February 10, 2013

What's wrong with mankading?

Remember that time when Kevin Pietersen danced down the pitch to Shane Warne and was stumped, and the umpire asked Ricky Ponting to withdraw the appeal? Of course you don't, because it didn't happen, and the very idea of it happening is absurd. Why, then, do umpires continue to pressure fielding captains to reconsider appeals for the so-called Mankad dismissal, the act of a bowler running out a non-striker who is backing up?

How are the situations any different, really? In both cases the batsman is attempting to gain advantage, in one by reaching the pitch of the ball and negating spin, in the other by reducing the distance he must cover to complete a run. A wicketkeeper who stumps a batsman is lauded for his sharp work, yet an eagle-eyed bowler who mankads is usually condemned as unsporting.

In 2011, the ICC made it easier for bowlers to effect such a dismissal. Previously the bowler had to take the bails off before entering his delivery stride. This is still the case under the MCC's Laws of Cricket, but the ICC adapted its playing conditions to allow the act "before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing". It was a clear and deliberate move to keep batsmen accountable.

But umpires have undermined the regulation by victimising bowlers who are only trying to stop batsmen sneaking an advantage. Consider these two recent examples.

Last February in an ODI at the SCG, Lahiru Thirimanne continually left his crease far too early. R Ashwin warned Thirimanne and when the batsman kept doing it, Ashwin ran him out. 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, Reiffel implicitly suggested Ashwin's act of removing the bail was underhanded. It told the crowd India were borderline cheats, made Thirimanne think his behaviour was okay, 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.

Later in 2012, Surrey's Murali Kartik mankaded Somerset's Alex Barrow during a County Championship match. Like Ashwin, Kartik had warned the batsman, though he wasn't compelled to do so. Still, the umpire, Peter Hartley, wasn't happy. He asked the fielding captain, Gareth Batty, three times if he would withdraw the appeal. Rightly, Batty refused, and later Surrey were booed off the field.

Reiffel and Hartley 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. The ICC's playing condition 42.11 explicitly states that a mankad is fair. An additional clause should be added to state that an umpire must not consult the fielding captain before making his decision, unless the conversation is instigated by the captain.

Certainly a mankad is no less fair than when a striker'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 they should with the mankad.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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