Ravichandran Ashwin for president.
This guy showed the world that an off-spinner with a straight arm is someone who can be feared, not foddered.
This guy taught himself to bowl leg spin when his off spin stopped being good enough for limited overs cricket.
This guy said six bad balls may be the way forward in T20 cricket.
And without even bowling a ball, this is the guy who might just have taken cricket one step further into a more balanced future.
Yes! Finally! Someone had the b**ls to do it. The last high-profile case of a bowler running out a batsman at the non-striker’s end before bowling the ball (just for simplicity, and until someone comes up with a better name, I’m going to call this Mankad; Sorry Vinoo) was when the Windies’ Keemo Paul ran out Richard Ngarava of Zimbabwe in the 2016 Under-19 World Cup. The situation was similarly desperate; Zimbabwe needed three runs to win off the final over, with just one wicket in hand. There was a quarter-final berth at stake. So Paul broke the stumps as he ran in, catching Ngarava marginally out of his crease.
On Monday (25 March), Ashwin needed a wicket. In pursuit of 185, Rajasthan Royals were sitting pretty, having lost just one wicket with Jos Buttler purring on 69 off 43. Was it the desperation of the situation the drove him to consider that mode of dismissal? Probably. Was it bold? Absolutely, as Ashwin would have known that heaps of disapproval would be poured on him after. Has he done it before? Yes. Will he do it again? Probably. And hopefully it happens as soon as he touches the ball next.
Was it legal? No doubt about it. The relevant IPL Playing Conditions state: “If the non-striker is out of his/her ground at any time from the moment the ball comes into play until the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the non-striker is liable to be run out.”
If you’ve been on social media in the last 24 hours, you’ve seen the loophole: how does the umpire decide when Ashwin ‘would normally have been expected to release the ball’? With so much ambiguity, the third umpire was restrained by facts, and the facts were these: Buttler was out of his crease when the bails were whipped off.
Was it fair? Absolutely. By moving out of his crease before the ball was delivered, Buttler would have stolen an advantage, like a baseball runner trying to steal third. Some argue that because Buttler was walking in with the bowler, and appeared to have been in the crease as Ashwin approached the delivery stride, Ashwin wrongly withheld the ball and ran him out once he left his crease.
But put the screenshots aside for a moment. Competitive sport isn’t played with the benefit of 1000 frames per second. Watch the clip back in real time. Everything is over within the first second. Did Ashwin intend to run out Buttler? Perhaps. Did he really have enough time to abort his action, check where Buttler was, then wait for him to leave the crease, and then go back to take off the bails? I don’t think so. If you’ve played sport, whether football with your colony friends, table tennis for your school, or international cricket, you know the word that Ashwin used to describe the incident after the game: instinctive. He stopped, he saw Buttler drift, and he took action.
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:
Let’s assume the ‘worst’. Ashwin ‘waited’ until Buttler was out of his crease, then took the bails off. So what? He was, after all, trying to get Buttler, who has a history of leaving his crease early, out. How is any deception he employed worse than bowling a slower ball, also meant to deceive the batsman. Or indeed, how is it different to Ashwin’s first wicket, where the off-spinner bowled Ajinkya Rahane with a carrom ball. It’s the batsman ― a repeat offender ― who should be getting flak on social media. The MCC, the lawmakers of cricket, have consistently pointed out that the onus is on the batsman to ensure they do not leave the crease early.
Definitions of ‘early’ have varied. The latest update to the laws, which will come into force in just a few days, are the most crystal. “There is a slight change to Law 41.16, which should further confirm the principle, established in the 2017 Code, that it is the non-striker’s duty to remain in his/her ground until the bowler has released the ball.” The MCC have put in stone what is common sense: don’t leave your crease until you’re sure the bowler can’t get you out. Buttler wasn’t paying attention. Ashwin was.
Hang on where’s the Spirit of Cricket in all this? Two words: Not Applicable. Go read it. There’s nothing about run outs there.
Hopefully, the next time Ashwin doesn’t wait until he desperately needs a wicket. Hopefully he keeps the batsmen honest from ball one. Hopefully another bowler realises there is a form of dismissal available that they never considered before, because most people wrongly believe they owe the batsman a warning first (Ever heard of a warning given before a bowler bowls a yorker?) Hopefully more bowlers realise they can win games if they pay attention, like Ashwin did, and that was all he did. Hopefully we don’t have to wait years for the next Mankad. If bowlers did it more, batsmen would be more careful, and we’d see it less. Which is what most people want, right?
Hopefully, the ICC will adopt the MCC’s changes at the earliest, and batsmen will have to simply watch the ball leave the bowler’s hand before attempting a run. Hopefully coaches will train batsmen to respect the bowling crease, or they may lose their wicket. After years of being shielded by taboo, hopefully the batsmen will finally play fair.
For many, maybe even those within his team, Ashwin is a villain today. That makes him an even bigger hero. He doesn’t care what people think of him. He cares about winning, within the rules. Hopefully a decade later we are looking back to this as the day the Mankad became normal.
Ashwin for President. With Mankad as his running mate.