It Hit The Bat: How Behavior at a Cricket Match Went Viral Around the World

On one of those minor sports networks on TV the other day, I paused to watch a football game between Indiana and Purdue that was played in 1998. The show was called The Big Ten’s Greatest Games. It’s hard to believe this was 15 years ago. But there were clues. The video was not hi-def and colors were washed out. And on one long run in the fourth quarter, a crucial touchdown pass was called back because it was ruled the receiver stepped out-of-bounds on the 20-yard line as he eluded a tackler and headed for the goal line. A replay—they had replays—showed that he never did step out of bounds.

“Well, that’s how the referee ruled,” the announcer said. “So that’s all that mattered.”

Besides the fact that today an instant replay would have reversed the call on the sidelines, it was interesting to note that the coach for the offensive team did make a fuss, but not a big fuss, and it got him nowhere, as he expected. The receiver said nothing. It did cost the game in the end.

Today, there was an article on the front page of The New York Times sports section about a relatively unimportant cricket match that took place in Nottingham England between the English national cricket team and the Australian national cricket team. A player had done something that would have gotten him out. He knew it. He looked at the umpire. The umpire hadn’t seen it. The player, batting, got his bat back in position to continue on. And so the game continued on.

As it turned out, that little fib by the player did change the outcome of the game. But it also went to the heart of what’s supposed to be the most polite and honest sport in the world. It has since become an international incident. The player, even before the umpire had ruled, should have walked away from the plate, knowing he was out. At that point, even if the umpire tried to rule he was not out, the player would have prevailed. That, people say, is how you play cricket. By the rules.

Here’s what the incident was all about. You know cricket is a crazy game. So follow this. There’s a pitcher and a catcher, and also a batter who hits with a flat-bladed bat. The idea is for the pitcher to throw the ball—it’s a hard cork-and-leather ball and some pitchers can throw it close to 100 miles an hour—and with that ball, hit a wooden post (a “stump”) set up in the ground in front of the catcher. If he can do that—the batter might miss it—then the batter is out and has to walk off, his “innings,” as they are called, over. What the batter tries to do is hit the ball so it’s not caught on the fly. If it bounces first, and the batter is usually trying to hit grounders, he gets a “run” and stays up. There are no balls and strikes. That’s the whole game.

It may be difficult for the pitcher to get the ball to hit the post behind the catcher. And it may not be often that the batter swings and misses. Usually, it’s pretty easy for a skilled batsman to hit the ball away. Thus a good batter can score dozens of runs before getting “out.” Even hundreds. Batters have been known to stay up at bat for hours, even days.

And then there are the little rules that deal with smaller matters. And it’s one of these that this was about. What if, for instance, the pitcher hits the batter with the ball and it pops up and a fielder catches it, which would ordinarily be an out? Well, of course, it’s not an out. It’s a “run,” and the pitcher might get a warning card or something.

In this case, the batter was Stuart Broad for England. England was behind. He was scoring run after run, however. And then, the pitcher sent the ball in very close to the batter and there was the clear sound of ball hitting bat. It popped up and a fielder caught it. Everyone in the stadium apparently heard that sound, even saw it hit—all except the umpire. Broad looked at the umpire. The umpire signaled “run.” And so, in a game where nobody ever, ever challenges a ruling, the match went on. Broad scored 28 more runs before he was out. In the end, and this match went on for two days—they actually break for “tea” frequently—the final score was 590 for England, 576 for Australia. Had Broad been called out (the term in cricket is “walk,”) his last 28 runs never would have happened.

It should be noticed here that around the world there are tens of millions of fanatics who follow cricket. When Broad failed to “walk,” the Twittering began. And it continued on until the end of the match. And it was not so much that the wrong team won—who knows how it might have turned out if Broad had walked when he should—but that the ancient ethic of good manners and politeness were disregarded. The man had been out. As a gentleman, he should have walked off even before the umpire ruled.

“What has this come to?” Twittered one enthusiast.

Numerous Twitters referred to a famous walk-off in a crucial match between Sri Lanka and Australia in 2003 when a star player, Adam Gilchrist, had walked off, knowing his bat had hit the ball when no one saw or heard it, before the umpire could rule.

“If ever there was a true Spirit of Cricket, it took the day off at Trent Bridge when Stuart Broad blatantly nicked a delivery to first slip but chose not to walk,” wrote sports columnist Paul Hayward in The Daily Telegraph.

A “slip” is a particular position a fielder plays in cricket.

What did come as a surprise, however, was the reaction of most of the players on both sides of the contest. In today’s world, there’s too much at stake, particularly financially. They had no quarrel with what Broad did. Within the normal politeness and good manners, he could not be blamed for trying to avoid hurting his team.

Here, today, in the Hamptons, there is no cricket played that I know of. But there is golf. And when it’s played, on a private course by millionaires and billionaires, they do it really fast, practically speed-walking down the fairways, hitting the ball as quickly as possible when they get to it and then moving along to hit it again. It’s called power golf. Those not so good or powerful have to give way when the speed golfers approach. Let them through. And we do. A wealthy mogul’s golf match might get completed in half the time it takes everybody else. And when nobody is looking and the lie is bad, who knows? The idea is to beat the opponent. And many of them know what to do.

The story of Stuart Broad, as told in this article, might have taught you the way cricket is played. Certainly it taught me.

In all my travels during my life, I have sat through much of a day watching a cricket match (having no idea what was going on) only twice. Once it was in a stadium in Barbados. A very important match that I was lucky to get tickets to. It was the second day. On the first day, almost all work stopped in Barbados, or at least slowed down, as everyone on this entire island listened to the game over portable radios they carried around, or watched it on TV in bars and hotel lobbies. I had no idea what was going on in that stadium on the second day, but people were cheering all over the place.

I also once got to watch a cricket match in a stadium in downtown Auckland, New Zealand. This was a whole different story. Although the game looked exactly the same as the other, all the players in their white shirts and pants and hats and all the good mannered camaraderie between them, the stadium was an uproarious mess of slobberingly drunk drunks. They whistled at pretty girls, passed beer back and forth between them, jostled and shoved one another, even threw cups of beer at one another (and the girls) and had no particular interest in the match at all except at special moments, which might occur at two-hour intervals, when something very good was happening for the home team. Then they’d get up and cheer, and some of them would fall over.

I do hope cricket recovers from this malfeasance. We need cricket in this world.

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