The tides of popular opinion are usually rather slow to shift, but it seems like Ravichandran Ashwin has done what old King Canute could not. By pulling up in his run up and watching the ever-dozy Jos Buttler drift inexorably out of his crease before whipping of the bails, Ashwin made a public case for the brazen, warning-free, unapologetic Mankad, and it looks to be resonating with the audience, at least if that audience is twitter. Ashwin has begun the rehabilitation of Vinoo Mankad, and sure, it’s probably overdue.
So Mankads are cool now.
The MCC have been pushing the same line for some time now, bringing changes to the Laws in 2017. Again just a few days ago, MCC made it easier to run out the non-striker before delivering the ball, seeking to shift the blame definitively onto the batsman. I’ll admit at the time I cheered them on, along with Keemo Paul as he pushed the boundaries of what could be done to feckless or inattentive batsmen.
— Bertus de Jong (@BdJcricket) March 19, 2018
But as an early-adopter of the “Mankads are fine, Mankads are fun” principle, the sudden popularity of my once edgy and non-conformist views has inevitably left me annoyed and irritable, and looking for some new way to be contrary, I find myself unable to enjoy Ashwin’s mankadding masterpiece. Or maybe it’s just the fact that Buttler wasn’t actually out. The new Laws and the press releases that accompanied the changes have been fairly explicit in their anti-bat stance, now giving the bowler until the point of expected delivery rather than just the delivery stride to decide to run out the non-striker whilst explicitly putting the onus on the batter to stay in his or her crease – they don’t give the bowler all the time he wants, rather the Law runs as follows: 41.16 Non-striker leaving his/her ground early.
It says: If the non-striker is out of his/her ground from the moment the ball comes into play to the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the bowler is permitted to attempt to run him/her out. Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one in the over.
Now aside from the obvious fact that this is a poorly-worded Law and all-but unenforceable in the 99% of cricket games that don’t have the luxury of a TV umpire, it also means Buttler should not have been given out. When Ashwin aborted his action Buttler’s bat was still grounded well inside the crease. Ashwin then watched Buttler dozily wander off down the track, and only took the bails off when poor old Jos, noticing that the ball hadn’t appeared over his shoulder as expected, finally turned around to take stock of his (now presumably familiar) situation. This is admittedly quite entertaining, but it is neither in the “spirit” nor, rather more importantly the letter of the Law.
That letter, being a badly-constructed, can be interpreted in at least two different ways, but by neither is Buttler clearly out. Either Ashwin needed to complete the run-out before the point where he would otherwise have delivered the ball, in which case he was far too late, or it is sufficient for Buttler to have been out of his ground at the “point of expected delivery” which he (probably) wasn’t. Without a split-screen comparison between the run-out and a completed delivery, it’s difficult to be entirely certain on the latter point, but then the TV umpire did not appear to be even considering it. The subsequent decision was, by the current Laws, simply the wrong one. Buttler thus has every right to feel aggrieved, though he should probably direct his resentment toward the umpires, not his opponents. Ashwin was entirely entitled to attempt the run-out, though it should not have been given in this case. Yet even had the correct decision been made, Buttler ruled not out and a dead ball called, one suspect a significant portion of the cricketing community would still be disappointed, not just the Mankad fans on twitter, but also the more conservative commentariat that still holds even attempting to run out the non-striker as tantamount to cheating.
Do you think Mankading is against the Spirit of the Game? Or is it just a way for bowlers to stop non-strikers gaining an unfair advantage? Have your say in our poll:
It is an irksome but undeniable fact for Mankad fans that the mode of dismissal’s cheerleaders are almost all to be found amongst journalists, bloggers, and other internet users - whilst opinion amongst current and former players is almost universally hostile (at least amongst batsmen, who for some reason seem to be the most vocal on the question.)
At some point, it’s not enough just to point at the Laws and tell these conservatives that they’re simply wrong or don’t know the rules. Changes to the Laws of cricket, fundamentally, should follow the game as it is played, not seek to change it unduly. The Mankad clearly doesn’t sit well with the majority of players, and the Law as it is currently written is practically useless at recreational level anyway. The fact that there is still some expectation that a warning be given both reflects and reinforces the perception that the Mankad is, if not cheating, at least a somewhat underhanded form of dismissal, but the recent changes to the Laws and the accompanying preamble are rather out-of-tune with this sentiment - suggesting the exact opposite.
Even in placing the new Law under section 41 (unfair play) rather than under 38 (run outs) the implication in the Laws, reinforced by the MCC’s own statements, is that it in fact the batsman who, if not quite cheating, is at least engaging in sharp practice. The trouble is that backing up has long been part of the game and is almost universally practiced at all levels. Seeking to eliminate it by fiat is likely to prove counter-productive, by the maxim that criminalising the commonplace merely undermines the Law.
In this respect, it’s pretty clear the MCC is entirely at odds with the rest of the cricket world. One can certainly accuse Buttler of laziness and inattention, especially given that this isn’t the first time he’s been out backing up and Ashwin has both a track record and a publicly stated position on the practice. Likewise one can rightly point out that excessive backing up confers an advantage, and every inched gained at one end might be the inch at the other that prevents a run-out, but the idea that leaving the crease early is outright cheating just doesn’t sit well either.
The equivalent that is often used by Mankad-enthusiasts – that of picking off a base-runner leading off or looking to steal a base – is actually instructive here. Attempting to steal a base in baseball is not regarded cheating, merely risk-taking within the framework of the rules. Likewise the pitcher attempting the pick-off is not seen as cheating, but then of course there’s always the risk of a wild throw conceding a base.
And there’s the crux. If or when the Mankad becomes normalised, there can be no question of backing up being cheating, as it is merely looking for advantage at the price of an accompanying risk, no different from the striker coming down the track with the keeper up. But there is no converse risk for the bowler attempting a Mankad. The bowler could in theory attempt a Mankad on every ball and the only result would be a string of dead ball calls.
This lack of jeopardy for the bowler is, one suspects, at least part of the reason Mankads remain so unpopular among players. The risk is all on the batsman and not on the bowler, hence the feeling that the dismissal is “cowardly,” a sentiment inevitably arising from this essential lack of competitive balance. There is, fortunately, a fairly straightforward fix to this problem, one which merely involves removing an entirely pointless caveat to another recently-introduced rule, namely Law 21.6 – AKA the “Finn Rule”.
21.6 Bowler breaking wicket in delivering ball: Either umpire shall call and signal No ball if, other than in an attempt to run out the non-striker under Law 41.16 (Non-striker leaving his/her ground early), the bowler breaks the wicket at any time after the ball comes into play and before completion of the stride after the delivery stride. This shall include any clothing or other object that falls from his/her person and breaks the wicket.
Scrap the exemption for failed Mankads, and suddenly an attempt to run out a non-striker is no longer risk free, because if the batsman’s safe it costs the bowler a no ball and a free hit. Like a shy at the stumps from distance with nobody backing up, the Mankad is no longer a free-wicket option. Mess it up and you’ll go for runs.
The point of the changes to the rules around the Mankad was to change perceptions of the dismissal, and in that respect it seems as though Ashwin may just have succeeded where the MCC failed, at least among the commentating classes. But seeking to stigmatise the batter for backing up can’t be the answer either. The Laws should work primarily to foster competition and entertainment, not to censure common practices. With a few minor adjustments and the entire question of non-striker run-outs and backing up could be made part of the competitive fabric of the game rather than remain a source of on-field acrimony and circular arguments on twitter.
In this ideal world, one would look at an exact repetition of the Buttler dismissal and see no poor sportsmanship on any side, merely poor play. Lazy backing up from Buttler, a dawdling attempted Mankad from Ashwin, and a dodgy decision to boot. Poor cricket all round. Play on.