No transgression of the law
The circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the non-striker which allowed the West Indies Under-19 team to be victorious in the recent ICC World Cup has generated much controversy, with the International Cricket Council's (ICC) chief executive Dave Richardson also giving his personal view on the matter.
It has prompted me in my capacity as a retired umpire and an enthusiast of the game to express my view on the dispute as it relates to the playing of cricket within its spirit, which is the responsibility of the captain and the application of the law by the umpire.
Various interpretations seem to exist of what is meant by the spirit of cricket. In the revised edition of the textbook Cricket Umpiring and Scoring, it is clarified in the preface - The Preamble - The Spirit of Cricket.
According to the internationally recognised and definitive guide to the interpretation and application of the laws of cricket and which is approved by the MCC and adopted by the ICC, the spirit of the game involves your opponents, your captain and team, the role of the umpire and the traditional values of the game. It is also mentioned that to dispute an umpire's decision by word, action, or gesture, to indulge in cheating and to distract an opponent while batting are offences against the spirit of the game and brings it into disrepute.
Among the 13 offences in the laws which are indicative of injustices is the 'Batsmen Stealing a Run' listed under that significant law Fair and Unfair Play (Law 42).
Leaving your crease before the delivery is a tactic frequently used. It is an unfair strategy and a violation of the law which must have precedence over any other consideration.
Simultaneously, it is permissible for the bowler to run out the non-striker before the delivery. This revised law (Law 38) now emphatically states that "Either batsman is out run out if at any time while the ball is in play he is out of his ground and his wicket is fairly put down by the action of a fielder."
In the incident being debated, it must be borne in mind that no transgression of the law was incurred by the bowler who was entitled to run out the batsman. The ball was in play, the dismissal was lawfully executed and no warning, which is regarded as a convention, was necessary. An appeal was made, the decision was correct; the match was lawfully won and accepted without any criticism or inappropriate comment from the defeated captain, which would in itself be an offence.
These are the salient points which are most relevant to the issue, and the frivolous accusation of not adhering to what is only a custom is unfounded and of secondary importance. The only option available to overcome the decision was for the captain to seek the permission of the umpire for him (the captain) to withdraw the appeal in an act of sportsmanship. Not choosing to do so must not be construed as not playing the game within its spirit, and the question to be asked is, how can an incident be regarded as disgraceful and unbelievable when there was adherence to the relevant law? To regard it as such, as some critics have described it, is not only ludicrous but demonstrates a total disregard for logic and an example of one's erroneous interpretation of the law.
It is well known that the only reason why a non-striker leaves the popping crease before the delivery, or an athlete leaves his mark before the starter's gun goes off, is to gain an unfair advantage or to get a 'jump start', as some would say, and this the law regards as unfair and therefore incurs a penalty when transgressed.
What I consider as dishonest and unacceptable is that it is permissible for a batsman to challenge the decision on being given out caught behind by the wicketkeeper off an obvious clean catch of which he, the batsman, is cognisant that he had played and must have felt and heard. Under the Television (TV) Replay System, requesting the umpire for a review is not regarded as against the spirit of the game, but in my opinion it is tantamount to an umpire's decision being disputed. I also regard it as against the spirit of the game when the wicketkeeper intentionally appeals for a catch in an effort to mislead the umpire and to avoid a wide being signalled.
In the highest format of the game, it is replete with instances where the spirit of the game is being ignored and considered trivial, such as employing time-wasting tactics to avoid another over being bowled, an experience of all umpires.
It is reported, in the recent case, that the standing umpire sought confirmation as to the seriousness of the appeal before the decision was made. This I regard as inappropriate as the fielding side had already signalled their position by appealing. This could give the impression that the umpire is exhibiting a lack of neutrality and partiality, which are among his personal attributes and an indication also that the spirit of cricket has priority over the breaching and application of the law.
In the final analysis, it is unquestionable that if cricket is to maintain the high reputation that it enjoys among sports, adherence to its laws, and display of sportsmanship when depending on the circumstances, as well as respect for those participating are the objectives which must be the primary aim of those involved.
• John (Johnny) Gayle is a retired Test cricket umpire and cricket administrator.