To walk or not to walk, that is Neil Johnson’s question

2008-06-03 00:00

The “Spirit of Cricket ‘ charter was adopted by all the players at the start of the inaugural IPL competition and it certainly impacted on the tournament in a hugely positive way.

It was encouraging, if not unusual, to see players ‘walking’ after nicking deliveries instead of waiting for the umpires to give them out. I am convinced that it would be a good move to see this type of ‘spirit’ adopted in all forms of the game, especially in Test cricket.

As illustrated in the IPL final, the ‘spirit’ did nothing to take the edge off the game, as we saw plenty of chirping and needle in the last-ball thriller between the Rajasthan Royals and the Chennai Super Kings.

The issue of ‘walking’ reminded me of my Hampshire team-mate Will Kendall, who was caught behind on 99 at a crucial stage, in an important county championship match. None of the slips appealed, but the wicket-keeper gave a lone, half-hearted appeal. With that, Will put his bat under his arm and walked.

The coach and the rest of us were up in arms. Even though we knew he had done the right thing, we could not believe he walked after a low-key appeal, when he could have got away with it.

It’s obvious that cricket doesn’t share the same moral high ground as other sporting pursuits, such as golf, where cheating is a complete no-no.

In contrast, it’s not uncommon to hear cricketers compliment each other when they should have been given out by saying ‘well stood’.

I enjoy playing golf and would not for a second contemplate cheating on the course, but I must admit that on the cricket field, unlike Will Kendall, I was never a walker — a contradiction of which I am not terribly proud.

If I became known as a dishonest golfer, word would definitely get around and I would soon be battling to find golf partners; in cricket, as a non-walker, I knew I was always in good company.

There is little doubt that umpire’s jobs would be easier if players walked and this is where I feel television technology has a role to play. Commentators would be able to ‘jump’ all over players who were dishonest and make them accountable for their actions, with the possibility of fines for offenders — an effective way of cleaning up the game.

It’s no surprise that Shane Warne’s Rajasthan Royals emerged as IPL champions. What an asset he is to any team, a motivating leader and a great guy to have on the field. His presence and his captaincy provided the spark which transformed the Royals into a victorious unit.

The Chennai Super Kings were led by MS Dhoni, another player who leads from the front and places team success ahead of his individual ambitions. The reasons for other franchises in the IPL not performing as well is perhaps more to do with their senior members playing as individuals, rather than any lack of talent.

Some of these skilled players find it difficult to perform in a new team environment, while they do not appear to have the leadership skills required to bring teams together.

The Australians definitely showed up the South Africans in this regard. Only Graeme Smith, impressive under Warne’s leadership, and Albie Morkel, who did well under Dhoni, performed consistently.

The others spent most of their six weeks sitting on the bench, which makes me wonder if the South African team isn’t made up of talented individuals rather than team players, a hallmark of Australian cricket.

* NEIL JOHNSON was a non-walking batsman for Natal, Western Province, Zimbabwe and Hampshire and now plays golf out of Pietermaritzburg.

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