Friday, 13 June 2014

Column 15, 2014 – The Butler Incident

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 87, Friday June 13, 2014.
[Full text below]

England’s indignation at ‘The Butler Incident’ at Edgbaston last week feels a little bit like Australia’s indignation at ‘The Broad Happening’ at Trent Bridge last summer – an appeal of ‘Foul Play!’ directed at The Spirit of Cricket itself. That nebulous, indefinable arbiter of fairness which causes such consternation in the game at all levels.

The situation is muddied here by the difference between the Laws of Cricket, which govern us all from village green upwards, and the ICC playing conditions, which govern internationals.

Spot the difference: MCC Law 42.15 “The bowler is permitted, before entering his delivery stride, to attempt to run out the non-striker.” ICC playing condition 42.11 “The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker.”

Senanayake’s front foot had landed before he turned round and knocked the bails off. In a one day game for club or county, Butler would not have been out.

That in itself is daft. Why are they different? Anyone think of a reason? I’d love to hear it.

Despite this pointless ambiguity, the ruling on the main issue is very clear. If the non-striker is out of his ground and the bowler legally breaks the wicket, he’s out. There really isn’t a lot to argue about.

Except some people think that to enforce this rule is the depraved act of a dishonourable lowlife, a crime against the game, worthy only of contempt. There’s no shortage of this opinion among cricket’s retired professional classes. Though some might say that grizzled ex-pros who think nicking off and not walking is an inalienable right, are perhaps not best placed to pontificate on the game’s ethics.

I nearly didn’t write about this, because pretty much everyone has already pronounced their considered opinion on it, one way or the other.

But then I hit upon a new angle: the unconsidered opinion. The uncluttered perspective. The pure judgement of the unbiased witness, unclouded by prior knowledge, unencumbered by the baggage of tradition.

My wife, as I may have mentioned, does not like cricket. She views it primarily as my feeble excuse to avoid weekend family time and dog walking. Her brain, usually sharp and analytical, instantly switches off when it comes to cricket. She is stubbornly ignorant of the rules.

I showed her ‘The Butler Incident’. This was her response: “So if he goes past that white line and the bowler-man hits the sticks with the ball, he’s out, is that right? Well he’s out then. How could he not be out? Of course he is. What’s all the fuss about?”

She paused, as if thinking deeply on some overlooked subtlety, before adding: “If you’re watching the rest of this, I’m off to bed.”

So there it is. If we don’t like it, we’d better change it, because as it stands, it’s pretty cut and dried.

- ends 484 words -

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