Spinning a needless row

Cricket

The debate on spirit of cricket is back with Jos Buttler’s run-out leading to an English outburst.

The ‘Mankading’ of Jos Buttler by Sachitra Senanayake in the final one-day international in Birmingham has once again brought to focus the spirit of cricket issue and, predictably, the opinion has been sharply divided. Obviously, the majority of the Englishmen, barring a few sane voices, have been offended by the incident while the majority of the rest of the cricketing world has held the contrarian view. 

In the last few years, England have got embroiled themselves in many embarrassing situations and yet, quite outrageously, they continue to claim the moral high ground. To mention just a couple of them here, when Ian Bell was run out at Trent Bridge in the second Test in 2011 with the batsman wandering off the crease apparently thinking it was tea break, the England team management knocked on the Indian dressing room to withdraw the appeal in the spirit of the game. Just over two years later, at the same venue, Stuart Broad didn’t walk as umpire Aleem Dar failed to spot a thick edge off his bat to slip against Australia in the Ashes. The spirit of cricket was conveniently forgotten then.     

Before this article goes on to defend Senanayake’s action, it’s also worthwhile to mention that it’s always the aggrieved party that appears to latch on to ‘spirit of the game.’ It’s interesting that Mahela Jayawardene -- who took objection to R Ashwin running-out Lahiru Thirimanne for backing up in a one-dayer in Australia though the appeal was subsequently withdrawn by stand-in skipper Virender Sehwag in 2012 -- is jumping to his team-mates’ defence now.

Perhaps, England may not have raised such a stink if the match had gone their way, thus ensuring them a 3-2 series win over Lanka. The dismissal coupled with the defeat was obviously a hard pill to swallow and hence statements like ‘I am not sure you want to play the game like that’ by former skipper Michael Vaughan and ‘they clearly crossed the line today’ by current captain Alastair Cook. Well, who crossed the line was quite evident to everyone.

Murali Kartik has been in the eye of storm on many an occasion for ‘Mankading’ batsmen. The left-arm spinner attracted criticism from former English players when he dismissed Somerset (incidentally his previous club) batsman Alex Borrow in an English County championship match in 2012 while representing Surrey. More recently and closer home, the India player, while captaining Railways, Mankaded Bengal batsman Sandipan Das during their Ranji Trophy match in Delhi, leading to verbal duel with between the two teams. 

“I have Mankaded so many batsmen that people now want the dismissal to be renamed ‘Kartikayed’,’’ he noted in jest. On a more serious note, he said he failed to understand people’s objection. “I don’t understand this whole talk of spirit of cricket. What you are doing (leaving the crease) is not ethical, so why bring spirit of cricket here. Cricket is bound by certain rules and you have to abide by those rules and that’s, for me, is spirit of cricket.

“People call it cheating. Now explain to me this logic; here is a bowler who is warning the batsman not to start walking when he is not even required to do so, he can straightaway run him out. He is first warning because he is playing in the spirit of the game and not the batsman who is trying to take undue advantage by backing up too far. The bowler isn’t an idiot that he will keep requesting the batsman not to step out,” he reasoned.

The law in this regard has always favoured the bowler but by invoking the word ‘spirit’, the batsman has always gotten away with his transgression. The MCC law states that "The bowler is permitted, before entering his delivery stride, to attempt to run out the non-striker..."  

The ICC, for many years, followed this rule that a batsman could leave the crease once the bowler’s back foot lands on his delivery stride. In October 2011, the game’s governing body further strengthened the bowler’s case by adding (to the law 42.11) that a bowler can run a batsman out before finishing his complete delivery stride (i.e. before releasing the ball). “The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker…”

“You are basically crying foul for something that’s against the laws of the game,” Kartik stressed. “What right do batsmen have to go out before I have delivered the ball. I fail to understand this explanation that ‘he was not trying to steal a single.’ Then why go out if you are not trying to take a single? Now tell me, if a batsman steps out and misses a delivery, do you expect the wicketkeeper to ask the batsman if he was trying to take a single and then stump him? The rule says you have to be inside the crease. We are all taught in life not to lie, not to steal and all that ... Similarly in cricket you are not supposed to walk before the ball has left the bowler’s hand. It’s as simple as that.”

While maintaining that he would run a batsman every time he tries to stroll out, Kartik also questioned the on-field umpires who ask the fielding captain if he wants to stick to the appeal. “I seriously don’t understand this business of umpires asking the captain if he would like to take back the appeal. You don’t do it for caught behind, you don’t do it for lbws, so why do it for this? It’s unfair to put the pressure on the (fielding) captain. What you are effectively telling the captain is ‘your bowler is a cheat, so you take the corrective course’.”

Perhaps, that’s where the solution to this seemingly never-ending issue lies. Empower umpires to take a call and not leave it to the players that invariably leads to bad blood between rival camps. After all, umpires are paid to make such decisions. The high-profile ICC Cricket Committee’s opinion that umpires refrain from asking captains to take a call should a go a long way in resolving one of vexed cricket issues.  

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