Ashes 2013: The Stuart Broad walking saga has stretched a bit too far

Australian players appeal unsuccessfully for the wicket of Stuart Broad on Day Three of the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge Getty Images

By Jaideep Vaidya

Stuart Broad walks into a bar…Oh no, wait! Stuart Broad doesn’t walk!

These are one of the many gazillion jokes that have popped up on the cosmic world wide web ever since that legendary day in mid-July during the first Test of the Ashes when England’s blond and cherubic all-rounder had the audacity to not walk when he edged a delivery that went to first slip after ricocheting off wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, which was spotted by every living being on the planet other than the umpire. Since then, the little blue bird online has exhausted its lungs tweeting about Broad’s nerve while every available pun in the English language with respect to walking has been exploited twice over. One of the favourite gags of this writer is: ‘The royal baby has been named Stuart Broad until he starts walking’. This was of course before the poor little soul was taken out of its misery and named an earthly George.

Aside from the banter, the who’s who of the cricketing world thought it right to publish their views on the matter, with most even some Australians accepting that Broad did nothing out of the normal. “Stuart Broad has clearly made it evident that he is not a walker and I don’t think anyone needs to look too much deeper into it,” Adam Gilchrist, one of the most celebrated walkers in the game, told BBC Radio Five. “That’s up to him. In this day and age it is no surprise to see a batsman not walk.”

As the series moved along, one thought that the commotion would eventually subside, and it even did for a while. In fact, we were just about nearing the end of the English leg of the 10-match marathon when some cheeky radio jockey thought it worth his while to ask the usually blunt Australian coach Darren Lehmann, who had remained quiet on the matter so far, about his views on Broad round about the time the fifth Test was starting.

Lehmann was candid as ever when he said, “Certainly our players haven’t forgotten, they’re calling him everything under the sun as they go past. I hope the Australian public are the same because that was just blatant cheating. I don’t advocate walking but when you hit it to first slip it’s pretty hard. From my point of view I just hope the Australian public give it to him right from the word go for the whole summer and I hope he cries and he goes home.”

Now, on first look, that might sound a bit too harsh and you can’t be blamed if you think Lehmann’s comments were hypocritical considering the Australians were no saints themselves. Michael Clarke did it at the Adelaide Oval during the 2010-11 Ashes, but apologised for it later on Twitter. The current Australia captain had even edged a delivery to the slips against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2008 and waited for the umpire to give him out. Haddin did it as recently as the very same Trent Bridge Test in which Broad sinned, but in both cases justice was served via the umpire and technology, unlike Broad’s case where Australia had exhausted all their DRS referrals.

However, one thing that was overlooked by the vast majority who read Lehmann’s comments and did not actually hear them on air was the context and connotation in which he said it. Former England cricketer and current pundit Nasser Hussain did listen to the radio interview and pointed out in a column for the Daily Mail that “it is important to point out that the whole atmosphere was meant to be one of banter, a bit of fun and a joke… If you take his [Lehmann’s] words out of that context they look terrible. And in the modern world of the Ashes they will be repeated and used against him.”

Fair enough, Nass. Now, even if we were to believe that Lehmann’s whole tirade was actually intended to be construed as banter, there are a couple of things that need to be pointed out: Firstly, Broad did not “hit it to first slip”; rather the ball nicked his edge and deflected off the wicketkeeper before ending up in Clarke’s hands at first slip. So, Lehmann’s whole theory that the nick was so blatant that it carried all the way to first slip is hogwash, even if implied in jest. Secondly, as Gilchrist pointed out, you cannot judge a cricketer’s character with such a personal choice of actions, which is rather common in a highly competitive sporting environment. Broad did not break any law of the game and did something that millions before him had done billions of times. Get on with it.

As far as Lehmann’s call for the Australian public to lynch Broad when he steps foot on Australian soil at the end of the year goes, it’s not like Broad would not have expected it in any case. Every series has a pantomime villain from the touring nation. It is David Warner right now in England; it will be Broad, and probably Joe Root, in Australia. While Broad may look like an easy target, with his Hermione Granger looks, one tends to forget that he is a 27-year-old professional cricketer with more than seven years of international experience. A professional cricketer will know that he is going to be in for some flak whilst touring a rival nation, more so when he has managed to get himself involved in a controversy such as this. Crowd banter is something that is always going to be there and cannot be eradicated. Sportsmen around the world across all sports get stick from the opposition crowd and have no choice but to deal with. Lehmann has not said anything significant that Broad did not know already.

How many people have ever walked, except for the saintly few such as Gilchrist? How many Paolo Di Canios are there in this world, who sacrifice an open goal because the goalkeeper is lying on the ground injured? It’s always going to be one of those unsolvable anomalies of the game that will never cease to exist. Broad wasn’t the first cricketer who did not walk after knowing he was out and he isn’t going to be the last one either. Can we move on with it?

Also read: The Australians walk only when they run out of gas: Barry Richards

(Jaideep Vaidya is a correspondent at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)