Hands tied: why governing bodies must not change match results

With the ECB currently unable, it appears, to make any move without being slammed from one quarter or another, it is pleasing to see one recent decision of theirs that can be applauded. The unnecessarily controversial end to the Kent vs. Sussex match in the Women’s One-Day Championship led to Kent appealing the tied result, on the basis that the ball was dead once the keeper had taken it, thus precluding any further running.

As those who knew the Laws were well aware, Kent were on a hiding to nothing, assuming that the Laws were consistently applied. Law 21.10 (Result not to be changed) is quite clear:

Once the umpires have agreed with the scorers the correctness of the scores at the conclusion of the match – see Laws 3.15 (Correctness of scores) and 4.2 (Correctness of scores) – the result cannot thereafter be changed.

Case closed. Yet even if the result could, hypothetically, have been changed, the Dead ball Laws also offered little support to Kent’s complaint.

Kent, it seems, felt the Sussex players were somehow underhanded in running whilst Kent imagined the ball was dead. As Laws 16.2 (Call of Time)23.1 (Ball is dead) and 23.2 (Ball finally settled) state, however:

The bowler’s end umpire shall call Time when the ball is dead on the cessation of play before any interval or interruption and at the conclusion of the match.

The ball becomes dead when […] it is finally settled in the hands of the wicket-keeper or of the bowler. […] The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play. […] Whether the ball is finally settled or not is a matter for the umpire alone to decide.

Had the umpires called “time”? If not, the ball was potentially still in play. Was it finally settled? Not if the umpires had reason to suppose that either the batters or the fielders still viewed it as in play. Sussex clearly viewed it as in play, so the umpires rightly ruled it as not being dead.

It’s disappointing to see the Kent coach take to Twitter, claiming that the “Spirit of Cricket has taken a big U-Turn this weekend.” As I have written elsewhere, such inappropriate invocations of the Spirit of Cricket only serve to confuse the matter. Why should the Spirit of Cricket be thought to have anything to do with attempting a fair run?

Since the Laws are so clear, it cannot have been very difficult, for the ECB to come to their stated conclusion as reported by CRICKETHer:

It has been decided that there is no reason to overturn any decision made by the umpires on the day, nor the outcome of the game as had been determined on the day.  The match is therefore a tie.

One cannot help but feel, though, that the ECB nonetheless could, and ideally should, have gone further in their statement. As it stands, the statement leaves open the possibility that they could have changed the result, had there been sufficient reasons to do so. This should not be possible. In the case of a result which they did consider to be in error, governing bodies should never overturn the result itself. That is a breach of the authority of the umpires, who have the sole responsibility for determining the result of the game. The ICC famously did so in the Oval Test of 2006, only to reverse their reversal following condemnation by MCC.

The most that a governing body should be able to do is to apply some competition penalty to nullify the result, rather than alter it. This could be done, for instance, by deducting points, or by disqualifying the team. Indeed, this happened in the infamous Worcestershire vs Somerset match when Somerset declared after one over. Somerset would have proceeded to the knockout stages, had the TCCB not voted, somewhat controversially in itself, to disqualify them.

Returning to the present day, it would have been preferable for the ECB to emphasise three points:

  1. that the ECB in principle has no right to alter the result determined by the umpires;
  2. that the ECB, incidentally, saw no error in the umpires’ judgement on this occasion;
  3. that the ECB therefore saw no reason to add or deduct points from any team, or take any further action.

Asking a governing body to recognise, highlight and advertise the limits of its own authority may, however, be expecting a little too much.

The 2015 County Cricket Membership Comparison

The costs of the international game may be spiralling upwards, yet as any fule kno, the domestic game continues to provide the best value for money for the honest cricket lover. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the various membership packages offered by the Eighteen. For a couple of hundred quid, the price of a couple of days’ Test cricket, you can soak up unlimited first-class cricket at your local (or not so local) county ground.

That being said, not all membership packages are created equal. Some provide better value than others. Many followers will not, of course, have the luxury of being able to choose their club: loyalties run deep. For the unaffiliated aficionado, however, where is his or her money best spent?

The data has been collected, crunched, and compiled into the following table, ordered by position in the County Championship (after relegation/promotion at the end of the 2014 season).

Points of note:

  • The price listed is the regular price available to a new member, with no early-bird/junior/senior/student discounts factored in. However, if a direct-debit discount is available, that has been reflected in the price.
  • The package for comparison is the cheapest available that covers entry to all home matches in all competitions (excluding knockout stages). Essex are the only county that do not offer a package that includes T20 matches; therefore, the price has been calculated by adding the cost of entry to each individual home T20 to the membership package that covers the other games.
  • Many counties offer sizeable early-bird discounts and/or “country” discounts to members that live a specified distance away from the county’s home ground.
County 2014 LVCC position Cost Difference to average
Yorkshire 1 £220 3.48%
Warwickshire 2 £200 -5.93%
Sussex 3 £250 17.59%
Nottinghamshire 4 £160 -24.75%
Durham 5 £195 -8.28%
Somerset 6 £212 -0.29%
Middlesex 7 £240 12.88%
Hampshire 8 £225 5.83%
Worcestershire 9 £204 -4.05%
Lancashire 10 £223 4.89%
Northamptonshire 11 £239 12.41%
Essex 12 £236 11.00%
Derbyshire 13 £195 -8.28%
Surrey 14 £194 -8.75%
Kent 15 £255 19.94%
Gloucestershire 16 £225 5.83%
Glamorgan 17 £179 -15.81%
Leicestershire 18 £175 -17.69%

We see that prices differ in a range of £95, with the average package costing £213. Kent, at £255, have the unenviable position as most expensive county, closely followed by GOSBTS at £250. The former has, however, one of the more generous country-member discounts, with full access available for just £130, providing you’re not within 75 miles of Canterbury. This makes it available to most of the country, London excepted.

Talking of London, there is a surprisingly large discrepancy in the amounts Middlesex and Surrey charge. Middlesex charge a pricy £240 (£50 less for renewing members), and sadly not all matches will be at Lord’s. Surrey, by contrast, tuck in below the two-hundred-pound threshold at £194. Despite being a Middlesex man, I therefore, with gritted teeth, have to recommend joining Surrey as best value in the South East.

It certainly seems better than the Essex offering. At Chelmsford it isn’t possible to buy a package encompassing all games: one has to buy the standard package at £152 and then £12 a pop for each T20 game. On the plus side, if you know you won’t make more than 3 or 4 of the T20s, this allows you to regulate your spending, bringing the cost in line with other counties. On the down side, even as a member you have to book in advance and can’t just roll up on the day, as you could at Lord’s, for example.

Note in passing, however, that a non-member T20 ticket with reserved seating is an astonishing £29. This seems ludicrously high, especially when you consider that over in Cardiff, for £30, just £1 extra, you could see England play Australia – and as a double-header too, with both the men’s and women’s teams’ T20Is included in the price.

Talking of Cardiff, £179 seems reasonable, compared to regional rivals Gloucestershire (£225) and Somerset (£212). Glamorgan: best in the West, especially when you consider their £40 Early Bird discount.

If all you want to watch at Chelmsford is T20, just buy individual tickets at £22: pricey, but 7 x £22 = £154.

The White and Red head-to-head is close, with Yorkshire edging the Roses battle, although at just £3 more, it would only be the most fickle of Lancashire supporters who would be tempted to defect. It’s Durham, though, that yield best value in the North: their charge of £195 is bettered by only one county in Division One.

Yet it is that county that stands out overall. Nottinghamshire not only offer the lowest price of any county, first or second division, but they also remain one of the most competitive counties, with solid credentials in the Championship and knockout-stage progress in the 2014 limited-overs competitions. Included in the price is access to all Northamptonshire and Leicestershire home Championship matches. Throw into the mix the prospect of seeing several young England stars in action, and priority access to booking international tickets, and it’s easy to see why Nottinghamshire receive the prestigious Raging Turner County Membership of The Year 2015.

Intoxicated With The Spirit: Keep Calm And Carry On Mankading

Newsflash: Sports player plays sport by rules of the sport. Cue massive outrage and moral indignation.

Anyone who’s been watching county cricket in the last 24 hours will instantly recognise the situation described. Stripped down to its bare bones, the Kartik-Barrow incident in the Somerset CCC vs Surrey CCC match looks comical. What’s all the fuss about?

In fact, it gets even more ridiculous. Since the bowler had delivered a prior warning, the newsflash becomes: Sports player plays sport by rules, after giving opponent bonus chance to play fairly. And it gets worse: Sports team captain apologises for playing by the rules.

So why the vehemence? By and large, it’s that old chestnut being invoked: the Spirit of the Game.

The Spirit of the Game is an essential part of the game of Cricket, officially codified in 2000, and is a key factor in setting cricket apart as special. It outlines the general attitudes that should rule the game and guide the way it is played.

The Spirit is meant to fill in in areas where the Laws may be unclear, or where there may be room for interpretation. Think of the Laws as rules, and the Spirit as a guiding principle.

The central idea is that of “fair play”. Players, and their captains, must be seen to be acting in a gentlemanly, sportsmanlike, and fair way to their opponents. They must not act in any way that brings the game into disrepute.

There is no problem with this. Indeed, it’s a most valuable standard to have available in a world where sports scandals seem to occur on a daily basis, be they accusations of drug taking (cycling), match throwing (badminton), or spot-fixing (cricket).

Within the power of the Spirit of Cricket lies a weakness, though. When some subset of the cricket-watching community dislike a particular action, it’s all too eay to call it “unsporting” and “against the Spirit of the Game”. Despite not having solid grounds for such forthright statements, the vague appeal to the Spirit nevertheless whips up popular feeling. All too often the media jumps on the bandwagon – even if the majority of viewers don’t think there’s been a breach.

When the banner of the “Spirit of Cricket” is hijacked by non-existent problems, it counter-productively diminishes respect for the Spirit.

So was there a breach of the Spirit in this case? It’s already been established that there was no breach of the Laws themselves (the MCC Laws taken together with the ECB Playing Conditions). Yet the media coverage, by and large, sought to suggest an ungentlemanly undercurrent, representing the Surrey captain as “contrite”.

The Preamble to the Laws, that seeks to capture the Spirit in words, is in fact very short. The key sections here are:

  • The Spirit of the Game involves respect for your opponents and the game’s traditional values. (Section 4)
  • It is against the Spirit of the Game to indulge in cheating or any sharp practice. (Section 5)
  • Each player must also avoid behaving in a manner which might bring the game into disrepute. (Section 1)

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Respect for opponents and traditional values

Traditionally, Mankading has been seen as ungentlemanly, if delivered without warning. It should be stressed that this is simply a matter of tradition: the Laws do not consider this to be an instance of unfair play. Nevertheless, tradition holds that a warning should be given first. If such a warning is given, the bowler has given the batsman a fair chance, fair signal of intent, and therefore is not acting in an unsportsmanlike fashion.

Furthermore, tradition is always a slippery concept to appeal to. Admittedly Mankading may be rare in first-class cricket, but does that automatically make it unfair? Being out “obstructing the field” is rare. That doesn’t make it unfair to appeal when a batsman is guilty of deliberate obstruction. Alternatively, imagine that over the next seventy years, being out LBW becomes extremely rare. Would it be unfair to claim such a wicket in 2082, simply because it had fallen out of tradition?

The Preamble asks players to respect the game’s traditional values, not its traditions. There is a significant difference. Traditions may change, but values should stay the same. Mankading may be non-traditional – just as switch-hitting, Twenty20, and Dilscooping are non-traditional – but it does not necessarily conflict with the game’s traditional values of sportsmanship and fair play, especially when delivered with a warning.

Cheating and sharp practice

Mankading is clearly not cheating, since the Laws expressly allow for it. Is it sharp practice? Clearly not, when it is compared with the examples of cheating and sharp practice listed by the Laws: appealing when knowing the batsman is not out, advancing on the umpire, and trying to distract an opponent. Mankading gets a clean bill here.

Bringing the game into disrepute

To accuse an action of bringing the game into disrepute is a weighty and serious claim. For it to hold any water, though, such an accusation needs to be backed up with clear reasoning. For instance, the spot fixing of Amir, Asif, and Butt clearly brought the game into disrepute. The image of cricket was sullied, as the public was no longer able to trust the contests they witnessed would be genuine battles.

Keep Calm and Carry On Mankading psuedo-WWII-era posterSo how does a Mankad bring the game into disrepute? It seems ridiculous to place Kartik’s Mankading on a similar plane to spot fixing. How can Mankading affect the public’s view of cricket? Here’s a challenge: find a member of the public, present the opening “newsflash” from the beginning of the article, and see if he/she sees anything untoward in the situation. If anything, trying to explain the situation risks lending credence to the view of many that the game of cricket is insufferably stuffy and literally ridiculous, through its suffocating insistence on pointless minutiae, and totally unsuited to the modern world of sport.

Once investigated, the grand claims of “failing to uphold the Spirit of Cricket” shrink and collapse to a feeble “but I didn’t like what he did.”

It’s a sad thought that by attempting to drag the Spirit of Cricket in where it isn’t being violated, that very attempt can contribute to a lessening of respect for that Spirit. Spectators, supporters, and the media all have a responsibility to not abuse the Spirit of the Game, and play fairly with players who are playing fairly. Captains should not be bullied into believing they have committed an error, simply because a vocal section have expressed their displeasure.

So Mankading must stay. Batsmen should be kept honest (to recycle a cliché in a different context). And both players and onlookers, in their respective ways, must respect the Spirit of the Game.