Thursday, August 11, 2011

Legal interpretation and cricket

In responding to the post on the possible legality of the Trent Bridge Test match, reader joseph_kaye first posted a dismissive comment, suggesting the entire exercise was a waste of time (check comments), and then on my asking him to offer an argument, wrote:

Yes, Samir, but what's the use? Which of these two scenarios is more likely here:

1) A terrible miscarriage of justice has occurred, and only the penetrating Pushkar Pendse has seen it. Well, the result of a test match, and potentially the #1 ranking, hangs in the balance. This is no joke! He needs to inform the ICC at once!


2) It's perfectly clear to anyone what happened, and Pushkar Pendse is too too-clever-by-half in an incredibly tedious way.

In simpler words: it's an amateur's move to forget that the rules serve the game, not the other way round.
First, I think there is a third option. There hasn't been a terrible miscarriage of justice, and it isn't perfectly clear to anyone whats happened. People are still disagreeing about whether the ball was dead or not, whether Strauss or Flower were justified in going to Dhoni to have the appeal revoked. Perhaps we have a situation where an ambiguity in the laws has been exposed and the cricketing community needs to figure out an interpretation of the laws that makes it less ambiguous in the ways that Jonathan and Pushkar were attempting in their discussion. This is perfectly standard in legal practice: we have laws on the book, a situation occurs which does not appear to be covered by the rules they provide, and an adjudicator offers an interpretation that clarifies matters largely by showing how the rule is to be applied. Pushkar was offering an interpretation, perhaps a contested one, but given the lack of some sort of definitive or algorithmic interpretation of the laws (notice that Jonathans' reply depended on offering a particular charitable interpretation of the laws that would circumvent the possibilities raised by Pushkar).

Second, JK says "the rules serve the game, not the other way round." Really? What is this mythical "game" you speak of? A game, any game, such as it is, is defined by its rules, it is bound by them. If it isn't then we don't have a game on our hands, we just have some arbitrary activity going on. Not everything involving a ball and twenty-two players on a field is called "soccer". Sometimes it is called "hockey", sometimes it is called "cricket". Which appellation we use depends on the rules we apply, the rules the players follow. If I see ten folks on a court tossing around a ball, I only get to call it basketball because it follows the rules closely enough to be termed so. Otherwise, its something else, perhaps a variant. Thats why we say things like "3-on-3 basketball". If you change the rules of volleyball enough, you get sepak takraw.

Rules don't serve a game, they define it. Contesting an interpretation of the rules to contest the legality of a particular denouement of a game is most emphatically not an amateur's move. You might disagree with the interpretation, but you still need to offer a better one, one that makes sense of the situation, and describes how it sensibly accords with the rules so that the alleged violation has not taken place.

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Anonymous josef_kaye said...

Oh, I am in a wilderness of lawyerly mirrors here. :-)

People don't come up with a set of interesting rules and then carry out an activity to model them. That is not how sports come into existence.

People come up with an interesting activity and then regulate it with some rules, to handle edge cases and ambiguities and make its playing generally smooth-running.

To focus with this laser-like intensity on an edge-case seems to really miss the forest for the trees.

We seem to be approaching the thing from truly diametrically opposed ends, which I think is really interesting. Thank you for your challenging and thought-provoking response, SC! But I feel confident sticking to my guns here.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Samir Chopra said...

JK: Thanks for the response. Forget about Trent Bridge for a second, just think about the various puzzles that people come up with in trying to decide whether a batsman is out, or not, and if so, how. I think that shows the laws of cricket often leave some situations indeterminate. That's what I was trying to get at. Obviously, in some situations, we might have a disagreement about whether there is such indeterminacy or not!

5:13 PM  

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