Tuesday 16 July 2013

The ethics of walking

What should come next?
My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Philosophy. While my primary interest was in logic, I also did some ethics and metaphysics papers also. I found ethics a fascinating subject, as things were very difficult to pin down. Different philosophers have argued over the existence of some sort of objective moral law. If they have agreed that there is such a thing as a moral law, they have then often disagreed as to what it is.

The idea of the moral law has led to some great works of literature. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is a fascinating look at the concept, as are a large number of Franz Kafka's short stories. But even low-brow fiction often is based on moral dilemmas or concern about the moral law. There's a theory that the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer were so much more popular than other similar books because of some of the moral questions that they posed. Can someone be a monster by nature? Can someone overcome that nature? Is it wrong for someone to act according to a corrupted nature?

 Recently Stuart Broad's failure to walk after edging a ball from Ashton Agar set off a storm of controversy. Claim from one group of fans about cheating followed by counter claims by the other group of fans. Not long ago there was also the issue with Denesh Ramdin claiming a catch that he had actually dropped, and the ICC banning him for 2 matches as a result.

I'm going to first look at the process of the appeal, outlined in rules, then at three possible ethical frameworks and finally at these two situations, and look what the different ethical perspectives would have said about them.

The process of an appeal

After the ball has been played, the fielding side can choose to appeal to the umpire. In the Preamble it makes it clear that it is against the spirit of cricket to appeal knowing a batsman is not out.

Once this happens the umpires both consider any possible means of dismissal that happened at their end.  If the umpire at the relevant end to a potential dismissal feel that the other umpire is in a better position to see it, they may consult the other umpire before making a decision.

Once the umpire is sure of their decision, they communicate that to the players.  They can clarify their decision if they wish.

After the decision both teams must respect that decision. If a batsman is dismissed, they must walk off the field immediately. If a batsman is given not out, the fielding side need to go back to playing the game.

There are two exceptions to this.

Firstly, if a fielding captain believes that the batsman was actually not out, but was given out they can request to withdraw their appeal. At this point the umpire has the ability to call the batsman back if they wish to. However they also have the ability to say that regardless of the wishes of the captain, they believe the player to be out. An example of this was when Marvin Attapatu withdrew his lbw appeal against Andrew Symonds after seeing the ball hit the bat on the big screen. A captain withdrawing an appeal seems to happen about once every 3 or 4 years.

Secondly is if a batsman decides to walk.  Again the umpire has the power to overrule this. If the umpire believes that the batsman has walked under a misapprehension, (ie believing a catch to have been taken when it hasn't been, or thinking a wicket to have been put down legitimately when it wasn't ) then the umpire can call the batsman back. At this point the batsman must respect the umpires decision.

A batsman can walk anytime until either the umpire calls time or the bowler starts the next delivery.

The essence of the process is that a fielding team appeal if they believe the batsman is out. The umpire makes a decision. Then the batsman accepts the decision. 

Tom Smith's New Cricket Umpiring and Scoring is a book put out by the Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers. I have the 2006 edition. In it, under Law 27.6: Consultation by Umpires, it is quite expressive about the process:
An umpire should never seek confirmation from a member of the fielding side, irrespective of his status. They have already demonstrated their position by appealing. (p.197)
Ethical frameworks

I'm going to look at 3 ethical frameworks. I'm not going to give any of them the rigorous treatment they deserve, but just a brief overview, sufficient for this situation. The 3 theories I'm going to look at are a basic deontological ethics, consequentialism and a form of virtue ethics. These titles can sound confusing to the uninitiated so I'll break them down quite simply.

Deontological Ethics

The idea here is that there is an overriding moral law. Historically there have been many variations of this. Many great figures in religion and philosophy have come up with a version of the golden rule: Jesus Christ (Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you); Moses (Love your neighbour as yourself); Confucius (Never impose onto others what you would not chose for yourself) and so on.

One of the more interesting constructions was by the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He made a number of different formulations of what he called the categorical imperative. He felt these were derivative of each other.  I'm going to look at the first two in particular.

The first was "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction." This basically means that someone should only act in a way that if everybody did it, the world would still makes sense.

The classic examples of how this works are murder and lying. If everybody always murdered then there would (eventually) be no people left to murder, and so they would no longer be able to murder anyone.  Hence it's impossible to universally apply murder, so murdering is wrong. If everybody always lied, people would know that someone was lying, and hence they would be able to discern the truth.  It would mean that then in order to lie people would effectively have to tell the truth. This therefore makes lying impossible to apply universally, so lying is therefore wrong.

Kant's second formulation was "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end." In a lot of ways this is more convincing than his first formulation, partially because it is easier to apply.


Consequentialism is where the consequences of doing something is weighed against the consequences of not doing it. A common form of it is called Utilitarianism, but there are a number of forms of consequentialism. It often involves making decisions about what the results of something are going to be.

Here's an example: Is it right for me to punch a random person in a crowd? (I'm hoping that most readers will believe this is not right.) To assess this question we first need to look at the positives and negatives of it, and how much utility each of them will add or subtract from the world. The word utility here can refer to a number of things, often happiness or economic welfare.  Here's a possible happiness table:

To punchNot to punch
It would relieve my tension +2I'd feel good about self control +2
He would get a sore nose -4He wouldn't be aware 0
He might hit me back -3I'd still be tense -1
Others might join in it might wreck their nights -3 x 20Others would be unaware 0
Others might be entertained by it +1 x 20Others would be unaware 0
Total -45Total +1 

If I punch the random person in the crowd it would reduce the happiness in the world by 45 points, while if I don't punch them I would increase the happiness in the world by 1 point. This means that the moral thing to do would be to not punch them. There are a number of problems with any form of consequentialism in day to day life, namely that it requires a lot of calculations, but it is sometimes a useful principle for larger issues.

Virtue ethics

This is a very diverse field of ethics, and one where that has been quite popular amongst theorists recently. Breaking it down to its essence, the question is asked "what would a good person do." This was popular among the ancient Greek philosophers, and often involves thought experiments, taking a similar scenario but in a totally different context.

One recent philosopher who used a form of virtue ethics was Judith Jarvis Thomson. She looked at the parable of the Good Samaritan, and then said, what about a Minimally Decent Samaritan.  The good Samaritan took the injured traveler to an inn, bandaged them up, and paid for their stay for as long as was required.  A minimally decent Samaritan might have taken them to a doctor, and contacted their family, then left.  She felt that there was a difference between being good and being not bad. Our ethics, she felt, should prohibit being bad, but should require people to be good.

Applying these frameworks to walking in cricket
Here's my thoughts on how to apply each framework to the issue of walking.

Deontological Ethics


Jesus Christ - Batsemen should always walk because that's what they would want if they were the bowler. Fielders should never claim catches if they haven't caught it as they would not want catches claimed falsely if they were batting.
Moses - Hard to say. Love is a fairly difficult thing to pin down. If we take love as involving a degree of unselfishness, then batsmen should walk, as they are giving up their right to stand their ground for the benefit of the bowler. Also taking that definition of love, fielders should not claim the catch, because they are putting the umpires in a difficult position.
Confucius. - Batsmen should not feel obligated to walk, provided they don't feel others are obligated to also. Fielders should feel obligated to not claim catches, as they would expect it of others.


First formulation: If nobody walked then at lower, social levels where there are no umpires, players would never stop batting, and so games would never be able to be completed. As a result all batsmen should walk every time they know they are out at every level. Likewise with appealing despite having dropped a catch, if everyone appealed everytime they hadn't dismissed somebody it would completely destroy the concept of appealing. It would be therefore logically inconsistent to appeal without having taken a catch.
Second formulation: Not walking or claiming a catch when it hasn't been taken is treating the umpire solely as a means to an end, rather than supporting them in doing their job. Hence both are wrong.


Here a batsman needs to weigh up the consequences to overall world happiness of walking.  In other words, if they are playing against a country with a larger supporter base than them, they should walk, if not, they shouldn't. This is a good approach for India, and a bad approach for New Zealand and the West Indies. If New Zealand are playing India every time a New Zealander gets out it makes 250 times more people happy than sad. This is the sort of situation that creates a distortion in consequentialist theories.

Another complicating factor is that English fans generally seem happier when their team is losing close matches than when they are winning. They seem to enjoy having something to complain about. Perhaps it's right to not walk against England also.

Virtue Ethics

What would a good person, who happened to be a cricketer do, what about a minimally decent person?

Lets imagine a situation where a policeman pulls over a motorist to check the motorist's car is properly registered. The policeman checks the registration and it is fine. Should the motorist admit to the policeman that they have actually forgotten their drivers license (assuming that they are in a jurisdiction where carrying a license is mandatory when driving)? Someone who was morally very good might tell the policeman, but most people would not consider someone a bad person for not telling the policeman that they didn't have their license.

What about a situation where the registration isn't fine. Would a minimally decent person run away from the police, and refuse to stop, hoping that they can get away? Probably not. Assuming that the law says that someone has to stop when signaled by a police officer, most morally decent people would not consider running from the police to be the right thing to do.

Now imagine that we apply this to cricket. A good person, who goes above and beyond the call of duty, would walk. They would feel that the best thing they could do was walk, and so that is what they would do. They would certainly not claim a catch that they hadn't actually taken.

A minimally decent cricketer would not walk. The rules do not compel them to walk, and so they would respect the umpire's decision. They would not, however claim a catch that had not been taken, because that is actually breaking the rules of the sport, and analogous to running away from the police.


Overall I think looking at all the three overall theories, Only the highest ethical standards demand a batsman to walk, but all standards (perhaps except for the very hazy consequentialist ones) suggest that a fielder should not appeal when they know that a batsman is not out. Looking at this, the ban for Ramdin, but no consequences for Broad was probably a fair result from the ICC officials.


  1. I don't agree with your conclusion. We are missing a vital piece of information before that conclusion can be drawn. If Ramdin thought that he may have had the ball under control he has the fullest right to ask the umpire for a decision.

  2. If you watch the video of Ramdin spilling the ball then trying to hide the fact that he's dropped it from the umpire, it's very difficult to believe that he thought he had the ball under control.

    He had every right to appeal if he was unsure, but generally a player will indicate that they are unsure, rather than pretend they have taken it fairly, when they don't think they have.

  3. i really liked your post. And your conclusions are correct. One thing I would add, which you kind of implicitly say anyway, is that the current culture of cricket is such, that fielders appeal for pretty much everything these days, thus the unsaid precedent has been set by the fielding team, that all decisions are to be left with the umpire. Even the perenial walker Gilchrist appealed when he knew a dismissal wasn't out ( there's a funny clip of him on You Tube appealing for a stumping, when it's pretty obvious to the naked eye the batsman wasn't out). Therefore, given this culture of dishonest appealing has become so commonplace, it's ridiculous then to expect the batsman to assume a whole new set of moral imperatives, when he is not fielding.

    1. I think there's a difference between appealing when you're not sure and appealing when you know it's not out. I would like to see some action taken against wicket-keepers who appeal when the ball goes down the leg-side in an ODI, trying to stop the umpire calling a wide.

      In saying that, I'm a bit of a hypocrite here, as I once appealed for a lbw off my own bowling when I had bowled a top-spinner that I knew that the ball was going to go over the top of the stumps. However I shouted "got him with the wrongun!" then turned round and politely asked "How was that sir" to the umpire, who promptly put up his finger. I didn't withdraw the appeal. :)

  4. Great post! Given this ethics lecturer something to think about :-)

    1. Gosh - I hope I got all the theories correct! (it has been a while) Glad you enjoyed it. :)

  5. Brilliant...applicable to any individual in any profession. And MH brought this out...

    We have watched the replays of that over and over – Ramdin did not appeal. All he did was not tell the umpire he had not taken the catch cleanly. Broad did a similar thing – he did not let the umpire know that he had hit the ball. Both of them committed the same crime. Yet, Ramdin got penalised and nothing will happen to Broad.

    About the umpires being there to do a job and that what goes around comes around. That no longer applies with DRS in play. Before the batsman had any input into the decision, you could say that. Now the batsman has become an umpire in that he can refer dismissals.

    1. Having re-watched the Ramdin incident, I can see why you would think that he didn't appeal. However the difference for me is their position in the process. The fielding side has a role in appealing, the batsman doesn't have a prescribed role, only an optional one. That's where the difference is in my opinion.

      The availability (or otherwise) of the DRS doesn't really make an ethical difference in my opinion, because it isn't in play until after the process of the appeal/decision is completed.

  6. TC Adamson has written a response to this, looking at the consequentialist view in more detail (and treating it more fairly). You can read it here.