February 7, 2016

Is mankading any worse than sledging?

Why do those who quote the spirit of cricket tend to do so only when it's convenient?

Charlie Griffith: a no-nonsense mankader © PA Photos

Ian Bishop's first reaction when Keemo Paul whipped off the bails with Zimbabwe's No. 11, Richard Ngarva, backing up in last Sunday's decisive Under-19 World Cup match in Bangladesh was: "Oh no!"

As TV umpire Tim Robinson checked the video replay on whether or not the last man's bat was out of his ground, the former West Indies fast bowler, now a globetrotting commentator, added: "It's sad if it ends that way." It did, as Ngarva's bat was shown to be on but not within the crease.

After watching a fascinating, fluctuating match on the other side of the planet, my sentiments corresponded with Bishop's. West Indies required one wicket and Zimbabwe three runs to win for one or the other to move into the quarter-finals.

As Paul started his run, presumably to bowl the first ball of the last over, I found myself mumbling a silent plea that he would end it by knocking back the middle stump of the facing batsman, Kundai Matigimu, much as Alzarri Joseph had spectacularly done with his 140kph pace twice earlier in the innings. Instead, Ngarva offered an easier option and Paul took it.

In a post-match discussion, Bishop's fellow commentators Dominic Cork, Pommie Mbangwa and Alan Wilkins were adamant Paul had breached the spirit of cricket. They would not be persuaded by Bishop's view that Paul's actions hadn't done so any more than sledging did.

Nothing in the game has fuelled an outbreak of strong, contentious views more than chucking and mankading, a term derived from the great Indian allrounder's run-out of Australia's Bill Brown as he backed up in the 1947-48 Test in Sydney. Technology that precisely measures the permitted degree of flex in a bowler's delivery elbow has largely eliminated argument over the former. But no formula has yet been devised to deal with mankading; what comes closest is the suggestion for one mandatory warning to the transgressing batsman.

Inevitably and immediately, Paul's intervention filled the internet and the social, print and broadcast media, with contrasting views, many from past and present players. As with chucking, most of the outraged comments referred to the spirit of cricket preamble to the Laws that are exclusively authored by the MCC.

Among them was former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, who condemned the West Indies tactic as "absolutely disgraceful". He apparently forgot his role in an earlier case that challenged the spirit of cricket declaration. In 2006, as Sri Lanka's last man Muttiah Muralitharan strolled down the pitch to congratulate Kumar Sangakkara who had just reached his hundred in the Christchurch Test, he was run out by wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum. I was on the television commentary panel and recall Fleming stating that "the game doesn't stop when a player gets hundred".

"The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered. If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out?"
Don Bradman

The spirit of cricket preface to the Laws reads: "Cricket is a game that owes much of its appeal to the fact that it should be played not only with the Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains."

The "fact" is that it has been used by teams and players, from WG Grace to the present time, only when expedient, prompting the ICC to introduce its own code of conduct.

The MCC stated its position on the present case in unambiguous language. "It's clear to us. If he's out of his ground, he's out," their spokesman said. "If the batsman had not been out of his crease, there would have been no issue about the spirit of cricket. Obviously this is as small a margin as it gets but that makes no difference. If you're out, you're out. This is not a spirit of cricket issue, it's a laws issue."

It echoed Don Bradman's take on Brown's original mankading. "The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered," he wrote in his autobiography. "If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out? By backing up too far or too early the non-striker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage."

A captain of more recent vintage was also strong on the interpretation of the spirit of cricket.

Mike Atherton maintained that "any inch gained, deliberately or not, in a tight run chase is an inch lost to the fielding side and therefore he is fair game. Mankading cannot happen if a batsman is in his ground."

Writing in the Times, he was also scathing of "the nonsensical preamble known as the Spirit of Cricket". He called it "well-meaning guff… that should be scrapped".

Courtney Walsh chose not to mankad a batsman in a World Cup match © Getty Images

"Test cricket is one of the greatest games known to man, but cricket itself is not special because of any moral superiority over other sports, nor should it pretend to be," he added. "Anything that can be invoked as contrary to the game's spirit, when a player is abiding by the laws, must be nonsense. Play to the laws, and you will be playing in the right spirit."

Whether or not the bowler issues a warning to the batsman boils down to personal preference. The most prominent case of a West Indian making such a choice was Courtney Walsh in the final over against Pakistan in Lahore in the 1987 World Cup.

Pakistan needed 14 for victory with the last pair, Abdul Qadir and Saleem Jaffar, remaining. They got to within two runs when Walsh spurned the chance of clinching victory off the last ball by declining to run out non-striker Jaffar, who was a long way down the pitch. Qadir then duly got the required two to third man.

Walsh is presently one of the West Indies selectors. It can only be speculated what he would have told his young charges had he been their coach in Bangladesh.

There can be no question over what Charlie Griffith's response would have been in such circumstances. A fierce, no-nonsense competitor, he had no compassion for dozy batsmen.

He despatched Trinidad and Tobago left-hander Alvin Corneal in a regional match in 1964, and Australia's Ian Redpath in the Adelaide Test of 1968-69. As Australia sought quick runs pursuing 360, Redpath absent-mindedly went walkabout down the pitch when Griffith cut him short. Australia ended 21 short of their goal with nine wickets down.

Predictably, the incident set off a heated debate in the press box, where I was a peripheral participant. Bill O'Reilly, Australia's leading spinner in the 1930s, then writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, supported Griffith. It was put to him that he might have used the tactic at some time in his long career. "Ah, when I was bowling they weren't so anxious to get to the other end," he shot back.

The same could not be said for Paul, although, at 18, he appears to have Griffth's mindset.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for over 50 years

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