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February 22, 2012

CB Series 2011-12

Thirimanne issue shows cricket's double standards on morality

Michael Jeh
Virender Sehwag withdrew R Ashwin's appeal for a run-out against Lahiru Thirimanne, who was backing up too far at the non-striker's end before the bowler delivered the ball, India v Sri Lanka, CB Series, Brisbane, February 21, 2012
India's withdrawal of the appeal speaks volumes of the maturity shown by Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar even in the heat of battle  © Getty Images
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The incident involving Lahiru Thirimanne and the almost-'Mankad' run-out by R Ashwin provides the perfect platform for an intellectual debate about the difference between gamesmanship and sportsmanship in an ancient game that has almost outgrown its antiquated value system.

India's withdrawal of the appeal speaks volumes of the maturity shown by Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar even in the heat of battle. Their cool-headed wisdom, coupled with sensible umpiring, avoided creating an incident that would inevitably have polarised two close neighbours and would almost certainly have led to bad blood that would have lingered on for some time. Well done India.

It does beg the philosophical question though that at what point does a team or individual cross that fine line between being villain or hero, opportunist or cheat, playing to the rules as opposed to playing within the rules?

If Thirimanne had been given out in that circumstance, there would almost certainly have been a hue and cry about India's disregard for a very traditional act of sportsmanship. If it had indeed been carelessness on the batsman's part, it would have seen the Indians cast as villains. Clearly though, Thirimanne was either prone to carelessness on a grand scale or he was deliberately trying to steal an unfair advantage. If it was the latter, who would then be cast as the new villain or hero in this soap opera?

Look at it another way. Most run-outs are decided by a few centimetres so if Thirimanne's actions were deliberate, do we applaud him for getting away with it or do we vilify him for deliberately taking an unfair liberty? After all, a bowler needs to be only a fraction over the line and he cops the indignity of a free-hit. How is that different from a batsman deliberately stealing a few precious inches?

Would it be such a dastardly act if India stuck to their appeal, if they genuinely felt that Thirimanne had been warned and was still oblivious to the fact that he was continually out of his ground? Why was Thirimanne still doing it? Genuine naivete or was he trading on the notion that he could get away with it because the repercussions of a 'Mankad' would have been too much of a PR disaster for India?

Cricket has this duality of morality issue that is yet unresolved across so many issues. If it is okay for a batsman to intentionally back up too far so he can avoid being run out on a sharp single, is it also okay for a fielder to touch the rope with his feet (so long as he can get away with it)? Generally speaking, that is frowned upon if the fielder knew the truth. It is considered poor form to not signal a boundary if your body even grazed the rope so why is it not equally poor form to back up to the extent we saw yesterday?

Why do we still have a debate about whether batsmen should walk when they nick one to the wicketkeeper? Is honesty the key value at stake - if you know you nicked it and choose to stand your ground, why is it so different to claiming a catch that may have just bounced in front of you? What about someone who appeals for a catch that he clearly knows is not out - is that acceptable because it's upto the umpire to spot the mistake? What essentially is the difference between that and confessing to the umpire that the ball hasn't carried or has touched the boundary rope?

How did cricket come to this situation where we place different premiums on different aspects of truth and honesty? Clearly, some truths are more valued than others, a curious ethical conundrum if ever there was one.

It might indeed be a good thing for the sport if Thirimanne is made aware that his penchant to go walkabout, whether by accident or by design, is bound to end in tears soon. The next time he does it, he probably won't even need to be warned. He has already enjoyed that privilege. Perhaps the lad is genuinely unaware of just how much of an advantage he is 'accidentally' gaining but if he starts making a habit of it, he will create an international incident that could be avoided. Only he knows whether his repeated infringements on Tuesday were deliberate or accidental - we'll never know the real truth.

On the matter of truth and Indians, perhaps it is fitting that we quote one of the greatest Indians of all time. His wisdom may well put cricket's curious double standards, when it comes to different types of integrity, into focus.

"Truth stands even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained. Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear," - Mahatma Gandhi.

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

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Posted by Hiroshana on (February 17, 2013, 16:50 GMT)

i can't understand how the people say THIRI is wrong in that instance. game is changing and the tactics too should be changed

Posted by indira Gandhi from Sri Lanka on (March 3, 2012, 6:19 GMT)

hi what about two out not given to GAmbir? still he couldnt make 100, Indians refused reviews, so we have to win last night match, if we had reviews we don't have to wait till last night to go to finals, What about Koli's out on HOrbart?

Posted by Pankista on (March 2, 2012, 4:08 GMT)

I will play 2011 World Cup .. Most polbabry his last shot at the title. Imagine India achieves the title, how perfect would that be for Sachin. Personally, I know, deep down inside, that is the last thing he wants to achieve, and then he'll bow down from cricket. .. Or he might play until 2015. hahahaaa

Posted by gopal on (March 1, 2012, 11:30 GMT)

Simple answer to solution - someway announce before every match or show a warning on scoreboard that anyone trying to get advantage by leaving crease early would be run out by bowler without any further warning. Done!!!

Posted by Jayantha on (February 27, 2012, 15:07 GMT)

"Truth stands even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained. Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear," - Mahatma Gandhi.

Depends on the truth, really. The truth might be that most players in the shorter games do this--can someone do the research? The spirit of the game comes from Test Cricket, played by the greats like Tendulkar and Jayawardene, and for them running out a player this way makes no sense. In the vulgar, short game, outing the non-striker who leaves the bowlers crease too soon does make sense. But, this issue is much bigger than young Thrimanne, and cricket writers should reflect more before invoking the name of Mahatma Gandhi.

Posted by Anonymous on (February 27, 2012, 1:57 GMT)

So, Hussey puts his hand out to block the ball and it blocked the throw, and Dhoni appealed - why wasn't he given out?

Posted by Ajay on (February 25, 2012, 15:45 GMT)

What is this "Spirit of cricket"?

Posted by Avi on (February 25, 2012, 15:03 GMT)

Rules are what make a sport. If it offends the players, then take out the rule and play according to the spirit. What is spirit - "Some notion of fair play based on wisdom and experience." There is no fair play in leaving the crease before the ball has left the bowlers hand. Tthe bowler should be able to run out the batsmen, at any point during his run up till the time the ball is bowled. I don't understand how it is unfair to anyone. Firstly stop calling it "Mankading" and making it out to be a monster. This term was unfairly created by the Aussies who will play the media and anything to their advantage. Sledging is "hard by fair play", but a run out by bowler is "not in the spirit". Are you crazy. Just follow the rules and stop whining.

Posted by More Than Just A Game on (February 25, 2012, 6:28 GMT)

So let's get this straight - the bowler is expected to warn the batsman in such a situation, BUT the batsman can happily go on getting a head-start on a run while a bowler's in his run-up, in effect breaking Rule 42(16) (the very next rule by the way), TILL he gets a warning? Why doesn't the batsman also issue a warning to the bowler? :) It is a situation where we perceive a "wicket" to be much more important than a "stolen run". That seems to be the whole problem. Let a few more dismissals happen in this manner and there will be less talk about it, and more non-strikers sticking to the rule too! Here's an alternative suggestion: just like the UDRS, maybe a call can be taken by all teams in a series beforehand - whether a warning is required before Rule 42(15) is implemented. It removes ambiguity in a game where the ruling body is too meek to stick with and enforce the rules of a game, and hypocritical enough to call it "the spirit of the game".

Posted by Avi on (February 25, 2012, 1:13 GMT)

Fair question : How far can a non-striker back up from the crease before he is run-out by the bowler. Can he go down half the pitch and wait for the bowler to bowl. I guess with the "Spirit of the game" crowd that is OK. So how about the non-striker go all the way and wait at the other end anyway. Because he cannot be run out according to the "spirit of the game". When Mahela is Captaining SL, Ashwin should try this trick and go half way down and say - "He Mahela you were boasting about the spirit of the game and you cannot run me out. So I will wait here for your bowlers to bowl, as you may run me out. But you will have to withdraw your appeal, as per your own words"

Please follow the rules. That is what they do in all other sports. Otherwise there is no game of anything.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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