Walking, talking and the spirit of cricket
The debate about a batsman's right to self-adjudicate is as old as the game itself
Dave Middleton is cricket.com.au's senior news editor and has been in sports journalism for more than 20 years. His first major cricket assignment was freelancing on the 2005 Ashes Tour
To walk or not? It's a question that has plagued cricket's batsmen since the first time a batsmen with a competitive streak in his soul feathered an edge in the game's infancy.
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From beaches and backyards to World Cup eliminators and Ashes cauldrons, the issue is only ever a blink of an eye away. Nowhere is it written in the laws of cricket that a batsman must walk, but it is a notion central to the ethereal 'spirit' of our great game.
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Adam Gilchrist famously walked in the 2003 World Cup semi-final, long before the Decision Review System and Hot-Spot were lurking ready to pass silent judgement, and for a while it seemed walking would define Gilchrist as much as his wicketkeeping or six-hitting.
He even titled his book after the incident: Walking to Victory. In it, he described his famous self-dismissal.
"I got a thick, loud bottom edge. It bounced off my pad and I had no idea where it went," Gilchrist wrote.
"I stood and turned to see that (Kumar) Sangakkara had it. I knew I was done. It was so obvious.
"Then, to see the umpire shaking his head, meaning, 'Not out', gave me the strangest feeling. I don't recall what my exact thoughts were, but somewhere in the back of my mind, all that history from the Ashes series was swirling around.
"Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain and other batsmen, both in my team and against us, who had stood their ground in those 'close' catching incidents were definitely a factor in what happened in the following seconds.
"I had spent all summer wondering if it was possible to take ownership of these incidents and still be successful. I had wondered what I would do. I was about to find out.
"The voice in my head was emphatic. Go. Walk. And I did."
But walking isn't rarely such a straightforward concept. How must Gilchrist's teammates have felt when a star batsman ignored an umpire to self-adjudicate in such a high-stakes game?
On another occasion, Gilchrist's devotion to the cause was to his own detriment. He turned on his heel and departed in a one-day international against Bangladesh in England in 2005 after being caught, only to discover in the dressing room that he had clearly missed the ball.
The Vaughan incident Gilchrist referred to in his book saw the batsman stand his ground when he chipped a catch to Justin Langer in Adelaide in 2002, preferring to let the third umpire's television replays adjudicate rather than take the batsman's word (the incident can be seen in the video at the top of this article).
"I thought there were situations occurring where we (players) could take more ownership of the game," Gilchrist explained.
"I had a think about it and decided I wanted to be true to myself and play the way I wanted to play ... but I didn't walk out at the (2003) World Cup with an agenda or a crusade."
The problem with zoomed television footage and close catches is the optical illusion of foreshortening – whereby the two-dimensional on-screen visualisation of a three-dimensional event causes distances to appear shorter than they actually are.
And so it proved for Vaughan, who was reprieved but later admitted he felt it was a clean catch.
The game is littered with numerous and regular similar examples – see Peter Nevill's 'catch' off Jos Buttler just last night during the Lord's Ashes Test's third day.
None of Gilchrist's self-dismissals changed the eventual outcome of the game for Australia. In fact they rarely do.
Vaughan's slice to Langer came early in the first session of the opening day; he went on to score 177, but Australia still won the match by an innings and 51 runs.
Geoff Marsh clearly edged the first ball of the 1992 World Cup match against South Africa behind. His non-dismissal only infuriated Allan Donald whose 3-34 helped the Proteas on the way to a nine-wicket win.
Others have simply had it ingrained that it is the umpire's role to decide if a batsman has nicked off or not. Indeed, one of the criticisms of walking is that it diminishes the umpire's authority and respect, the self-dismissed batsman effectively saying to the umpire 'You're wrong'.
Ricky Ponting was one such batsman who never walked, even on the most obvious of edges.
In the 2011 World Cup, Ponting edged Pakistan spinner Mohammad Hafeez into the gloves of Kamran Akmal but umpire Marais Erasmus turned down the appeal.
"There were no doubts about the nick, I knew I hit it, but as always I wait for the umpire to give me out," Ponting said after the match.
"That's the way I've always played the game.”
Ponting was given out – Pakistan immediately reviewed the decision, replays clearly showed the edge and the Australian skipper was on his way.
Technology in umpiring has not solved cricket's contentious dismissals. At times its use seems only to exacerbate situations.
The ICC officially made DRS a part of Test cricket in November 2009, allowing teams the opportunity to seek redress for grievances.
Mitchell Marsh wondered aloud if the review system, improving television cameras and advances such as real-time snicko meant more batsmen might be less inclined to wait for technology to cast its inevitable verdict.
Hot-Spot, the thermal imaging system, was introduced at the start of the 2006-07 Ashes series but fell into deep controversy during the 2013 Ashes with allegations players were using silicon tape on edges to fool the system.
That series featured perhaps one of the most infamous instances of a batsman standing his ground, certainly to Australian eyes, when Stuart Broad's edge to Michael Clarke at first slip off Ashton Agar was given not out.
Out of reviews and with no recourse to technology, the Australians were left to stew. Broad, on 37 at the time, added another 28 runs and provided support for Ian Bell, who added 32 of his own.
England's eventual margin of victory – just 14 runs – raised Aussie ire further, to the point that Broad later became a pantomime villain, pilloried by tabloid newspapers and crowds during England's 2013-14 visit Down Under.
It almost seems intrinsic to the game now. Spectators enjoy the right to wail about umpires and decisions against their team as much as they enjoy centuries and sixes.
There's no quick fix, and technology in umpiring is here to stay. Some batsmen will walk, some will stand their ground. We'll love them and hate them. We'll watch replays and discuss and debate. And all the while, that intangible 'spirit' of cricket will keep burning.