes summer has been set. Hawk-Eye has supplanted the human eye. Instinct and experience cannot compete with the binary certainties of computerised judgement. The decision review system (DRS) has mutated into a form of Russian Roulette, in which players are increasingly inclined to chance their luck and their nerve.
Umpires will be under unprecedented pressure to justify the received wisdom that, despite moments of manufactured confusion, between 92 and 93 per cent of their decisions are correct.
Ironically, given that Steve Waugh coined the phrase "mental degradation" to characterise his all-conquering Australia team's policy of invading the minds of opponents, the officials face burnout. The ICC elite panel of umpires has only four members who have the required neutrality to stand in an Ashes Test – Dar, his Trent Bridge colleague Kumar Dharmasena, Marais Erasmus and Tony Hill.
Good luck chaps. You will need it. If teams succeed in agitating for unlimited reviews, the powers that be in Dubai might as well exhume the concept of timeless Tests. The trial by technology will become repetitive, ponderous and ultimately self-defeating.
Broad, who is unlikely ever to be accused of being a shrinking violet, will be in his element. He milked the moment of walking when he finally edged James Pattinson to Brad Haddin after scoring 65 without adding to his reputation as a one-man international incident.
The Australians did not deign to applaud earlier, when he reached his half-century with a broadsword slash which sped between Shane Watson and Clarke, who were in "after you, Claude" mode at first and second slip respectively.
But the tribal elders knew the score. As Ian Healy, a wicketkeeper of legendary determination, volubility observed: "Walk in an Ashes Test match? Only if the car runs out of petrol."
The wider debate had the intellectual merit of those so-called Aussie Fanatiacs, gold and green encrusted exhibitionists whose idea of wit and wisdom is to greet a new England batsman with a concerted chorus of "quack, quack, quack".
Broad deserves to be judged on his own terms. No one can doubt his commitment – a full length dive to save a boundary late in the day, at the inevitable expense of his injured right shoulder proved that – but his self-confidence occasionally strays into self-regard.
When things go against him, especially with the ball in his hand, he has the air of an over-indulged adolescent. Tall, blond and perpetually pouting in adversity, it is tempting to typecast him as the Violet Elizabeth Bott of Test cricket.
But no one died. Nottingham was calm as it cooked on the hottest day of the year. This was Test cricket as it was meant to be. It was hard, tense, take-no-prisoners stuff. A collision of wills and cultures.
Every Australian wicket was greeted by a primitive howl of triumph, and a collective jig of delight which would not have been out of place in the shop-soiled cathedrals of football's Premier League. It was de rigeur for the successful bowler to punch the air and wheel around in an exultant arc.
Further outrages to the supposed spirit of cricket doubtlessly await, as the modern twist to an ancient rivalry becomes increasingly apparent. The worthies of the MCC might be best advised to prepare themselves for the outrage of the first Robot Dance to desecrate Lord's, in this week's Second Test.
There is something patronising about cricket's more vocal apologists claiming moral authority over other sports. Batsmen who refuse to walk are no different to scrum-halves who feed the ball into the second row of a set-piece, or strikers who palm the ball into the goal without a moment's hesitation. They are products of a hard trade in which weakness is preyed upon. It's Sporting Life as we know it, imperfect, improbable and utterly compelling.
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