Nothing tends to divide fans and cricket pundits more than a supposed insult to the 'spirit' of cricket, the standard of conduct that sits alongside its laws to help govern the so-called gentleman's game. Mankading is possibly that one debate that seems to rise like a phoenix, no matter how many times it burns out.
The simplest advice to all batsmen around the world is not to step out of the crease and avoid being ‘mankaded.’ But non-strikers have engaged in the practice of backing up for eons and yet the moment they are legitimately run out by bowlers, the world cries foul.
If the rules exist, why do the umpires continue to pressure fielding captains to reconsider appeals for the Mankad dismissal, the act of a bowler running out a non-striker who is backing up? More importantly, how is it against the spirit of the game?
Origin of the term ‘Mankading’
Before getting into the intricacies of Mankading, here is a quick history class.
The name ‘Mankaded’ was attached with this dismissal way back in 1947. Indian left-arm spinner Vinoo Mankad ran Bill Brown out during the second Test match against Australia at Sydney for the second time in that tour, the first one being the warm-up match against Australia XI.
Very predictably the media responded, accusing Mankad to have broken the spirit of the game. However, he received support for his move even from the opposition camp in the form of their then captain, Donald Bradman, who quoted this in his autobiography ‘Farewell to Cricket’.
“For the life of me, I can't understand why [the press] questioned his sportsmanship. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered. If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out? By backing up too far or too early, the non-striker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage,”
For every hot debate, there are always a certain set of rules that logically substantiate the argument. But this is where things get murky.
According to Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Law 42.15 states that, a batsman can leave the crease and not risk run out once the bowler’s back foot lands on his delivery stride, while the changed International Cricket Council (ICC) rule since October 2011 provides a bowler complete right to run a batsman out before finishing his complete delivery stride, meaning at any moment before releasing the ball.
It was a clear and measured move to keep the batsmen accountable.
Two aspects of the same rule can sometimes be very confusing, but that does not mean that teams playing are unaware of the changed rules.
Let’s take two most recent instances of mankading in international cricket.
Rewind to February 2012, in an ODI between India and Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in Australia. Lahiru Thirimanne continually left his crease far too early while he was on the non-strikers end and was even warned about it by bowler Ravichandran Ashwin, who then proceeded to run-out the batsman after he attempted to leave the crease once again.
Instead of raising his finger, the umpire, Paul Reiffel, consulted his square-leg colleague and asked India's captain, Virender Sehwag, if he wanted to go through with the appeal.
In doing so, he implicitly suggested Ashwin's act of removing the bail was underhanded. It told the crowd that India were borderline cheats, made Thirimanne think his behaviour was justified and placed undue pressure on Sehwag, who ended up withdrawing a legitimate appeal.
Thirimanne batted on, continued to back up unfairly, scored 62 and set up a Sri Lankan victory, which led to Sehwag giving his comments on the issue after the match.
"It's soft, but that's the way it works. Because if we appealed and umpire gave him out, then somebody will criticise that, you know, that was not spirit of the game."
This clearly suggests how the decision of the fielding side is constantly questioned for a mankad. The notion of ‘spirit’ almost coerces the captain to change his decision.
Another example is the fifth ODI of the bilateral series between Sri Lanka and England in 2014.
Despite being a series-decider, it was progressing to be a forgettable match. Not only had it drawn a lukewarm response from the Edgbaston crowd, it hardly had any presence on social media.
However, it took just one incident to spark controversy and rekindle interest. Suddenly, Twitter was teeming with opinions, in some cases forming factions, on one of the oft-disputed, grey areas of the sport.
Having warned England’s middle-order batsman Jos Buttler twice for backing up too far, Sri Lankan spinner Sachithra Senanayake proceeded to mankad him when the offence was repeated a third time. Making no effort to conceal his displeasure, a fuming Buttler walked off the ground, and the Edgbaston crowd, expectedly, made its feelings known.
After the incident, umpire Michael Gough asked the Sri Lanka captain, Angelo Mathews, whether he wanted to withdraw the appeal. He confirmed that he did not and would choose to stick with his decision.
Buttler was clearly out, leaving England at 199 for 7 - they ended up making 219 in the deciding ODI of the series.
Reiffel and Gough should simply have raised a finger, as they would for any other run out, but instead they added to the ill-feeling by suggesting the bowler was in the wrong. Maybe in the future, an additional clause should also be added to state that an umpire need not consult the fielding captain before making his decision, unless the conversation is initiated by the captain.
Certainly a mankad is no less fair than when a batsman’s straight drive rockets through the bowler's hands and hits the stumps with the non-striker out of his ground. Of course, umpires rightly treat that as they do a regulation run out. Just as it should be done with the mankad.
Cricket needs to move on from the tenuous concept of 'gentlemanly' play and 'spirit.' It has playing conditions. It has laws. It should stick with them and avoid being dragged into the mire that will be inevitable if it applies them sparingly.