So, the world of cricket, having nothing else to do, has once again been convulsed by a controversy about walking. Once upon a time, the same world of cricket (or the English-speaking part of it) would have waited for some pronouncement on the subject by the Pope of Cricket, E.W. Swanton. He is no longer with us, of course, but luckily I have been able to track down the following piece, from The Cricketer, first published in 1966, which seems to cover the case.
The oddity here is not only the conclusion (Swanton, like most of his ilk, was always more of a politician than a romantic) but that most, if not all, of his points could – and indeed have – been made over the last week or so. You might think that the advent of Decision Review Technology would have made these periodic spasms obsolete, but then there would be no opportunity for the two sides of the argument – the Spirit of Cricket merchants and the Come off it, Grandad! brigade – to satisfy their deep-felt need to mount their hobby horses and come to the joust. My own feeling is that – whatever adjustments are made regarding the use of DRS (and there must surely be something in that line) – this one will run and run, or walk and walk.
“But what, again, about this walking business which twice within a few weeks has centred around Lawry, the Victorian captain? …
What gave this incident its poignancy was the modern English philosophy – adopted latterly, perhaps with some reluctance, by several of the foremost players of other countries – which ordains that when a batsman is sure he has been caught he ‘walks’ without waiting for the decision.
On the face of it such an attitude reflects sportsmanship of a most laudable order, and one can scarcely fail to admire practical examples of it, such as Cowdrey who against Australia at Leeds in 1961 walked out voluntarily following the faintest tickle which he might well have survived with his score in the nineties …
Yet this is a new thing, and old cricketers in the Press-box out here such as J.H. Fingleton, W.J. O’Reilly, A.R. Gover and others fortify my own conviction that before the war the batsman waited almost invariably for the decision. Jack Hobbs, for instance, regarded as the beau ideal of a sportsman, always waited: so did a man of an equally highly considered integrity in the other camp, Charlie Macartney. The following seem to me to be strong arguments against usurping the umpire’s function, however admirable the motive:
(1) If a man advertises himself as a ‘walker’ he must do so not only when he has made plenty and it doesn’t greatly matter, but in answer to a lone appeal and following the faintest possible tickle when the scores are level in a Test match with the last man in. Otherwise he has prejudiced the umpire who may think, ‘This man “walks” – I must have been mistaken’. If everyone does not conform to this standard – and there have been instances of failure in the crisis in at least one recent Test match where the batsman has got away with it – the system surely fails.
(2) If a known ‘walker’ fails to do so and is then given out the inference is made, notably in the Press, that the umpire has made a mistake. ‘A story’ is automatically constructed.
(3) No one can deprive a batsman of his right to stay there, and it is a source of friction between players when some do and some do not.
(4) The most important principle in cricket – as in other games – is respect for the umpire’s decision. It takes away from his authority in doing what must always be a highly skilled and most difficult job when players act irrespective of his verdict.
All in all, I believe that in Test cricket especially the good of this new fashion has been much outweighed by the evil. Every cricketer knows that he can help (or impede) the umpire by his demeanour, and there is nothing to stop those whose conscience impels them to convey that they have hit the ball from looking prepared to go, or even giving a nod. I believe, however, that they should await the verdict. I am also quite sure that the best service all cricketers can render to umpires, be they batsmen or fielders, is to obey the verdict phlegmatically, and certainly without the slightest visible sign of disagreement. That may not be easy in Test matches with so much depending, but it is in Test matches when the eyes of the world are upon him that the cricketers’ manners are most important.”