Book review: Court & Bowled

Court & Bowled

Tales of Cricket and the Law

Author: James Wilson

Published by Wildy, Simmonds and Hill Publishing £19.99

ISBN: 9780854901401

Cricket and the law share a few things in common according to James Wilson in Court & Bowled; Tales of Cricket and the Law. The relationship between the law and cricket is a close one. For a start, they are both rule-governed practices. This book explores that affinity in an informed and entertaining way. It is well researched and contains a wealth of fascinating material. The book operates at the interface of cricket and the law. It is a must read for anyone who has an interest in these pursuits.

What do the law and cricket have in common? According to James Wilson, “the majesty of the law and much of the appeal of cricket have often been said to derive from the arcane and impenetrable rules of both, as well as the theatre and etiquette which one finds in both court cases and Test Matches.” This theme is expounded in great detail and with much perspicacity and vision.

It is a scholarly and stimulating work. It is much more than what Mr Wilson modestly characterises as a “compilation of stories of the law and cricket, and the laws of cricket”.

It contains many compelling historical and anecdotal stories, but in my view, the best of the book is to be found in his analytical treatment of some of the shared concepts of cricket and the law. The chapters on The Laws of the Game: the Spirit and Letter (Chapter 17) and The Umpire is Always Right (Chapter 18) are outstanding.

Much has been written about the Spirit of Cricket, fair play, and the nature of cricket and law as rule governed practices. Some would say, tediously so. But this book provides a fresh insight into how these axioms are applied and sometimes misapplied. Mr Wilson uses the traditional skills of the lawyer to dissect the intricacies of the Laws of Cricket and the Spirit of the Game. It is not just a treatise on cricket and the law. It is a philosophical discourse which enables the reader to appreciate that cricket is much more than a game, and there is a game element to law. If, according to Wittgenstein, “philosophy is playing with concepts,” are not law and cricket, “playing with rules”?

Throughout the book there are parallels drawn between cricket and the law. I especially like his exposition of the Spirit of Cricket and the analogy he draws with the Spirit of the Law which he describes as “idiomatic antithesis”, namely, “a concept usually invoked where a person is able to do something which might be permitted by the letter of the law but which was clearly intended by the drafters of the law to be forbidden.” But the book does not stop at theoretical dialectic.

The compendious illustrative material provides evidence as to how the game is played in practice.

There are illuminating sections on Mankading (the act of a bowler running out the non-striker for backing up too far), substitutes, respect for the game, respect for opponents, sledging, time-wasting and walking. As to the latter the author considers whether there is a difference between the batsman not walking when standing his ground and a fielder who claims a catch he knows to be false. The author points out that there is no principled difference between the two events. The only reason why there is a difference is that the two situations have been treated differently over the years because of custom or convention, and that convention is now codified in the Preamble to the Laws of Cricket in that it is an offence to appeal knowing the batsman is not out, but nowhere is it stated that it is an offence for a batsman to stand his ground knowing he is out. This, says Wilson, (and I agree with him) is not the only illogical distinction one can find in cricket and the law. It is illustrative of the view of the great American Judge and Jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes JR, that, “the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience”.

As to the anecdotes we have some very good ones. Two of the classics from cricket (not surprisingly) come from Neville Cardus. Firstly, his remark that, “if everything about England was destroyed except the Laws of Cricket, then life in this country could be recreated.” I wonder whether that would be the case now? And secondly, his pertinent analogy with the legal system that, “like the British Constitution, cricket was not made, it has ‘grown’”. My favourite, and one that I had not heard before, comes from the world of law reporting at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries about a reporter called Isaac Espinasse, of whom it was said that he “heard only half of what went on in court, and reported the other half”. There is no such dichotomy in Mr Wilson’s work, Court & Bowled.

Robert Griffiths QC, 4-5 Gray’s Inn Square

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