The spirit of cricket is alive and well; or is it? The Indian Premier League isn’t a week old and we’ve have had dodgy run outs, dissent at umpiring decisions and coaches arguing with officials on the field. There has also been some decent cricket.
R Ashwin started the bickering when he Mankaded Jos Buttler in the fixture between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals. To Mankad is for a bowler to run a batsman out before he bowled his delivery, with the batsman looking to steal an inch or two as he backs up. It is a highly contentious mode of dismissal, but nonetheless a legal one.
The cricket world was aghast. It’s against the spirit of cricket! Well, is it? If a bowler oversteps by even the slightest of conceivable margins, it is a no-ball, the bowler has to deliver it again, despite any runs being scored off it being counted, and the batsman gets a free hit – he cannot be dismissed off it, so swing from the hip. It is an almighty penalty in a game of fine margins such as T20.
Then comes the contradiction: we’re supposed to be okay with a batsman stealing a few inches at the non-striker’s end. And woe betide any bowler surreptitious enough to call the batsman out on this and effect his dismissal in a perfectly legal way.
Mark Butcher, the former England batsman, summed it up thusly:
A mankad is like sleeping with your best pals ex. Perfectly legitimate but don’t complain if you get chinned for it. https://t.co/ClOi48GWYT
— mark butcher (@markbutcher72) March 27, 2019
This sort of moralising has been typical of the event. Never mind that this has happened to Jos Buttler before and he hasn’t learned his lesson. Never mind that batsmen persistently risk backing up too far. Never mind that T20 is a game of fine margins and teams will look for any marginal gains. It’s exactly like sleeping with your mate’s wife.
Ryan Giggs, the former Manchester United footballer and current Wales manager slept with his brother’s wife and has faced less opprobrium than Ashwin has this week so no, Mark, Mankading is clearing far, far worse.
Cricket’s moral compass, perhaps, isn’t as well aligned as it would like to believe.
Which leads us to Bengaluru where Mumbai Indians defeated Royal Challengers Bangalore by six runs. Remember, fine margins…
The last ball of RCB’s chase required seven runs hitting off it, which is impossible, or six runs for the draw. Shivam Dube could only bunt Lasith Malinga’s Yorker to long on and trot through for a futile single. The game was lost. Mumbai celebrated. Then the controversy began.
The big screen replayed the final delivery and there it was – Malinga had overstepped. It should have been a no-ball. S Ravi, the standing umpire, had missed it. “We are playing at IPL level, not club cricket,” fumed Virat Kohli, the RCB captain. “That’s just a ridiculous call off the last ball. The umpires should have their eyes open, it was a no-ball by an inch.”
Virat was in no mood to simply accept the umpire’s call in gentlemanly fashion. Nor was his opposite number, Rohit Sharma.
“I seriously don’t know what is the solution. ICC, BCCI… whoever makes these decisions have to take a call on that,” said Sharma, whose Mumbai side had suffered a dubious wide call in the penultimate over. “I say it because eventually it’s not good for the game. Whatever is not good for the game, I’m not going to stand for it. It’s pretty simple, those decisions can cost you games. We prepare too much to win this tournament, to win games, and those kind of mistakes are not acceptable.”
Ashish Nera, the RCB bowling coach, was so incensed that he took to the playing field and was involved in a heated argument with the fourth umpire over the incident.
As with the Ashwin incident, there was much postulating on social media and in the commentary box. Cricket has become unwilling to accept the umpire’s call as final. In one week we’ve had accusations of unsporting behaviour levelled at Ashwin, yet Kohli and Rohit have been forthright in their open condemnation of umpiring decisions. The focus has been on the laws of cricket and those enforcing them, not on the actions of those involved. The spirit of cricket has never been so confused.
Indeed, so confused has it become that the return of the Sand Paper Trio has passed unnoticed. Dave Warner pounded a few runs for Sunrisers Hyderabad and Steve Smith was part of the Rajasthan side which was so stung by Ashwin. I’m sure Smith was grateful for the deflection – for the first time in a year it wasn’t his sportsmanship being called into question. At the same time, Cameron Bancroft was being appointed captain of Durham.
The spirit of cricket is dead! Long live the spirit of cricket!
By Miles Reucroft