A batsman's game? Instead of frowning on 'mankading', we should be asking why the non-striker left his crease

42.15 Law 42.15 – Bowler attempting to run out non-striker before delivery : Law 42.15 shall be replaced by the following: The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to deliberately attempt to run out the non-striker. Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one of the over. If the bowler fails in an attempt to run out the non-striker, the umpire shall call and signal Dead ball as soon possible.

- ICC playing conditions 2015

This should be the end of this discussion.

Nevertheless, the furore over Keemo Paul’s alleged chicanery in running out Zimbabwe U19’s Richard Ngarava refuses to die down. A number of players, current and past, called it ‘unsporting behaviour’. Some have said that 'mankad'ing a batter without a warning is not cool. And the spirit of cricket has been invoked as well. Let’s think about all this for a moment.

Firstly, the unsporting behaviour charge. Running between the wickets is fundamentally the skill of covering a fixed distance in the least possible time. Is it sporting for a batter to be allowed to get a head start on a run, thus reducing the distance he or she has to cover, and therefore gaining an unfair advantage, with no fear of losing his or her wicket?

 A batsmans game? Instead of frowning on mankading, we should be asking why the non-striker left his crease

The mankad incident at U-19 World Cup game between West Indies and Zimbabwe. Image courtesy: Twitter

Then there is this business about the warnings. The anachronistic suggestion sounds congruous with the mental image of cricket being “pastoral, staid and moral” as Christian Drury puts it in his excellent blog post. Why would a batter ever leave his crease early? After all, this is the gentleman’s game, and he’s gentleman. And if by chance he did, it is surely an innocent mistake and a gentle reminder shall suffice. And as for today’s well paid professionals? Certainly, let’s give them reminders as well. Would you like some earl grey with that, sir? Milk or cream?

And finally the much bandied about spirit of cricket argument. The spirit of cricket, as put down by the MCC, states that:

5. It is against the Spirit of the Game:

To dispute an umpire's decision by word, action or gesture
To direct abusive language towards an opponent or umpire
To indulge in cheating or any sharp practice, for instance:
(a) to appeal knowing that the batsman is not out
(b) to advance towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing
(c) to seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment with persistent clapping or unnecessary noise under the guise of enthusiasm and motivation of one's own side

Since what Paul did was within the laws of the game, it is asinine to call him a cheat. And whatever their actions and the reactions, Keemo Paul and the West Indies U-19 team certainly did not act against the spirit of cricket as described above.

A lot has been said and written about this spirit of cricket over the many years that cricket has existed. The fact is that the ‘spirit of cricket’ was only enshrined in the laws of the game in the year 2000 in the hope that it would “remind players of their responsibility for ensuring that cricket is always played in a truly sportsmanlike manner”.

For me, two words ring out most clearly from that sentence. ‘Truly’ and ‘sportsmanlike’. They tell me that the spirit of cricket is primarily a call for players, umpires, and yes, administrators, to be honest, and fair, above all else. 'Mankad'ing, then does not violate the spirit of cricket. I’ll tell you what I think does:

• That the 2019 cricket World Cup will feature less teams than the 2015 edition, not more.
• That South Africa U19 and New Zealand U19 will qualify directly for the next U19 World Cup by virtue of being full members despite not qualifying for the Super League. Nepal and Namibia though must play a qualifier despite making the Super League, being associate teams.
• That abusive send-offs and verbal volleys are still met with the feeblest of punishments.

These are the issues that threaten the essence of the spirit of cricket, not 'mankad'ing.

The reason Paul’s actions have infuriated a section of the cricketing world are three fold:

Firstly, our default setting while viewing the game tends to find us in what I call the ‘batter’s game mindset’. Suppose Paul had bowled that ball, and the batters ran the three required to win. Suppose there was a run out chance on the third run, and the batter was home by the very margin that Ngarava was dismissed by. Would that be fair to the West Indies?

Secondly, because of the timing, and the context of the match, with a quarterfinal berth at stake and the match poised on a knife’s edge. Paul is being criticised attempting a ‘mankad’ only when the possibility of a loss loomed large, and the odds were against the West Indies. If this is true- and I believe it is- it is only because of the history of shame and stigma we have attached to a perfectly legitimate form of dismissal. Had ‘mankad’ not been demonised as much as it has, fielding sides would use it more often, and batters would be more wary, and there would be fewer outcries.

Thirdly, because it is a ‘man bites dog’ moment. The last instance of a ‘mankad’ in the international game was back in 2014, when Jos Butler was run out by Senanayake. The sheer rarity of its occurrence has also contributed to the controversy that has engulfed it.

The solution to 'mankad'ing is straightforward: To have more of it. Let’s admit that truth that we all know, but few accept: that if cricket ever was the gentleman’s game, now it is the batter’s game. Today’s bowlers have to invent new ways to counter flat tracks, bigger bats, impossible field restrictions, and innovative batters. Let’s give them another weapon in their armoury. Let’s stop frowning on the ‘mankad’, and challenge bowlers to be aware of the non-strikers position as they run in. Let’s put a healthy fear of losing their wicket in the batter’s minds, and keep them honest. Let’s stop looking at this issue from the ‘batter’s game mindset’ and be fair to all involved.

The author, Snehal Pradhan, is a former women's international cricketer and represented India in 6 ODIs and 4 T20Is. She tweets at @SnehalPradhan

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Updated Date: Feb 04, 2016 10:10:55 IST