Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bail-Gate: English Cricket, MP's Expenses and the Bedroom Tax

We've been here before, haven't we? There's an economic crisis, the Tories are in power, everybody is arguing about Europe and the England cricket team is crying foul, claiming that the other team isn't playing fair. Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1991, hell yeah! If Chesney Hawkes somehow gets to number one in the hit parade it's likely I'll explode through nostalgia overload. 

Alas, while nostalgia isn't what it used to be, we can all rest uncomfortably knowing that the whinging and whining of the English cricket establishment is much as it ever was. The latest 'injustice' to befall the national team occurred yesterday, during the one-day series decider against Sri Lanka. As the off-spinner, Senanayake, reached his delivery stride he spotted the non-striker, Jos Buttler, creeping out of his crease. Having half-completed his bowling action, but not released the ball, the Sri Lankan clipped the top of the stumps thus running Buttler out.  

While this kind of dismissal is uncommon, and usually frowned upon, the Sri Lankan captain, Angelo Mathews was well within his rights to appeal. Buttler had already been warned twice for taking liberties whilst backing-up and Law 42.11 states that "the bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker". 
The England team's response was, unsurprisingly, one of self-righteousness and moral indignation. The decision may have been within the letter of the law, they said, but it was certainly was not within the spirit of the law. In other words, it just wasn't cricket. 

I should say that I have some sympathy with Buttler, mostly because I too have known the ignominy of getting out in such fashion. There are however some crucial differences between my dismissal and that of England's test wicketkeeper-in-waiting. Firstly I was twelve. Secondly I was not an international cricketer. Thirdly I was warned only once before the bowler dislodged the bails. While I feel Buttler's pain, my sympathies extend only so far.

The insinuations and the half-criticisms coming from the England camp only makes things worse. Alastair Cook denounced it as a "pretty poor act", while England coach Peter Moores chipped in with "Angelo has made his decision. It's not for me to comment why he did it. I was disappointed in it. That's all I can really say. He's made his choice and obviously he's happy with it." It was left to Steve Harmison to offer the Sri Lankans some advice: "When they took the bails off, Mathews should have gone up to Buttler and said: 'Next time you're off.'" Really? That's what he thought they should have done? Perhaps Harmy is ready to crusade for a change in the laws of cricket which mean that England players have to be warned three times before they're eligible for dismissal. 

After all, changing the laws of the game because of an alleged breach of the spirit is hardly new. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s the West Indian cricket team had established themselves as the best in the world. A succession of fast bowlers (Garner, Holding, Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh) proved unplayable with their combination of pace, bounce and sublime control. As their dominance endured the egg and tomato tie brigade became obsessed with the "viciousness" of the pace attack. David Frith took to the pages of Wisden Cricket Monthly to fulminate against the West Indian's game "founded on vengeance and violence and fringed by arrogance" before calling for "sanctions against the bullies". Sure, there was no law preventing anyone from bowling six bouncers in an over, but did their actions fall within the spirit of cricket? With England unable to deal with short-pitched bowling - and consistently humiliated at the hands of their former colony - the answer was 'no'. In 1991 the laws of the game were changed to permit only one bouncer per over.  

Oddly the whole furore has made me think about the MP expenses scandal, which is perhaps the mirror image of the Semanayake/Buttler Bail-Gate affair. Amidst the news of house-flipping, duck ponds and claims for the cost of a packet of Nik-Naks, members of Parliament quickly developed their defence. None of what they had done was wrong according to the letter of the law; they may have bent the rules a tad, but they had never broken them. What becomes clear is that the people at the top of their respective fields (what one might, rather sneeringly, describe as the 'great and the good') have a talent for invoking the spirit, or the letter, of the law depending on which will prove to be most beneficial. 

Compare this to the bedroom tax, the vile, pernicious levy which punishes the poor for daring to have too much space in their homes. Yesterday The Mirror ran a story about Paul and Sue Rutherford, two disabled people who care for their grandson, Warren, who has Potocki-Shaffer syndrome. Having recently lost a court battle they are having to pay £14 a week for a room used to store Warren's equipment and where respite carers may sleep. Now, in my view the whole Bedroom Tax should be scrapped, but the Rutherford's case shows that for working class people there is no wiggle room in interpretation, no differentiation to be made about the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. 

This was not so much proof, as if it were needed, of the old maxim that there is one rule for them and another one for us. Rather it was confirmation that the spirit of the law depends entirely on the wealth and power you are lucky enough to wield.