The greats of the sport have called Mankading ‘shameful’ and ‘petty behavior’, ‘infant school’ cricket. Yet, it continues to occur, sparking a fair degree of outrage, and stirring an inevitable conflict between cricket’s legality and ethics. The cricketing world seems to be divided on this; the likes of Ian Chappell believe “stupidity must be punished”, and that there should be no moral obligation whatsoever, there are those who insist upon an imperative cricket consciousness. Let’s face it—there is no sport without its spirit, and there’s also no sport without its laws. So, how does one decide between the two? Should Law 38 of Laws of Cricket be followed to the T, or should it be sacrificed on moral grounds?
Let’s take the case of R Ashwin ‘Mankading’ Thiramanne, the most recent of such dismissals. The southpaw was backing up way too far and Ashwin, it is believed, had already cautioned him. Thiramanne didn’t pay heed. He therefore chose to act at his own risk in spite of knowing the Law. By the rule, Ashwin could have carried out an immediate dismissal, even without a prior notice to Thiramanne. Yet, he complied with the standards of fair play and sportsmanship, warned Thirimanne of his transgression, before finally removing the bails. Such a dismissal, which ought to be a simple umpiring decision, snowballed into a controversy and worse a moral debate.
Let’s for once, take the onus of safeguarding ethics away from the bowler alone. A batsman who chooses to back-up before the ball is bowled is actually attempting to gain an unfair advantage by reducing the length of the pitch for a quick run. Shouldn’t he also be penalized for flouting rules and in fact, cheating?
On the contrary, however, Ashwin’s appeal seemed immoral to many. The umpires too, got together and asked Sehwag, the stand-in captain, to reconsider the decision. Indians withdrew the appeal—everyone went home happy, the team got a pat on the back for eventually honoring the ‘spirit of the game’.
The vexing questions though, remained unanswered. Isn’t abiding by the rule also a key part of the ‘spirit of the game’? The lawmakers clearly foresaw batsmen taking an unfair advantage repeatedly repeatedly and hence constituted the law. Shouldn’t the rulebook be followed to eliminate all scope for doubts or biases? In any case, since when did umpires start questioning players’ morality? Or, in fact, ask them to abandon a portion of the law in exchange for some “spirit?”
When Kapil Dev ‘mankaded’ Peter Kirsten he was painted as a villain. Even though Kapil had sufficiently warned Kirsten of his misdemeanor, no one paid heed to his side of the story. That he was on the wrong side of the ‘spirit of the game’ was enough to crucify him. What is baffling is that those who choose to take the moral high ground regarding ‘Mankading’ hardly ever scrutinize the batsmen involved.
The iniquity attached to such dismissals forced India to overlook Thiramanne’s repeated advances. Unfortunately, by doing so, India allowed him to abuse both the rule and the ‘spirit’. Team India had anticipated the world to be up in arms had they ‘Mankaded’ Thirmanne. This is worrying in itself. Why did India have to worry about moral disapproval? They didn’t cheat, match-fix, sledge, swear.
In 2011 summer, during the India/England series at Trent Bridge last year, Ian Bell, walked off for tea believing that an Eoin Morgan shot off the final ball of the over had gone for four. However, the ball had actually remained active and, as Bell headed for the pavilion, Dhoni removed the bails.
Technically, he was out of his ground and hence could be dismissed. This time it wasn’t the umpires though, but the players themselves who requested Dhoni to withdraw his appeal. Evidently, all of us, even the players are guilty of taking a moral stand in these situations. Interestingly, Bell later confessed of being a bit ‘stupid’. Why call it ‘bad cricket’ or ‘poor spirit’ then?
In a separate incident, David Hussey, during a tense CB Series match at the SCG, stopped the fielder’s incoming throw with an outstretched hand while taking a tight single. The Indians rightly appealed and the on-field umpires referred the matter upstairs. The rulebook says, if a batsman uses his hand to stop the ball from hitting his body, he cannot be given out. While, if it is done to prevent the ball from hitting the stumps, the batsman is undoubtedly out. How is the third umpire supposed to judge what Hussey meant to do at the distance he was from the stumps?
Similarly, when Brett Lee came in Sachin’s way, the batsman lost both speed/momentum and a few precious seconds. Sachin was declared run out. Since, the umpires felt that Lee had gone towards the ball in order to field it and didn’t seem to have purposely blocked Sachin’s path, the decision was ruled in the fielding team’s favor. One again, how does one decide whether Lee’s intentions were clear or warped? An ambiguous laws once again depended a lot on personal perception. Going by the same moral yardstick, shouldn’t Lee have been asked to reconsider his decision—after all, it wasn’t in the ‘right spirit’.
Yet, more importantly, who decides what falls in the purview of the ‘spirit of the game’ and how is that conclusion arrived at? Most importantly who are we to judge someone’s morality based on our own, often warped and somewhat flexible, sense of ethics?
Isn’t refusing to walk after nicking the ball, or appealing when you know the batsman isn’t out as unethical as ‘Mankading’? Yet, we conveniently treat the former two cases as a part of today’s cricketing “culture.” Mankading though is considered a crime.
The roots from where these supposed ethics germinated a few decades ago. Contrary to the popular belief, cricket was never a fair or equal sport. Till the 1960s cricket was played between the rich ‘amateurs’ and the poor ‘professionals’. The amateurs, men of wealth and standing, laid down the rules to, naturally, suit themselves. Amateurs and professionals, despite playing for the same team, didn’t share the same dressing room. Professionals were mostly brought in to bowl; batting was amateurs’ prerogative.
W G Grace’s act of rearranging the stumps after getting bowled because, as he told the umpire, the crowd had come to watch him bat, is now a part of the cricketing folklore. It wasn’t fair, but still, it was thought of as cricket. The sport’s history is punctuated with many such incidents showcasing this distorted ‘spirit of the game’. Laws were then introduced to make the sport more egalitarian in nature. These have, over the years, single-handedly made cricket fairer than it ever was.
We still seem a bit vague on the issue of legality and ethics. Accepting the umpire’s decision, no matter what, used to be one of the most sacrosanct rules of cricket. But the advent of Decision Review System allows a player to challenge that decision too. Isn’t that ‘immoral’? Againstt the “spirit?”
In the past, the batsman could always request for a substitute runner in case he was injured and, mostly, it was granted. But the new rules clearly state that regardless of the nature of the injury (including external injury) a batsman will not be given a substitute runner. Obviously, somewhere, the lawmakers mistrust the players. Ironically though, they have left the provision of judging the intentions of the player in laws pertaining to ‘Obstructing the field’ and ‘Handling the ball’. Isn’t that odd?
Once R Ashwin had made that appeal, umpires had no business to ask Sehwag if he would want to uphold the appeal which was well within the law, because by doing so, they put him under moral scrutiny. Sehwag was playing by the book by appealing and everyone, players, umpires, fans, must accept it and move on. Once David Hussey’s dismissal was referred upstairs, the third umpire should’ve been asked only to judge the evidence and not Hussey’s intentions. If Hussey wasn’t found guilty of ‘Obstructing the field’, then how can a batsman who fends off bouncers with his hand be guilty of ‘handling the ball’? (Point to note here is that the law 33 allows the batsman to use his hand in self-defense.) What precedent are we setting?
‘Morality’ and ‘spirit of the game’ must remain very individual. Just like Trevor Chappell could have refused his elder brother’s request to bowl underarm, a bowler may, or may not caution the batsman before ‘Mankading’ him.
We may want to laud players for their ethics because of our own conditioning and sense of fair play but let’s not make someone a villain if he chooses otherwise. Following the rules cannot, by any means, be considered against the ‘spirit of the game’.
This entry was posted on Sunday, March 11th, 2012 at 4:13 pm
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