Let me take you back to a game most of us weren’t awake to watch. A low-key Future Cup in 2007 in Ireland. India were playing South Africa in the 2nd ODI at Belfast. South Africa had won the first game but were reeling in the second one against the swinging ball. First ball of the 4th over, Zaheer Khan bowls a peach of a delivery that nips slightly into AB de Villiers, who edges the ball and it carries easily to Sachin Tendulkar at first slip. The Indian cricket team revels in celebration, South Africa were now 8-3, save only for that they weren’t.
The umpire Aleem Dar was unmoved and so was De Villiers. If you happen to watch the footage of this incident you will know that the usually stoic Sachin was once angry at a cricket ground. This was infuriating for everyone. How could the ball have travelled to the first slip if not for a deflection only from a bat!
But, Aleem Dar didn’t seem to share the same opinion. And AB, well, he didn't walk. Yes, the same AB De Villiers.
So, should a batsman walk when he knows he is out? Should you return the extra change back to the grocery store operator? In a world where opinions are divided by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, burgers and pizzas, and of course, religion, this is a question that creates ideological factions too.
On more occasions than one, the answer to whether a batsman must walk or not is purely based on your perspective. If he belongs to the team that you support, well, it becomes the job of the umpire to give him out and not his to declare himself out. If it’s the other side’s batsman, well, plain and simple, he is a ‘cheater’! But, is he? Is Ravindra Jadeja a cheater if he doesn’t walk off when he is bludgeoning the ball and is the only batsman left for India in a crunch chase with his team needing 31 off 19. Yes, Ravindra Jadeja edged the fifth ball of the 47th over in the 3rd ODI between India and New Zealand at Auckland in 2014 when he was batting at 42 off 33 balls. He went on to get the match tied, almost winning it for India. Of course, that’s not cheating, but a Ricky Ponting refusing to walk off when he edges one to MS Dhoni off Sourav Ganguly is a cheater. How dare he?
The question of whether a batsman must walk or not when he knows he is out isn’t new. And it isn’t new because from the moment the English anointed Cricket as a gentleman’s game this question was meant to be regurgitated, time and again. Is it befitting of a gentleman to walk off when he knows he is out or is it befitting of a gentleman to stand there because the rules don’t compel him to walk. But, Sachin did, for the latter part of his career Adam Gilchrist did too, but Jadeja didn’t and neither did Ricky Ponting. Nor did the great WG Grace or Lord Harris. There are no rules, anywhere on the face of this earth which compel a batsman to walk in an event where he is out but the umpire hasn’t given him. So, if a batsman walks it is because in his mind that is the morally correct thing to do. But, the thing with morals is that their subjectivity makes them prone to interpretations which vary vastly from human to human. So for as long as humans play cricket, you won’t see every batsman who is out but isn’t given out by an umpire, walk off. Why? Because that is just how human nature is.
So, when Kane Williamson edged one to Wriddhiman Saha off Jadeja on the second day of India’s 500th test match at Kanpur, for all his goodness and soft-spoken attitude, he wasn’t obliged to leave the field. If he had decided to do that, it would have been lauded, but if he didn’t, he should not be berated.
Imagine it is the World Cup Final at Lord’s in 2019, India are playing Pakistan. In a crunch chase where India need another 35 runs off 15 balls, MS Dhoni is batting at 41 off 19 balls, with a tail-ender at the other end. India are 290-8. This is Dhoni’s last chance at glory. A screaming bouncer from Wahab Riaz and MS tries to pull it, only to get a faint edge straight to the keeper. A huge appeal, but the umpire remains unmoved. Should MS walk? Say the answer in your head. Now imagine if Misbah-ul-Haq edged one to MS Dhoni in the WT20, 2007’s final and didn’t walk off.
There’s your answer to whether a batsman should walk or whether he shouldn’t.