So this week the judgement was handed down. Carew Cricket Club, charged with unsporting conduct, remain champions of the Pembrokeshire League – and are relegated.
The question at issue is both small and huge. We’re talking about a decision made in a minor Welsh cricket match. We are also talking about what underpins the idea of sport.
Carew declared after scoring just 18 runs for one wicket against title rivals Cresselly in their final league match.
The decision, on one level, made perfect sense. Carew led Cresselly by 21 points, and in minimising the length of the game they restricted their opponents to the 20 points on offer for a win without giving them a chance of earning any bonus points. Simple.
But not so simple.
Officials from Pembroke County Cricket Club, which runs the game locally, said Carew had not technically broken any rules, but complaints led to the creation of a four-man disciplinary committee which looked into the team's actions.
It has now decided that Carew may keep their Division One title, but must start next season in Division Two.
The team's captain has also been told he is banned from starting the 2018 season, and the club – which plans to appeal - has been fined £300 ($400/€350).
It will come as no surprise that the phrase frequently associated with this saga has been "It’s not cricket".
And certainly, this kind of "rule-bending" is something one more often encounters in, say, football, where sides in the lead will consistently attempt to reduce the opportunity their opponents have to get back into the game with a huge array of time-wasting tactics. It’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s working on the edges of acceptability for the same end.
Other examples spring to mind. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Britain’s 19-year-old Ben Ainslie was in silver medal position in the Laser sailing event behind Brazil’s hugely experienced Robert Scheidt with one race remaining. After a lot of pre-race jostling for position among the boats, the organisers put up the black flag, indicating that any boat jumping the start line at the next attempt would be disqualified.
"Robert was pretty cunning,"’ Ainslie recalled,"because he was sitting near the committee boat and must have heard them call out his sail number, that he was over the line, so he just sheeted in and started over the line with 10 seconds to go, knowing he was over it.
"When one goes, others go because they don’t want to be given the jump. So about 20 boats went. I was among them and we all got disqualified and the net result was that Robert won the gold and I got the silver. Yes, in its way it was brilliant."
Four years later at the Sydney Games the positions were reversed before the final Laser race, and Ainslie dedicated himself to spoiling tactics, weaving across Scheidt’s path and stealing his wind. The Brazilian was left frustrated and adrift from the main race; Ainslie had done what was required to earn the first of four Olympic golds…all, just about, within the rules.
Fast forward 12 years to the London Olympics, where the women’s badminton competition witnessed matches between two South Korean pairings and their Chinese and Indonesian opposition that appeared not to be operating under the usual competitive tensions. The players were serving at half-pace, and appeared to be missing shots deliberately. All very embarrassing for the Games, especially as the then International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge happened to have dropped in to the Wembley Arena on that day.
"The girls were serving so far out it was very embarrassing," said Britain’s 2004 Olympic mixed doubles silver medallist Gail Emms. "What happened was just truly disgraceful. This is the Olympic Games – it is not very much in the Olympic spirit."
The motivation for these underperforming Olympians soon, it soon became clear, lay in the Badminton World Federation (BWF)’s introduction of round-robin matches to the format, which offered competitors the opportunity of engineering more favourable draws for the subsequent knockout section by using a "tactical’ defeat".
On this occasion the players were punished for working within the rules but outside the commonly perceived sense of correctness - all four were disqualified by the BWF for "not using one’s best efforts to win". The Federation altered its rules as soon as was feasible…
Thomas Lund, chief executive of the BWF, made a careful statement to reporters in the aftermath of the controversy: "I would like to underline that it is the responsibility of the players, and team members, and the entourage around them to live up to the standards in our regulations – the players’ code of conduct – to go after winning every match. That’s the bottom line."
The bottom line. But all too often, sportsmen and women prefer to proceed up to and maybe even beyond the borderline - a line with which cricket has been on nodding terms through the years.
In 1981, Australia’s captain Greg Chappell took a decision during a one-day international against New Zealand in Melbourne which provoked the New Zealand Prime Minister of the time, Robert Muldoon, to describe it as "the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket".
As Chappell’s younger brother, Trevor, prepared to send down the final delivery of the match, New Zealand needed a six to tie the match. Under the orders of his captain, the youngest Chappell proceeded to bowl his last effort underarm, thus precluding any possibility of a Kiwi final flourish. As he ran up to do so the eldest Chappell brother, Ian, commentating on the match, had instinctively shouted out: "No, Greg, you can’t do that!"
The - victorious - Australian side were then booed from the field.
Skip back 50 or so years - and we’re talking bodyline rather than borderline. The England cricket side touring Australia in 1932–1933 employed a hugely controversial form of fast bowling in which the ball reared up menacingly into the body of opposing batsmen, The rules were subsequently - consequently - altered. But at the time it wasn’t illegal. This was, however, seen as utterly against the spirit of the game and the fallout resulted in a huge drama which upset international relations.
Skip back another 60 or so years - and we’re talking about WG Grace, the monumentally talented, and bearded, English batsman who came to be known, simply, as "The Cricketer".
Despite the fact that he was nominally an amateur - given his professional status as a surgeon – Grace wanted to win at all costs. Sometimes this tendency worked against him, as in the 1882 Test when Australia beat England on an English ground for the first time, leading to the satirical obituary in the Sporting Times newspaper which set in train the Ashes series - being the ashes of English cricket - which is still biennially contested today.
Australia’s match-winner, Frederick Spofforth, took 14 wickets, reportedly "fired up" by a characteristic piece of gamesmanship from WG in which Australia’s batsman Sammy Jones was unsportingly, but strictly legally, run out.
There were other examples of WG's lordly disregard of the rules, or his propensity to bend them. In a match against Surrey at Clifton in 1878 the ball reportedly lodged in his shirt and he simply began making runs, stopping only at the eventual intervention of several fielders. He claimed afterwards that he would have been out – for handling the ball – had he tried to remove it. Following a discussion, the fielding side managed to beat him down to three scoring runs.
Grace also had an angle when it came to tossing the coin at the start of matches. As the coin flew, he would call out "The Lady". Sovereigns at the time had Queen Victoria on one side and Britannia on the other…
So it turns out that Carew are working within a long sporting tradition. And what they have done very much is cricket….