In the current hiatus between Test series, and having seen little of the recent and current batches of limited-over internationals, I concentrate in this week's Confectionery Stall largely on the controversies that have grabbed cricket's attention over the last few days.
Firstly, West Indies Under-19s Beating Zimbabwe With An At-Best Quirky Run-Out.
West Indian cricket is crying out for youngsters to emulate the post-war Indian great Vinoo Mankad. However, it could do with them focusing on the "becoming a top-quality Test allrounder" aspect of mankad's career, rather than the "running out a non-striking batsman who was backing up" incident, which led to his name being given to cricket's least satisfactory form of dismissal.
As you will probably have seen or read about, 17-year-old Caribbean seamer Keemo Paul mankaded the Zimbabwean No. 11, Richard Ngarava, with six balls remaining and three runs needed to win.
A mankad traditionally occurs when the bowler diverts from his run-up to run out a non-striking batsman as the cheeky little blighter tries to gain an unfair head start by creeping down the pitch before the ball has been released. The only slight procedural issues in the Paul-Ngarava incident were that the batsman had not crept down the pitch, and the bowler had, philosophically, ceased to be a "bowler", given that he evidently had no intention of bowling the ball.
Ngarava was not seeking, or gaining, an advantage. He ended up approximately half a millimetre out of his ground, having been in that ground as Paul reached the point where cricket traditionalists would have expected him to bowl. This was not, therefore, I would argue, a mankading. It was an entirely new form of dismissal, a watershed moment for cricket. It has brought the dummy, a popular staple of other sports such as football and rugby, into the moribund repertoire of bowling.
Perhaps we should not query the morality of the incident - cricket and ethics are uncomfortable bedfellows (as is so often the case with former lovers who have endured a long drawn-out break-up). The spirit of cricket is a mystical phantom of no fixed abode, who must be getting rather tired of being summoned up at opportune moments, having been flatly ignored for ages both on the field of play and in cricket's administrativo-economico-political machinations.
There has too often been the sense that if you went on a mountaineering expedition using cricket's moral compass instead of an actual compass, you would end up standing in the middle of a lake in Belgium, looking confusedly at your illegibly soggy map, muttering: "Sorry, folks, this was supposed to be Everest base camp." Or, conceivably, you might end up in Dubai.
It therefore seems a little unreasonable to expect teenagers to set a moral example in a sport in which ethics operate on such an intermittent, selective and unpredictable basis. Even if mankading your opponent for the decisive wicket in a crucial match when he was barely even backing up, let alone tootling prematurely down the wicket is so obviously wrong that most unborn babies would not do it. Instead, we should glory in the laws of the game being correctly applied. Even if we think the law in question need a major tweak and a stern telling-off.
In further mitigation, if bowlers are allowed to try to deceive batsmen with, for example, teasing flight, or a googly, or by hiding the ball behind their hands as they run in to bowl a 93-mile-an-hour reverse-swinging yorker, why should those bowlers also not be allowed to deceive batsmen by not bowling anything at all? For too long, batsmen have been able to coast along complacently, safe in the comfortingly predictable knowledge that the bowler would run up and bowl the ball - on most occasions, roughly in the direction of the batsman and/or his stumps.
But cricket moves on. It has never shied away from great advances that have shaped the game - the invention and evolution of the limited-over formats; 360-degree power-hitting; the TV replay; having four 12th men run out for no obvious reason every 10 minutes; tediously and avoidably slow over rates; the sponsored boundary rope. And if bowling can evolute from underarm via roundarm to overarm, why, logically, should it not take the next bold step, to not actually delivering the ball at all, with either arm?
I would add one further tweak to the laws, however. If you are going to effect a mankading to win a knife-edge cricket match, you must be duty-bound to have the basic human decency not to celebrate your victory as if you've just uprooted the batsman's middle stump with a glorious piece of highly skilled pressure bowling. Even in this post-moral age of commercialised professional sport that we live in, surely that cannot be too much to ask.
In the same cricket-shuddering week, the sport has also been rocked by not one but two age-related scandals. First, it was alleged that the Nepal U-19 captain, Raju Rijal, was, in fact, 25 - shades of the infamous occasion in 1541, when the Rome Junior Schools Art Association's annual Kids' Painting competition was won by 65-year-old Michelangelo. The ICC has stated it is satisfied that Rijal is indeed only 19, and I agree - his ESPNcricinfo page states as much, and if I start to doubt the facts within these hallowed virtual pages, my entire world will come crumbling down.
Far more serious has been the scandal emerging from the Masters Champions League in the UAE, the latest nostalgia cricket jolly for ageing ex-players, which appears to have been struggling somewhat due to a combination of no one caring, and not paying its players quite as promptly as would be ideal. The veterans' competition was further shaken by claims that the Leo Lions franchise's Zimbabwean paceman Kyle Jarvis is only 26, claims that appear to be substantiated by the fact that Kyle Jarvis is only 26.
An anonymised MCL spokesman has batted off the allegations that teams are deliberately fielding underage not-yet-has-beens, stating that the farrago was caused by a simple mix-up. "We ordered the wrong K Jarvis from the catalogue. We meant to get Kevin Jarvis, the 62-year-old former Kent seamer who plugged away for his county with considerable success throughout the late-1970s and the 1980s."
Regarding Jarvis Jr's fellow U-30s, Brendan Taylor and Richard Levi, the MCL spokesman explained: "These are also innocent mix-ups. We were gunning for 1960s New Zealand allrounder Bruce Taylor, now aged 72, while Levi was supposed to be Levi, the third son of Jacob from the Old Testament. Be in no doubt, we are committed to proper oldies' cricket and will not rest until all cricket the world over is played by retired players. Which, admittedly, will eventually cause some recruitment difficulties, but we will bomb that bridge when we come to it."
● Vinoo Mankad remains the only Test cricketer to score two double-centuries and take two ten-wicket match hauls in his career (furthermore, no one else even has two scores of 150 to go with two ten-wicket Tests, while Mankad had a 184 as well as his two doubles) (evenfurthermore, apart from Mankad, only Allan Border has two double-hundreds and one ten-wicket match). (And another one - Mankad is, alongside Muttiah Muralitharan, one of two spinners to have twice taken eight wickets in the first innings of a Test. Four seamers have done so - Angus Fraser, Craig McDermott, Kapil Dev and George Lohmann [three times]).
The first of Mankad's ten-wicket matches was, like Kagiso Rabada's in Centurion, in a victorious final Test of a home series against England, though the Indian's wickets - 8 for 55 and 4 for 53 - contributed to a series-levelling win, rather than a consolation. The fact that Mankad's first-innings haul included four stumpings by PK Sen, one of just two instances of a keeper stumping four off one bowler (the other being by Kiran More when West Indies imploded against Narendra Hirwani in Chennai in 1987-88), suggests that England teams failing to bat with traditional Test discipline in the final Test of a series is not an exclusively 21st-century problem.
Rabada, incidentally, was only the seventh seam bowler to take six or more wickets in both innings of a Test against England, and only the third to do so in a home Test, after Australian human beanpole pacer Bruce Reid, at the MCG in 1990-91, and Two Men Out star Frederick "The Demon" Spofforth, on the same ground in the third Test ever played, in 1878-79.
It was a little curious, therefore, that Rabada was rested for the first ODI, a compelling match in the modern bowler-slaying style that was curtailed when rain turned a probable England win into an actual England win. England's ODI batting has come a long way since their World Cup drudgery of a year ago. The frustration is that the players who have taken them on that impressive journey could, with a little more selectorial adventure and global trend-spotting, have taken England's ODI batting a similarly long way in time to play last year's World Cup as if it was a 21st-century tournament.