India let Thirimanne off the hook
In the 40th over of the Sri Lankan innings at the Gabba, R Ashwin spotted the non-striker Lahiru Thirimanne was about three feet outside the crease even as his back foot was about to land. Ashwin didn't go through with his delivery, turned around, ran Thirimanne out, and appealed.
For some reason though, the umpire Paul Reiffel didn't rule him out immediately, and went on to consult with the leg umpire, and asked the Indian captain if they indeed wanted to appeal. That, despite the rule changes last year, which clearly state the bowler is "permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker."
During the time that the umpires consulted, the Indian team had a change of heart, much like they did with the case of Ian Bell at Trent Bridge last year, and withdrew the appeal. It was a classical case of this beast called "spirit of cricket" coming in the way of the laws of cricket. We criticise the ICC for not doing enough to address the lack of balance between bat and ball, but it was defeated by the players themselves in this case.
The rule change last year - allowing the bowler to run a batsman out any time before he has released the ball as opposed to previously when he would have to remove the bails before entering his delivery stride - was one aimed at taking away the unfair advantage the batsmen gained by leaving their crease early. In 1947-48, incidentally in the same country of hard but fair play, when Vinoo Mankad similarly ran Bill Brown out, Mankad found support despite moral posturing.
This particular ruling falls under Law 42, which deals with fair and unfair play. The laws of the game clearly consider unfair the act of batsmen gaining a few feet before the bowler has even delivered. India, by not continuing with the appeal, only abetted unfair play. The "spirit of cricket" also suggests - although this is not written anywhere - that the bowler should warn the batsman once before going ahead with the run-out, which is probably why India withdrew the appeal. Why such charity, though, for a batsman indulging in unfair play?
Cricket as a sport is full of idiosyncrasies that make it a special sport; this is not one of them. This one clearly puts the bowler, trying to prevent a batsman from unfair play, fight some sort of imaginary guilt before appealing for a run-out. The question "do you really want to do it" comes with a weight, with a suggestion there might be consequences beyond the game in question.
Not that this incident stopped Thirimanne from gaining similar unfair advantage in the rest of the innings. Which is good on him actually. He took note of the warning, stayed in when Ashwin bowled, but kept leaving his crease when lesser-alert bowlers, like R Vinay Kumar and Irfan Pathan, operated. He was aware of the consequences, and he was taking his chances.
There is a school of thought that India actually avoided an incident that could have brought controversy and disrepute to the game. There will be parallels drawn to the Bell run-out that India got reversed during the tea break in Nottingham last year. Opinion was divided back then, but this was clearly more generous from India. You could argue Bell made a genuine, honest mistake back then, but if Thirimanne were to plead innocence here, he would need to come up with a more meaty excuse than the ignorance of Law 42.
Bell was dopey, Thirimanne was trying to gain an unfair advantage. India should have known the difference. Then again, it should never have come down to India. Ashwin had appealed, Thirimanne was not inside his crease, the finger should have gone up immediately. Spirit of cricket should not have been allowed to come in the way of fair cricket.
Edited by Kanishkaa Balachandran
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo