By Eiv Bowen
In last night’s ODI series-decider in England, Sri Lankan spinner Sachithra Senanayake brought about the dismissal of Jos Buttler by running out the batsman while he was backing up – a so-called Mankad dismissal. In my opinion the controversy and associated fallout highlights the need for cricket to follow the game’s Laws (and related Playing Conditions) on this issue rather than its custom.
Cricket can be a cruel sport. One mistake for a batsman and your whole day (or five) is ruined. For all the developments in bigger bats, shorter boundaries, better protective equipment, and rules designed to encourage scoring, you nick one early and you’re back in the pavilion cursing the game and the cricketing gods who’ve deserted you. But being ‘Mankadded’ isn’t bad luck; it’s just lazy – and cricket will be better off when the well-intentioned but misguided notion of deeming it outside the ‘Spirit of the Game’ is removed.
Whether you’re an elite batsman or weekend warrior, it’s bad enough when your dismissal is of your own doing: the poor shot selection, the substandard execution or the technique that somehow left a semi-trailer sized gap between bat and pad. Then there are the times when your long walk from the field resulted from events largely beyond your control: the deflection from the bowler’s fingertips onto the stumps at the non-striker’s end, the LBW decision which defied the oak-sized inside edge, or the run out at the hands of your batting partner that required a fire blanket and skin graft.
These dismissals help make cricket ‘character building’ (particularly if they happen to someone else). The concept behind opposing the Mankad is understandable enough; a batsman at the non-striker’s end who instinctively wanders a pace or two down the pitch as the bowler goes through his delivery stride is perhaps not trying to gain an unfair advantage, but it is sloppy. A polite custom has been to offer the offending player a ‘warning’ so that he is a little more circumspect henceforth. Senanayake stopped twice during the 42nd over to warn both Buttler and Chris Jordan for backing up too far. His patience having been tested, the bowler ‘Mankadded’ Buttler when he transgressed again. How many times should he have warned him? How far down the pitch should he have allowed Buttler before whipping off the bails? Does the state of the game or the player involved dictate the bowler’s obligations?
Cricket is a game of many sometimes peculiar customs, like batsmen refusing to run when struck by a fielder’s throw. (Incidentally I’ve never understood why such reverence is given here, especially with the amount of throwing that takes place in short-from cricket and when the thrower is trying to run a batsman out. Batsmen are no longer allowed to run in a way that deliberately blocks the path of the ball but an errant throw can smack someone at pace and somehow it’s his obligation to raise his hand as if to say, “No, fair play – you’ve chipped a bone off my hip but I’ll reward your profligacy by staying anchored in my crease.”)
Like most sports, cricket is also a game of inches. A batsman run out or stumped by ‘conventional’ means is not afforded the benefit of a tradition of confusing origin. Similarly, a bowler who can’t somehow get a skerrick of his boot behind the line will not rejoice a dismissal, regardless of how much of a ‘jaffa’ it is. A long jumper must leap from behind the line, and a goalkeeper must save the ball in front of it. A baseballer who tries to steal a base can get out. So too should a batsman.
The old-school attitude to towards the Mankad is outdated and makes the game unnecessarily complicated. It’s an anachronism. The Mankad is lawful. The MCC’s Laws of Cricket (and the ICC’s playing condition 42.11) explicitly state that it is fair. And it should be, because the alternative is at worst allowing a non-striker to gain an unfair advantage and at best, creates the grey area with which we’re currently wrestling. The ICC amended its playing conditions in 2011 to allow bowlers to run out a batsman backing up at any point prior to releasing the ball. Previously, batsmen could take off as soon as the bowler entered his delivery stride, as the MCC Laws state.
Consider the scenario of one run to win off the final ball of a match. Without some provision to allow a Mankad, the non-striker may sprint prematurely down the pitch and almost beat the delivery to the batsman. If a player is prepared to exploit the ‘Spirit of the Game’ by gaining unfair metres, then surely the bowler is entitled to use the provisions of the rules to prevent it. The game can avoid this ethical debate by simply declaring Mankads fair game. The alternative is unworkable and places players in an invidious position.
There needs to be a consensus amongst international cricketers to embrace the Mankad, particularly with the ICC World Cup on the horizon. It would be a shame for a big match on the world stage to be shrouded in the same controversy as last night, when the problem can be easily solved. Get the non-strikers to keep their bats behind the line - and their minds focussed on closing that semi-trailer sized gap between bat and pad.
Eiv Bowen is Communications Manager for the Australian Cricketers’ Association and a passionate but limited grass roots cricketer. The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ACA or its members.