Saturday 21 November 2009

A little bit pregnant

On Radio 5 the other night, Michael Vaughan was asked for his view on the Thierry Henry/Republic of Ireland handball farrago. He came up with the predictable 'well in cricket, you nick one, you don't walk...' response.

That was the wrong thought, but he was driving towards the right point. Each sport has its own internal culture that is created by the players and that extends beyond the rulebook. Within that culture, some things are acceptable and some things are not, and to the outsider, there can be a bewildering lack of moral equivalency between them.

In cricket, not walking for a nick will get you sledged by the opposition, and if you're a pro, the TV commentators might smile and suggest you've got away with one. You won't be spat at in the street, you won't have the opposition fans boycotting your sponsors' products. 

If, like Paul Collingwood, you don't call back a player run out after a collision, or, like Ricky Ponting, you claim a 'catch' that has clearly bounced in front of you, you will face a righteous anger, even though the transgression has essentially the same result as the nick- the fall or otherwise of a single wicket.

Such things aren't decided by anything other than that internal culture. In golf and snooker, it's considered bad form not to call your own fouls. In rugby, it's worse to use fake blood than punch someone during the scrum. Football is even more vague, the language even more semantic [While Henry admits to cheating, he doesn't regard himself as a cheat]. 

There's no logic to any of it. Cricket just falls somewhere in the middle.


Tony said...


I take your point about the relative equivalence of walking, claiming catches, hand-balls, etc, and their weight vis-a-vis the various cultures of different sports.

On that basis, I'd suggest diving for penalties is the clearest equivalent to a hand-ball.

Speaking of the French; this time on the receiving end. I'd also throw in the incident in which the German keeper Harald Schumacher flattened a French player in the 1982 ('86?) world cup semi-final.

By the way, what catch has Ricky Ponting claimed that clearly bounced in front of him?

Brit said...

Indeed, OB. I think the rugby example - you get a longer ban for blood-faking than for eye-gouging - most clearly shows the gap between sporting internal morality and everyday morality. ie. sneakiness is a greater sin than brutal, repulsive violence.

The fuss over the Henry handball is way OTT - a thousand instances of cheating occur in any match - this one just happened to be decisive. But if you've played football you'll know that deliberate handballing IS considered a worse crime than hacking at someone's legs. The latter is just a natural extension of aggressive tackling, whereas handballing goes against the very footbally nature of football. Most people, when playing football, actually don't have the instinct to handle it like that.

The Old Batsman said...


there was one over here, and I can't remember who the batsman was, which he took at second slip, *conceivably* he might not have known it had bounced. But there was the Dhoni one in the infamous Harbhajan-Symonds match too?

Brian Carpenter said...

Apologies if you know this or have read it already, OB, but the issue of relative sporting morality is well-discussed in Chapter 10 of 'What Sport Tells Us About Life' by Ed Smith, which I happen to have just read.

Personally I thought the fuss over Henry's actions was overdone and wholly hypocritical. As one or two
people (Steve Bruce for one) pointed out, if an English (or Irish) player had done the same it would have been condemned, but only in a limited way and would have been excused on the basis that England were cheated by Maradona in 1986.

Vim said...

Strauss doesn't seem to know if he has 'conceivably' caught or grounded a catch either. Doesn't stop him claiming though.

It was Clarke who claimed a catch he may have 'conceivably' not known he had caught or not.

Vim said...

The hypocrisy over Henry has been funny more than anything else.

The press innvoking moral righteousness is always a cause for amusement. After all, this is a highly secular society now and we must have some moral guidance from somewhere.