Michael Jeh April 27, 2010

Where cheaters can prosper


Why is it that a batsman who steals (cheats) an extra metre instantly becomes the "poor victim" if the bowler runs him out in his delivery stride? © International Cricket Council

As Gideon Haigh so eloquently put it in his most recent Cricinfo piece, the Australian sporting public are apparently betrayed and shocked by recent revelations about their champion rugby league team's salary cap rort. Well, perhaps only those who actually care about rugby league are actually shocked. But amongst that demographic, there is almost a universal sense of betrayal and shock, a universality that has been noticeably lacking in recent years when women were allegedly sexually assaulted or treated as group sex playthings by half a rugby league team. It's a measure of the morality of a sport when it feels more betrayed by salary cap cheating than the sense of shame that comes with numerous examples of poor behaviour where real people actually get hurt sometimes.

But for some reason, the issue of systemic 'cheating' carries with it a sense of deep outrage. As I discussed in my most recent post, the issue of double standards is a troublesome beast that simply won't go away and die quietly in peace. The ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies is about to showcase another curious aspect of cricket's inconsistency that would surely confuse anyone trying to make sense of the rules. I refer to the 'Mankad' law.

Fairly recently, the laws of cricket were amended to ensure that the non-striker could virtually cheat at will. He can steal a metre or two and be almost immune from being run-out by the bowler. If the bowler had the temerity to actually effect a 'Mankad dismissal', it would generally be seen as a churlish and mean-spirited thing to do. The fielding captain would almost be obliged to call the poor batsman back.

Yet, for a sport that relies on the third umpire to make decisions based on millimetres and split video frames, it is utterly inconsistent to allow the non-striker to gain an advantage of this magnitude. Why is it that a batsman who steals (cheats) an extra metre instantly becomes the "poor victim" if the bowler runs him out in his delivery stride? Can this be the same game where the third umpire will watch endless replays to see if a run-out decision can be decided by the narrowest of margins? Can this be the same game where every possible camera angle will be used to decide if the boundary fielder touched the rope with any part of his body in contact with the ball?

In T20 cricket especially, if a bowler even cuts the popping crease with the mere shadow of his boot, he gets penalised one run and a free hit next ball. In a shortened game, a genuine mistake which probably does not even give the bowler any real advantage (unless he is deliberately bowling no-balls and that is likely to be a blatant breach anyway), a free hit can often be the difference between winning and losing. That's how tight cricket can be. And yet, the lawmakers have somehow deemed it appropriate to allow the non-striker to virtually back up as far as he wants so he can then get the benefit of the doubt if there's a run-out decision that has to be decided by an inconclusive split video frame.

Perhaps in a bygone era when non-strikers gently strolled forward as the bowler delivered the ball and no unfair advantage was sought, the bowler whipping off the bails was probably seen as a bit beyond the pale. But now, in a clinically professional environment where it's the 'one percenters' that determine success or failure, it seems an incredible oversight to allow only one aspect of the game to effectively steal territory that is ruthlessly policed in every other sphere. If batsmen are doing this deliberately, especially in a situation where it's the last ball of the match and the batting team needs to scramble one or two runs to win the game, is this not tantamount to cheating? If you need two to win and the full length ball gets choked out to long-on/long-off, it's almost impossible to stop the non-striker getting back for the second run if he's already halfway down the pitch when the batsman hits it. Athletes like AB De Villiers, Michael Clarke, Kieron Pollard and MS Dhoni would back themselves every time to beat the ball home if they had that sort of advantage.

If cricket is going to be fair dinkum about consistent rulings, this anomaly needs to be addressed. Just watch the non-strikers in these next few weeks and freeze the point at which the ball is delivered. It's not really cheating because the law says you can do it but it's an inconsistency that makes no sense in a sport that is often decided by the smallest of margins. Go figure.....

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane