The baseball season starts next week, but in other parts of the world the focus over the last six weeks has been on that other sport involving bat and ball: cricket. I wonder how many people in the U.S. have, like me, watched some of the Cricket World Cup matches. Potentially quite a few, given that there are many people living here who might identify with some fairly cricket-mad countries, including about three million Indian-Americans, over three hundred thousand Pakistani-Americans, and about two and a half million people of West Indian or Caribbean heritage. Worldwide, the expected television viewing audience for the four-yearly event was a billion people. In fact, the India vs Pakistan match early in the tournament was predicted to set a record with more than a billion viewers.
The final of the fourteen-team World Cup, the eleventh such tournament, took place over the weekend in Melbourne, Australia. Australia beat New Zealand to win the cup for the fifth time. (New Zealand may have a chance for revenge later this year during the Rugby World Cup tournament being played in England, where the All Blacks will seek to retain the trophy.)
In honor of the completion of the Cricket World Cup, I thought I’d share some law-related tidbits from the cricketing world. To begin with, the official cricket rules are actually called the “Laws of Cricket.” They even have a preamble that refers to the “Spirit of the Game” (yes, with capitals), as well as a preface, the laws themselves, and appendices. The Laws are supplemented by the “playing conditions” set by the International Cricket Council (ICC) that apply to specific formats or tournaments, while each country also sets their own playing conditions for domestic competitions. So I guess you could say that fully understanding the rules of cricket involves something of a statutory interpretation exercise!
The World Cup and TV in India
One very recent case that relates to cricket comes out of India; unsurprisingly, perhaps, since cricket is by far the most popular sport in that country. Whenever the national team plays, an estimated four hundred million people in India watch and there are more cricket players in India than in the rest of the world put together. This provides some context for the case, in which the Guhawati High Court found in favor of the plaintiffs, a group of seven remand prisoners, who had argued that watching the 2015 Cricket World Cup was part of their “right to life and personal liberty” under article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The judge ordered that the prison make cable television available within five days, ruling that “prisoners need recreation for a healthy mind.”
While the Indian team’s matches are being shown for free in India, the rest of the matches are only available on a subscription-based cable network, which holds the official rights to show the tournament in India. In fact, only a few weeks prior to the above case, the Supreme Court of India had ruled that the public broadcaster could share live feeds of the Indian team’s World Cup matches, enabling those matches (and the semifinals and final) to be shown free of charge. The public broadcaster’s argument had included the fact that section 3 of the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, 2007, specifies that content rights holders and television broadcasting service providers must share the live broadcasting signal of “sporting events of national importance” with the public broadcaster “on such terms and conditions as may be specified.”
Other legal wranglings in recent years have unfortunately involved more negative developments for cricket fans. In addition to being one of the most-watched sports in the world, cricket is also among the sports with the most betting activity. In the past few years, there have been several scandals and investigations related to match-fixing, resulting in player bans and some criminal prosecutions. In addition to the roles of the ICC and domestic cricket bodies in this area, some countries are also seeking to address aspects of the issue (that of course go beyond cricket into other sports) through legislation and other actions. For example, the UK government recently released a cross-government Anti-Corruption Plan that includes a dedicated section on sports betting integrity and match-fixing. In New Zealand, the government introduced specific amendments to the Crimes Act 1961 through the Crimes (Match-fixing) Amendment Bill, which was enacted in December 2014.
Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket
Going back a bit further into the legal history surrounding cricket, there emerged a much-publicized and controversial case in the late 1970s when Australian media magnate Kerry Packer established a breakaway cricket tournament called World Series Cricket (WSC), after his bid to gain television rights to Test matches (full length matches between national representative teams) was denied by the Australian Cricket Board. His approach involved secret signings of a number of players from around the world, and the international cricketing establishment reacted with outrage and confusion once the news broke. The ICC subsequently ruled that any players taking part in Packer’s tournament would be banned from playing in Test matches, meaning that their international careers would effectively be over. The English cricket board made a similar ruling with respect to county cricket. These rulings led to a court case in England brought by three WSC players, backed by Packer, that lasted for seven weeks. In a significant, 211-page decision, the High Court ruled against the ICC for restraint of trade, finding that, by imposing the restrictions, the cricket bodies had acted to induce players to breach their contracts with WSC.
The WSC tournament only lasted for two seasons between 1977 and 1979, at which point Packer’s station won the broadcasting rights for Australian cricket as well as a promotional contract, but it had a lasting impact on the game. The impacts were seen in the professionalization of cricket, player contracts and salaries, how cricket is televised and marketed, and even the different colored uniforms. It also paved the way for the development of other independent tournaments, such as the current Indian Premier League. Greg Chappell, a famous Australian cricketer who captained one of the WSC teams, has said that Packer’s tournament “dragged the game of cricket kicking and screaming into the 20th century.” Several books have been written about the WSC and the surrounding controversy. A two-part miniseries about Packer and the WSC aired in Australia in 2012, and in the UK in 2013. You will also find the court case referred to in legal texts, on sport, employment, contract, and tort law.
Lord Denning in Miller v Jackson
Also in the 1970s, English judge Lord Denning wrote one of his most famous judgments in a case that involved a dispute over cricket balls being hit out of a village cricket ground onto a neighboring property. The neighbors, who brought claims of nuisance and negligence, failed to gain an injunction against the cricket club, but were awarded damages for the repeated interference with their property and for negligent damage for each time it was hit by a ball. The majority in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales held that the fact that the Millers had “come to the nuisance” was no defense. However, the Court did not think it would be fair to stop play altogether. Geoffrey Lane LJ stated that the Court
must seek to strike a fair balance between the right of the Plaintiffs to have quiet enjoyment of their house and garden without exposure to cricket balls occasionally falling like thunderbolts from the heavens, and the opportunity of the inhabitants of the village in which they live to continue to enjoy the manly sport which constitutes a summer recreation for adults and young persons, including one would hope and expect the plaintiffs’ son.
Lord Denning had a bit of a different take on things, extolling the virtues of cricket as a social activity in a dissenting judgment that I have seen described as “one of the more whimsical passages in the annals of the game.” Law students in Commonwealth countries will I’m sure be familiar with the wording from their torts law classes, but perhaps other readers haven’t had the chance. So, in honor of the approaching summer days, whether they involve cricket or baseball or other relaxing outdoor activities, here is the opening wording of Lord Denning’s decision:
In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. In the village of Lintz in County Durham they have their own ground, where they have played these last seventy years. They tend it well. The wicket area is well rolled and mown. The outfield is kept short. It has a good club-house for the players and seats for the onlookers. The village team play there on Saturdays and Sundays. They belong to a league, competing with the neighbouring villages. On other evenings after work they practice while the light lasts. Yet now after these 70 years a Judge of the High Court has ordered that they must not play there anymore. He has issued an injunction to stop them. He has done it at the instance of a newcomer who is no lover of cricket. This newcomer has built, or has had built for him, a house on the edge of the cricket ground which four years ago was a field where cattle grazed. The animals did not mind the cricket. But now this adjoining field has been turned into a housing estate. The newcomer bought one of the houses on the edge of the cricket ground. No doubt the open space was a selling point. Now he complains that, when a batsman hits a six, the ball has been known to land in his garden or on or near his house. His wife has got so upset about it that they always go out at weekends. They do not go into the garden when cricket is being played. They say that this is intolerable. So they asked the Judge to stop the cricket being played. And the Judge, I am sorry to say, feels that the cricket must be stopped: with the consequences, I suppose, that the Lintz cricket-club will disappear. The cricket ground will be turned to some other use. I expect for more houses or a factory. The young men will turn to other things instead of cricket. The whole village will be much the poorer. And all this because of a newcomer who has just bought a house there next to the cricket ground.
These are really just a sample of the legal cases that relate to cricket in some way. You can find various other writings on this topic, including in a 2014 book titled “Court and Bowled: Tales of Cricket and the Law.”