Money shouts, conscience merely murmurs

Money shouts, conscience merely murmurs

By M.J. Akbar | 20 July, 2013
The first commandment of contemporary religion is unambiguous: Thou shalt win. Everyone, as the saying goes, loves a winner.

Would you walk?

Think about it. You have time, which Stuart Broad did not, when he was batting for England on the third day of the first Ashes Test in a fierce game which was certain to produce a result, and where, therefore, every single run counted in double digits. Stuart Broad had to choose between honesty and expediency in those instinctive seconds between a vociferous appeal and the umpire's decision after he nicked a ball to first slip. He realised what everyone saw, except for the umpire who, being eyeless, shall be left nameless. Broad knew he was out. Honour demanded voluntary departure from the crease; he chose to wait for the jury to make a mistake even when he knew he was guilty.

For you, lolling on a sofa, or, if a cricket junkie, watching the match on television, any debate with conscience may seem merely theoretical. But is it any the less important? For the debate is about values. Is honesty dispensable? Are survival and success the only priorities in life?

Cricket, like existence, is not always black and white. There are situations in which a batsman has every right to hold his ground against a chorus of theatrical appeals, because he is genuinely uncertain, most often in a leg-before-wicket decision, or when a catch has not gone cleanly to hand. Innovations like the technology-driven third umpire have been created to find light through grey space. But Stuart Broad's case is worth mention precisely because there was huge daylight between black and white. He was out. Everyone on the field, and millions outside, knew the truth.

So would you walk? The question is larger than cricket. Ministers, ordinary, extraordinary, chief or prime, do not walk when exposed as corrupt, or when atrocious administration kills children after a mid-day meal. Do those on lower rungs of power walk away from a bribe? Do business executives walk away from offering one?

Honour was once essential to the spirit of cricket. Bad behaviour, caused by temperament or the pressures of sport, was a discrepancy. No one has ever wanted to fail through the long history of human endeavour, and yet cricket looked down upon success without honour. In the larger field of life, honour bred the honours system, which was society's way of recognising merit. You could, of course, occasionally buy your way to a gong, for money always talks. But money used to speak in a whisper. Today it shouts. The little murmur of conscience is lost in such noise.

Cricket was always proud to place itself on a pedestal, even when inconsistencies existed lower down. Till the 1950s, there was obnoxious class distinction, in which the amateur entered the field through the club gate, and professionals used a turnstile. A gentleman considered payment beneath his dignity, largely because he had enough money. The professional, from the working class, could not afford to take a week off from his job. But during the game honesty was not divisible by class.

We claim to live in a more egalitarian age, but we have turned "professional" into a synonym for amorality. Broad was exonerated because of his "professional" approach, as if honour is now a derisory hobby of the parson or a preacher.

In 1980 India and England played a Test in Mumbai to commemorate the jubilee of the BCCI. India's captain was the courteous, gentlemanly G.R. Viswanath. England was led by the gentlemanly analyst Mike Brearley. At a turning point in the match, England wicket-keeper Bob Taylor was given out leg before. Visibly upset, he hung around in obvious protest. But there was obviously no review system. Viswanath, to everyone's surprise, overturned the bemused umpire and asked Taylor to play on. He did, and helped England win the Test. Was that the holy moment when the world of cricket saw the light? No. Since then, it is the tough school of thought which has taken over the game. Some cricketers still at the crease have resisted the trend. Australian Adam Gilchrist famously walked against Sri Lanka in 2003, and South African Hashim Amla does not linger if he knows he is out. But both have an old-fashioned look about them.

So would you walk? The question is larger than cricket. Ministers, ordinary, extraordinary, chief or prime, do not walk when exposed as corrupt, or when atrocious administration kills children after a mid-day meal. Do those on lower rungs of power, whether secretary presiding over a department, or clerk guarding a file, walk away from a bribe? Do business executives walk away from offering one? What prevails in the constant battle between commerce and conscience? If we all walked away from temptation, wouldn't the world be a nice little Utopia?

The first commandment of contemporary religion is unambiguous: Thou shalt win. Everyone, as the saying goes, loves a winner. There is a second commandment: Thou shalt not be so stupid as to get caught. There is no third commandment. If Stuart Broad were only a cog in a game it might not matter, but he is also a role model for millions of young people. If survival by any means can guarantee heroism, then surely plain old morality sucks.

Enjoy the delicious fruits of survival. Don't walk.

 

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