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Have we seen the last of the cricket's 'walkers'? - Suresh Menon column
by Suresh Menon
Jul 27, 2008
Anil Kumble has said that it is too early to review the review system in cricket, but it has already had one unhappy consequence. That dwindling breed known as the 'walker' might finally have become extinct. The last of the great walkers, Rahul Dravid, stood his ground when he knew he was out in the second innings; so did Sachin Tendulkar. Nothing legally wrong with that, of course. The Australians walk "only when their cars break down", and there is no need for Indians to swing the other way and walk when the bowler is merely clearing his throat. And yet, and yet...

Twelve years ago, Dravid was batting on 95 when he walked. It was the faintest of nicks to the wicket keeper, this was at Lord's, and he was a youngster making his debut. He chose then to serve a higher ideal. In Colombo, he was Boycott-like in his impassivity, and needed to be told by a third umpire that he was out; the bat-pad catch was not subtle. That is how much the game has changed.

The Australian system has the virtue of consistency - leave everything to the umpire, and in the long run the decisions even out. It may not quite work out like that, but there is no moral choice involved. The best-known walkers have, especially in the later stages of their careers, slipped.

Ajit Wadekar, who captained India in that wonderful series in the West Indies in 1971, will tell you how Gary Sobers - with his great reputation as a walker - stood his ground when he was out in the Georgetown Test (he went on to make a century). The West Indies had lost the previous Test, and their champion status was under threat. Sobers' three previous innings had yielded 29, 0 and 4. He was under pressure, and took a chance.

There is no way that Dravid and Tendulkar could not have known they were out in Colombo. The ball hit the back of Tendulkar's bat, after all. They had every right to wait for the decision, of course. But walkers have to walk every time. Occasional walkers - and this is the argument the Australians make - walk when it is convenient to do so, build up a reputation, and then at a crucial moment when victory or defeat might hinge on their walking, choose to stay put, knowing their reputation will see them through.

The use of technology means that the days of selective sportsmanship are over. Sadly, it also seems that the days of walking when you know you are out are over too. Dravid and Tendulkar have a lot in common. They are both tough without being boorish, fair without being sissies, uncompromising without being obstinate. Both batsmen leave the crease without protest even when given out wrongly. Yet both slipped - yes, even Homer nods, as the poet Horace put it.

Cricket is the only sport where the players are expected to help the umpires bring about their own downfall. This peculiarity derives from its spirit as distinct from its laws. Despite the recent addition to the laws ('Preamble - The Spirit of the Game'), what distinguishes it from other sports is what is not written down.

The review might have righted some wrongs (and wronged some rights) in the Colombo Test, but it would be a pity if we have seen the last of those who are old-fashioned enough to believe that it is not the winning or losing that is important, but how you play the game.
 
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