Should Graeme Smith Have Walked? Is He a Cheat Because He Didn't?

Craig ChristopherAnalyst IJanuary 18, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 15:  Graeme Smith of South Africa hits out during day two of the fourth test match between South Africa and England at The Wanderers Cricket Ground on January 15, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Every couple of years or so, cricket throws up a situation that has the chattering classes muttering about batsmen walking and accusing those who stand their ground of cheating or not playing in the spirit of the game.

Not surprisingly, it is those on the receiving end of a dodgy decision who bay the loudest about the injustice; about how the game has been sullied by a player’s decision to let the umpires do what they are paid to do—make a decision.

The last time this happened was when Andrew Symonds stood his ground against India. He was pilloried for refusing to walk but, ultimately, he did nothing wrong. Now it is Graeme Smith’s turn to face the wrath of the English media for doing the same.

The incident in question happened in the fourth England—South Africa test at Wanderer’s in Johannesburg. Smith reportedly got a feather edge through to Matt Prior off the bowling of Ryan Sidebottom. The umpire on the field gave Smith not out and was backed up by the third umpire on review of the video.

There seems to be little doubt that Smith got an edge to the ball, but with the absence of ‘snicko’ or ‘hotspot’ technologies, he was given not out. Getting an edge that fine gives Smith the right to force the umpire to give him out.

The fact that Smith’s actions were entirely within the rules is lost on some members of the English media. Patrick Collins in his MailOnline column pulled no punches and labeled Smith a cheat. He goes on further to build a fanciful argument around the fact that a number of players—both past and present—came out in support of Smith.

He contends that the modern rationale is that if everyone cheats, that makes it okay. There is only one teensy-tiny little problem with that logic—it’s bullsh*t! If you play within the rules then, by definition, you’re not a cheat.

Walking is one of those silly things that a handful of players do, much to the annoyance of teammates and umpires alike. The standard bearer for these guardians of the moral high ground, was Adam Gilchrist. Indeed, Collins hold Gilly up as a shining light in the ongoing battle to defend the spirit of the game.

Gilly made a name for himself by walking in the semi-final of a World Cup, but was once so honest that he even walked once when he had clearly missed the ball. This is why you should let umpires make the decision.

But where does it end? As a batsman, you have a pretty good idea if you’re out LBW—should you walk then? Is it cheating if you don’t?

More insidious than not walking is ball-tampering—whether picking the seam or standing on the ball with spikes. That is cheating and, to his great credit, Mr. Collins called that as it was in the case of Chris Broad, but it is a much bigger problem that that.

But, there are even bigger fish to fry. Slow over rates are the scourge of the modern game and frankly the inability to bowl 90 overs in a day is a deliberate ploy and should attract the anger of fans, the media, and the authorities (in that order).

There are so few players in the modern game who walk, that to criticise one player for not doing it seems a little churlish. Let’s clean up the big issues in the game before focusing on the minutiae. Heaven knows there’s plenty to do.