Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Come back

Andrew Gale
What would Fantasy Bob have done at Headingley last week?

It has long been one of Fantasy Bob's ambitions as skipper to call a batsman back as having been incorrectly dismissed.  This season maybe it will happen.   Of course technically there has been nothing to stop him doing this at any time in the last 200 seasons he has played.  It is certain that there have been many decisions over his long career that might not have stood up to the rigours of the UDRS, had it been available at the time.  It just doesn't feel like that.  For whatever reason, FB has not chosen to occupy that elevated moral plane and has accepted the judgment of umpires as equally incompetent as he is himself sending their team mates off in possibly dubious circumstances.  He may use the reasoning that if every questionable appeal were treated in this way, there would barely be a wicket to fall in the whole course of the season and the game is weighted heavily enough in favour of the batsman (particularly when FB is bowling).  This is pragmatism overturning principle.

So what would he have done at Headingley last week?  During the Yorks Notts County match, Chris Read walked, mistakenly thinking a catch had been taken when it had been spilled.  A Yorks fielder removed the bail running him out.  The Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale then took the honourable course and withdrew the appeal allowing Read to stay at the crease.  He went on to score 20 more runs, a significant contribution to Notts eventually winning a close contest.  Exemplary behaviour - Gale should feature in the birthday honours list.

These incidents are few and far between at the top level.  The most celebrated example of the skipper calling back a batsman was by Indian skipper Guduppa Vishwanath in the Golden Jubilee Test in 1980.  The umpire gave England's keeper Bob Taylor out caught behind but Vishy knew there was no contact and overturned the decision.  Taylor went on to make a contribution which helped England win the match.  Vishy is venerated as the exemplar of fair play.

A more recent example shows the risk that the apparently honourable thing presents in the top flight.  In 2009 Andrew Strauss recalled Angelo Mathews during a Champion's Trophy match against Sri Lanka after he was run out after colliding with Graham Onions in his follow through.  Good chap everyone thought - unlike that rotter Collingwood who had got stick for taking the wicket in a similar incident against New Zealand a year earlier.  Good chap everyone thought - except Andy Flower who gave Strauss a proverbial and used the incident as a teaching point in his long march on toughening up the England side to a new level of ruthlessness.  He made it clear that he would not have recalled the batsman and that he would not expect to see such weakness again.

But just occasionally in the lower leagues calling the batsman back might be the smart tactical thing to do - getting the non-scoring blocker out, who, if he ever manages to hit the ball off the square, can barely manage to run a single in the time it takes FB's youthful colleagues to run 4.  Seeing this negative force replaced by a savage hitter often leads to a worsening of the team's position.  It may therefore be worth thinking harder about this. 

Penalty declined
for some obscure reason
to do with the rules
In American football, there is the concept of the penalty declined.  FB has no idea why this happens.  But lower league cricket could imitate it by introducing the wicket declined.   He even has a speech prepared, 'Thankyou umpire for that very kind, imaginative and well presented decision to end the sparkling innings of your teammate.  On behalf of my team, while we accept your decision was perfectly correct we courteously decline it and the generous gift of a bowling point that comes with it.  The batsman is entertaining us so much with his blocks and prods and general ineptitude that we all want to see him continue.  Be so good as to call him back.'  And the scorebook will be marked Wicket Declined.

This seems to be the kind of ruthlessness Flower wants.


  1. It is always gratifying to see examples of good sportsmanship, in whatever field of play, and in the case of cricket it is especially important, given the noble traditions of the game. The umpires might prefer the players to adhere to his decision, whichever way that goes, and this is entirely understandable. I have never understood the rules of American Football but the declined penalty sounds an interesting idea - perhaps FB could do some research?

  2. Silly Point - FB understands that penalty declined happens when the side to whom a penalty, in the form of yardage, is awarded decides that they are in a better position at the end of the play anyway so they don't need it. It's a bit like advantage in rugby or real football but wholly unlike it at the same time.