Cricket controversy


It’s been awhile since I wrote about cricket. The Sri Lankan cricket team is touring England right now and on June 3, 2014, during the deciding game in the five-match series of one-day games that Sri Lanka won 3-2), there occurred something that has caused a huge controversy. Americans will be mystified as to why there was even a fuss about this when I explain what happened using an analogy from baseball.

We know that players ‘on base’ will, as the pitcher winds up to throw, edge away from the base in order to get a head start to the next base if the batter should hit the ball. Pitchers have to keep note of this and will sometimes throw directly to a teammate at the base and, if the runner cannot get back to it in time, get the batter out. There are some restrictions on the pitcher as to when he can change from throwing to the batter to throwing to the fielder at the base but it is all pretty straightforward and part of the game. Players on base get out like this all the time.

In cricket, there is a parallel situation in that the batter at the bowler’s end (the non-striker) will also try to get a head start in case the batsman hits the ball. There too the rules allow the bowler, if he notes the non-striker getting too early a start, to at the last minute (again subject to some straightforward restrictions) not deliver the ball towards the striker but instead to use it to get the non-striker out by breaking the wicket at the non-striker’s end, analogous to throwing to the base fielder.

Here is what happened with the cricket match.

This action by the bowler has caused a huge fuss, with the bowler and the Sri Lankan team accused of being unsportsmanlike and violating ‘the spirit of the game’. This was even though the bowler had warned the non-striker just a short while before that he was getting too early a start and risking this result if he persisted, something the bowler was not obliged to do but did so as a courtesy. Those being critical say that the non-striker was not trying to get a head start but I find that to be a specious argument. Apart from it implying that we can read his mind, the fact remains that whether he intended to or not, his early start did give him an advantage for successfully completing the run.

This action by the bowler is called ‘mankading’, named after the Indian cricketer Vinoo Mankad who did this in a test match when touring Australia in 1947/1948. At that time, he too was accused of unsportsmanlike behavior but Australian Donald Bradman, arguably the best batsman ever to play the game, defended Mankad saying (quite correctly, in my opinion):

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why [the press] questioned his sportsmanship. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the nonstriker 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? By backing up too far or too early, the nonstriker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage.”

I too cannot see what the fuss is about. The player was out according to a straightforward application of the rules of the game. He had even been warned just a short time before. Why have a rule and then say it should not be applied?

I am a firm believer in the desirability of sportsmanlike behavior. But the ‘spirit of the game’ applies when players try to take unfair advantage of ambiguities, like ‘accidentally’ blocking an opposing player, or ‘accidentally’ running onto the pitch and damaging it. But this is not one of those situations. In fact, I would go further and say that the non-striker need not even have been warned and the bowler was perfectly justified in getting him out the first time he wandered down the pitch.

Comments

  1. Mano Singham says

    Of course it is! Thanks for the correction. Though it would have been wonderful if the best batsman had been so named, no?

  2. ledasmom says

    I had no idea that this was enough of a thing to have its own name, but then I only have a passing acquaintance with cricket.
    Should that be “Donald Bradman” rather than “Batsman”?

  3. says

    I’m going to go with “because they’re not English/white enough to get away with it” as the likely reason; my fellow white English folk are never above making decisions about sportsmanship based on whether or not the individual being considered is English (enough) or not.

    So: Englishman Joey Barton, thug, breaks legs and starts fights on a regular basis (including memorably with teammates, on several occasions), but is a respected ‘hard man’ in football.

    Uruguayan Luis Suarez, who bit someone (not even breaking the skin) is a cheater and a poor sport.

    I’m with you. The bowler did everything necessary to be a good sport in my opinion: he offered a courteous warning that the player was taking, in his opinion, too much of a lead. The player ignored him. The bowler acted within the rules, and the umpire correctly called him out. End of. The entitlement that leads the English side and the media to call it foul play is unpleasant to watch, and quite simply wrong.

  4. says

    Poor sportsmanship? He touched something. There isn’t even any questionable activity here, and he’s playing by the rules. You have to go about 100k out of your way to construe anything here as poor sportsmanship.

  5. says

    There are plenty of similar situations in other sports, players taking advantage of rules or officials failing to enforce them properly:

    * in baseball, the “phantom tag” at second base, and the shifting strike zone for star pitchers

    * in basketball, star players not called for “travelling” (running with the ball)

    * in tennis, high-ranked players not called for foot-faults on serves

    * in soccer/football, defenders creeping forward on freekicks, violating the ten metre rule

    Among others. And people are called “unsportsmanlike” for being sticklers for the rules:

    * Billy Martin, George Brett and the pine tar incident of 1983

    http://m.mlb.com/video/v3977861/bb-moments-72483-george-bretts-pine-tar-bat

    * hockey coaches calling for stick measurements (an illegal gets a penalty – coaches usually call this late in games with a 1 or 2 goal deficit)

    http://youtu.be/db1yT0poyys

    I’m with you on this. If players and coaches are smart enough to notice the other team is cheating and they’re acting withing the written rules, why not ask for the call?

    And since you say you haven’t mentioned cricket in a while, you might have missed this….

  6. Al Dente says

    If what the bowler did is within the rules and especially after he warned the non-striker about taking too much of a lead, then there’s no question about sportsmanship.

  7. Mano Singham says

    @left0ver1under,

    Thanks for that link. It was an amazing catch. I don’t follow the IPL at all since I need to limit my time watching sports! So I would not have see that if not for you.

  8. sfhsfhfhfs says

    By this reasoning, the infamous underarm was perfectly OK. After all it was within the rules, yet pretty much every cricket lover was outraged. Usage is relevant, in my opinion. The usage is that this is not cricket. It very rarely happens for that very reason. Its very common especially in one day cricket for the non-facing batsman to get an early start. But of course, they are then vulnerable to being run out on a straight drive.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    From what I’ve read, mankading is very rare, and almost always controversial. Note that the (West Indian) commentator didn’t expect the Sri Lanka skipper to uphold the appeal. As far as I’m concerned, it was fair as long as the batter was warned at least once, but many cricket folk (not just English) think it is a shameful way to get someone out.

    ‘legal’ versus ‘just’ is a delicate thing in sports. Consider Arsenal’s second goal in an FA Cup tie with Sheffield United. Perfectly legal, but Arsenal were so ashamed they offered a rematch. And I thought Marc Overmars should have known better.

    Or the USA’s third goal against Canada in football at the 2012 Olympics. Again, perfectly legal refereeing calls, but a travesty to anyone except rabid USA fans.

  10. stevefines says

    Seems pretty straight forward.

    That is a fun catch in the second link.

    Brings back some great memories of listening to cricket matches on the BBC via shortwave in the 80’s while working in rural Botswana. I had no idea at the time what any of the terms meant or even the basic rules of cricket, but it was relaxing to hear English speaking voices.

    After having listened to the matches for about a year I saw my first one in Kenya and it was such an eye opener to finally see what was going on with all those overs and unders and wickets.

  11. Trebuchet says

    Now if someone can explain baseball’s balk rule to me, I’ll be eternally grateful. Or at least for a few minutes until I become confused again.

  12. Mano Singham says

    @#10,

    Mankading is rare but I am arguing that it should become routine. This is because the act that precipitates it is not rare but can happen with every single delivery. The rule is there for a good reason. It is the only one that prevents the nonstriker from wandering down the pitch early and gaining an advantage every single ball. And according to #9, this kind of getting a head start has become routine, simply because bowlers are reluctant to mankade. Imagine in baseball if the pitcher were not allowed to pick off players on base when they try to steal.

    @#9,

    It is true that the batsman can get out that way but that is rare. It requires the striker to hit a straight drive that is close enough to the bowler that he can deflect it onto the stumps. If the ball hits the stumps without first making contact with any fielder, the batsman is not out. I think that this is rare enough to not be a sufficient deterrent.

  13. Mano Singham says

    @#11,

    I too used to listen to matches on short wave radio before the internet but I grew up with the game and thus could visualize what was going on.

    Cricket has such a weird vocabulary that I cannot imagine what is must have been like to listen to a radio commentary without knowing what those terms meant.

  14. Holms says

    What the complainers don’t realise is that not only is this wicket completely legitimate, but the rule it is based on is completely necessary. If the bowler is not permitted to take the off-strike batsman’s wicket, then there is no reason for him/her to remain even remotely close to the crease. Hell, the whole point of the crease, at that end or the other, is to delineate between where your wicket can and can’t be taken.

    The ones complaining about poor sportsmanship are themselves the poor sports, expecting the other team to give them a safe pass just because… well, just because. They may complain about it being ‘unseemly’ or some other triviality, but then that can also be applied to the expectation that they get to be extra sneaky.

    P.S.
    “…Australian Donald Bradman, arguably the best batsman ever to play the game,…”
    What is this “Arguably the best” stuff I’m seeing??!

  15. Mano Singham says

    @Holms,

    If I had said unequivocally that Bradman was the best I would be inviting all manner of challenges leading to arcane discussions on statistics, style, and period, so I thought it best to duck that particular issue!

  16. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    The problem is that mankading is a drastic response to a minor problem. Two possible solutions occur: one would be for a run not to count if the non-striking batsman was not within the crease when the ball was bowled; the other is that if the bowler points out the non-striking batsman has left the crease the batting side is fined a certain number of runs

    I’m going to go with “because they’re not English/white enough to get away with it” as the likely reason; my fellow white English folk are never above making decisions about sportsmanship based on whether or not the individual being considered is English (enough) or not.

    You might like to check on the ancestry of the players in the England cricket team, Caitiie Cat. It would be an instructive experience if you think English/white are synonymous there..

  17. Reginald Selkirk says

    Trebuchet #12: Now if someone can explain baseball’s balk rule to me, I’ll be eternally grateful. Or at least for a few minutes until I become confused again.

    It is very similar to what happened in this cricket example. The on-base runners lead off to get a head start. The pitcher is allowed to throw to the base, and the runners can be tagged out. But if the pitcher has entered his motion to pitch to the batter, he is not allowed to break that off and throw to the base instead.

  18. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ManoSingham : Good post and clip and, for once, I agree with you 100% here.

    @6. left0ver1under : Cheers for that great clip too – I missed that one as well.

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