Elliot-Sidebottom and Sporting Character
Gideon Haigh writes about the recent Elliot-Sidebottom episode during the England-New Zealand ODI series, where the bowler Ryan Sidebottom crashed into the batsman Grant Elliot, bringing him down mid-pitch, after which the English fielders executed the run-out and Paul Collingwood claimed it, resulting in Elliot's dismissal, and judging by Haigh's article, a sense of queasy unease. After all, this is the England Captain we are talking about, not the Australian captain or the Indian captain, or even the West Indian captain. Here is the video of the event. Note the commentary - Nasser Hussein and Ian Smith (i think its Ian Smith, though if it were Martin Crowe, it would be even more entertaining)
There is little or no truth to Haigh's claim that "New Zealand's Grant Elliott sets off, stops, restarts, then is inhibited from running wider by his on-rushing partner, and pushed perforce into Ryan Sidebottom's path." The non-striker, judging by the video above, was admirably blameless, and merely sought the shortest route to the batting end - straight down from his starting position at the non-strikers end (Sidebottom bowled left-arm-over).
What was actually happening, was that the striker Elliot, was trying to run between the bowler and the ball in order to reach his usual inside line while taking a run (between the non-striker's line and that of the wicket). As Haigh writes in his article, it has usually been accepted that the batsmen have the right of way, as long as they don't actively impede the fielding side. Batsmen have stretched this privilege over the years (there was the notable incident with Shoaib Malik making a strikingly wide turn on one occasion, inadvertently impeding Zaheer Khan).
Interestingly enough, Law 37 states that "Either batsman is out Obstructing the field if he willfully obstructs or distracts the opposing side by word or action." The Run-Out Law (Law 38), stipulates that "Either batsman is out Run out, except as in 2 below, if at any time while the ball is in play (i) he is out of his ground and (ii) his wicket is fairly put down by the opposing side.
The operative word there being "fairly". It is debatable whether England put the wicket at the non-strikers end down fairly. I should say at the outset though, that i don't think either Sidebottom or Elliot meant to run into each other. In fact, if anything, it is likely that Elliot was running in a line between the bowler and the ball. As Haigh points out, this is in accordance with convention, which in this instance happens to be at odds with the law (The line Elliot takes would fall squarely within the purview of Law 37, if interpreted harshly). It should also be clear, that the Umpires, and Collingwood acted within the letter of the Law.
But the whole thing looks so unfair - Grant Elliot, not one of the heavyweights of international cricket, walked away shaking his head, and New Zealand, after winning the game thanks to their last pair were probably thinking about it as poetic justice, and decided not to make a big deal about it. I just wonder what the reaction might have been, had it been say Mathew Hayden who'd been run out in the same manner.
There are two ways of looking at this, and in my view, neither one is morally inferior. The first is to see it Collingwood's way - the collision was not intentional, and therefore the run-out was legitimate. Indeed, a case could be made that Elliot was trying to get in between the fielder (Sidebottom) and the ball as batsman usually do with cheeky runs. The other, is to say that Collingwood should have withdrawn the appeal, because, intentional or not, the collision meant that the batsman did not have a fair opportunity to make his ground. I guess the second option would have been the more gentlemanly option, and indeed, in an amateur game, it might have been the norm. Collingwood though behaved professionally, because no law had been transgressed.
In the long run, the Spirit of the Game, as it is written in the preamble to the Laws of Cricket, is best seen as an additional bulwark against blatant transgressions of written Law, but not of accepted custom. So if Kevin Pietersen's switch-hit explicitly illegal? As the law is written, it is not. Is it against the spirit of the game? Most definitely not. What is undeniably is, is something which has punch a big gaping hole through a number of crucial laws (wides, fielding position restriction, LBW just to name three), which were written with a side-on game in mind.
Collingwood's decision to claim the run-out, is another such example, even though he has not identified any loophole. What it does bring to light is the whole question of right of way when the ball is in play. Should Cricket burden the Umpires more explicitly in the matter and have them rule "dead-ball" in the event of any inadvertent collision? This is not as simple as you might think, for it could introduce into cricket a whole new dimension, a bit like "diving" in football. On the other hand, maybe we should just say that since it is acceptable for batsmen to run between the fielder and the stumps, or between the fielder and the ball (as Elliot did), they ought to take their chances with the odd collision and live with the consequences.
In any event, it is difficult to judge which choice is more or less moral in this case. Haigh's article is a different matter though, and his attempt to compare India's vote on the Zimbabwe situation to Collingwood's decision to claim the run-out (the former appears to be rock-bottom in the morality stakes in Haigh's view) is a sneaky, inaccurate and somewhat flippant reference to what is a fairly serious issue. I don't know if the issue interests him enough, but if he chooses to devote an entire article to the subject, dealing specifically the connection between the internal workings of Cricket boards and the relationship of this to a decision by the ICC to kick them out (by this count, should the ICC have kicked Pakistan out at some point during the past 8 years or so?, or at some point in the early to mid-eighties)?
It is strange, somewhat unfair article from Gideon Haigh, about a hard but ultimately fair decision by Paul Collingwood.