You might well have seen it: six deliveries bowled at full pace from one of the two or three fastest international bowlers of the past 15 years to a tubby 48 year old village cricketer. 5 1/2 ounces of hardened red leather rifled in at the body of a basically defenceless, if not undeserving, target.
Many initially chuckled, for this was no ordinary village cricketer but the easily dislikeable Piers Morgan. Piers’ creepy obsession with celebrity irritates most, and when it comes to cricket his regularly tweeted man love of Kevin Pietersen seemingly rises above all else in the sport. Which irritates me.
Whether or not it irritated Brett Lee brings us to the case at hand. As the hurler of the aforementioned 5 1/2 ounces of hardened leather, Lee came in for criticism from Sir Richard Hadlee, an excellent propeller of leather himself. Hadlee was “appalled” and said that Lee had “damaged the image of the game” with his “dangerous and very wrong” actions.
Morgan listed his injuries as “a cracked wrist” and “a bruised rib”, whilst also tweeting a picture of a bruised hip. The bruised rib has since been confirmed as a fracture. Apart from those three blows he managed to duck one delivery, was bowled from another and narrowly avoided being poleaxed from the last.
My initial reaction was that Morgan had placed himself in this firing line and to thus eschew any sympathy. It was a cheap sideshow and not something I was overly interested in.
Then Hadlee got involved, a superb thinking bowler of just slightly before my time but not before my mother’s and uncle’s; a cricket brain which delivered over 400 Test scalps and 3000 runs. These were not outrageous claims from a man who wanted more spotlight but reasoned thoughts from a retired legend of the game which are worth listening to.
As any criminal law student would know there are two basic components which constitute a crime. Latin for “guilty mind” is ‘mens rea’; put simply there must have been some intent on the part of the actor in order for it to constitute a crime. There are different levels of culpability of intent which range from criminal negligence – where the actor did not foresee consequences when a “reasonable” person would, up to direct intention – where the consequences were as a result of clear foresight and it was the aim or purpose to achieve that consequence.
In October 2013 Darryn Randall died aged 32 after being hit on the head by a cricket ball while batting. He was struck on the side of the head and collapsed in a league game. Randall was a former First Class cricketer in South Africa. There have been other notable cricket-ball related deaths and no doubt serious injuries of note too. I remember getting struck on the shoulder by a beamer from a Devon u13′s quick bowler playing for Ivybridge when I was growing up.
The second main component of a crime is the “Guilty Act”- ‘actus reus’. This means that there must be some form of action for there to be a crime. Fundamentally this excuses those who would love to throw hard objects at Piers Morgan but have managed to stop themselves from actually doing so; it removes the concept of thought crime.
Brett Lee knowingly bowled six seriously sharp deliveries to a man who was ill-equipped to do anything with them save be struck. Three of them resulted in injury. In terms of culpability Brett Lee could at the very least be described as “reckless” and would most likely go down as “knowing” that there was an excellent chance that he could cause injury. Lee did not just float deliveries outside off stump and laugh at Morgan missing them by a country mile, he bowled five bouncers directed at the body.
When actus reus and mens rea are combined through concurrence and causation, there are sufficient grounds for a crime to have been committed. By these most basic principles, Brett Lee could face charges for assault and battery.
Of course there are caveats in the law. In sport there is the notion of consent. Consent to the force of a normal tackle in rugby is a full defence to a charge of assault in these instances. Determining what it is a person consents to is very often the most vexing part of any assault matter. We casually accept the notion that when one participates in a sport, one accepts the risk of being injured. But the question is, what risk did the person consent to? All risks? Limited risks?
As a young teen in 2001 I vividly remember a Brett Lee barrage of Andrew Caddick at Lord’s, who was backing away metres from the stumps. Was Brett Lee seriously trying to get Caddick out, or was he just trying to hit his opposite number? As a seriously fast fast bowler, Lee is a little unfortunate in this instance to be the one of his ilk in history that I am singling out but he’d have been far better served aiming for the unguarded timbers if he was trying the former.
It is surely fair to say that Piers Morgan consented to facing an over bowled by Brett Lee, though would he have consented to Lee bowling six “beamers” at him from ten yards? Probably not as this would not have been within the rules of the game.
However by that notion it is unlikely that he consented to being “bounced” five balls out of six when the sport usually limits a bowler to just two bouncers per over. Moreover, the fact that Lee bowled all six deliveries from comfortably beyond the popping crease which in a match would be classed as an illegal delivery was even more unsettling.
Playing culture as a legal principle was founded in Canada in 1989 during an ice-hockey match; the defendant skated towards the victim and pushed him into the boards with his stick and the victim suffered various facial injuries. The incident resulted in the defendant being dismissed from the ice by the referee at the time, but in the courts it was held that this was an act that fell within the “Playing Culture” of the sport.
The UK courts were a little slower to react to the principle. But in 2004 after a tempestuous challenge during a soccer match it was stated that although “Playing Culture” was accepted as a legal term the courts had to look at ‘The nature of the game played; whether amateur or professional league and so on; the nature of the particular act or acts and their surrounding circumstances; the degree of force employed; the degree of risk of injury; and the state of mind of the accused’.
In terms of the technical language of the criminal law, the principles of the “playing culture” of sport have been translated to mean that where a player shows “reckless disregard” for the safety of an opponent, criminal charges can be considered on the above. As a fan and much more loosely as a player I expect that the consensus would not be to want sport to be softened up in any way whatsoever, but from the above criteria a professional sportsman should certainly know far better than to put an amateur at risk as Lee did with Morgan.
Imagine the reaction to this had this been a boxer involved rather than a cricketer. After his previous fight I innocently tweeted something about Amir Khan having a “weak chin”, a typical sofa-dwelling barb on a social networking site from someone not really qualified to comment. Should I go a round with him, to let him physically settle a score?