Three nights ago Buttler was in the headlines for his titillating century that brought England within the vicinity of victory at Lords and Sachithra Senanayake found himself being Googled all over the world, after he was reported by the umpires for suspicious bowling action. After the pre match dramas, the Cricketing fraternity would have least expected to find both these players’ names being laid in the news abreast for an incident, which has now become one of the most contentious incidents in cricketing history.
The debate is about law versus moral. In my view a law can never be immoral unless people start exploiting it. The act of booing and calling a bowler who Mankades a batsman, a cheat, are the results of our inability to accept a new norm which is not completely abnormal.
The term Mankading swaggered its way into the Cricketing jargon when the Indian bowler Vinoo Mankad broke the stumps at the non-strikers end in his run up while the Australian batsman Bill Brown was backing up too much. Just like the English media, the Australian media too heckled Mankad for his deed.
Though Makading is considered an unfair treatment meted out to the batsman, the cricketing law endorses such run-outs, since the batsman clearly gains an advantage by backing up too far.
When Sachithra Senanyake Mankaded Jos Buttler, the debate was not about whether or not it was within the laws of cricket, but whether it was done in the right spirit.
Being a Sri Lankan having been at both the receiver’s end and the effector’s end of this controversial way of getting a batsman out, I can empathize with the emotions of both the English and Sri Lankans.
Following sports of any sort requires a lot of involvement. Only the ones who invest some of themselves in the sport they follow will be able to touch the zenith of emotions which can range from extreme euphoria to plain wrath. You find your favorite team take the field; the Cricket ground becomes a battle field. You forget your ambient and begin to dissolve into the context of the game. Every ball brings you to the edge of the seat. The small spell between balls seems like an era. You cheer every run your team scores. A six is hit and you find yourself being lifted by your very own feet, with hands waving helplessly. All of a sudden the bowler produces a perfect yorker and the middle stump is pegged back. You know your man is gone. But somewhere within the heart a glowing splinter would light hoping for a no-ball. And the glow starts to peter out as the batsman approaches the pavilion, but still you will not be convinced that the batsman is out, until the next batsman marks his guard. Accepting the dismissal, let alone digesting it becomes tough. The same feeling had run through our brains umpteenth times. Sometimes our intellect would call us a fool, but the mind would never listen. Cricket for a true fan is a battle between the mind and the intellect.
Even when the batsman is dismissed in a more natural way, we find the reality a tougher proposition to acknowledge. We go deeper researching, trying to discover the minutest of details to find a mistake in the umpire’s decision or at least to concoct some excuses to vindicate the batsman. “That ball was just hitting leg. The umpire should have ruled it in the favor of the batsman”, “The ball stopped on him, it is really unfortunate”. Almost all of us would have uttered the above statements at least once in our life time. Cricketing psychologists if they ever exist would be able to tell you that when a dismissal of any sort is effected our brain become loaded with resentment that we start looking at the dismissal as something colluded by the umpires against the team you support.
As a cricket fan the last thing you would want to see is a batsman of your team getting out in a freak manner. A jolt would spark from your heart, travel through your nerves and leave your body through the head. You rise from your seat, shoulders shrugging hands flying up. You know you want to blame someone except the batsman, but you sit back horrified not knowing whom you can blame. I have felt it when Sangakkara’s bat decided to set itself free from his hands and land on his stumps leaving Sri Lanka high and dry in a game against India. I had the exact emotions when Murali ran himself out while prematurely celebrating Sangakkara’s century. Mankading being the freakiest of dismissals can incite the same emotions in a cricket fan. The shock is unbearable and the disappointment is intolerable. It is more a matter of disbelief than anything else.
To better understand the emotions eddying Mankading, we can relate it to our outlook when a batsman is dismissed when a ball hammered by the striker down the ground deflects off the bowlers hand onto the stumps, finding the non-striker short. When this happens, everyone knows that this is legal and the batsman is left with no other option but to start his walk towards the dressing room. Even though our intellect fully comprehends that the batsman is out, our mind will take ages to accept and digest it. Everyone knows that it is a misfortune for the non striker. But we get on with it simply because no one else can be blamed for the dismissal than the batsman himself for backing up too much.The attitude of the spectators to Mankading is akin to the attitude towards the aforementioned dismissal.
When Ashwin Mankaded Lahiru Thirimanne at Gabba and appealed it spurred lavish emotions and hatred among Sri Lankans. Many of us thought it would be the most dispirited incident. The reason is that most of us when victimized by this mode of dismissial, look at it subjectively rather than objectively. The fact that this is the least expected mode of dismissal and since it’s perceived as something “unfortunate” from the batsman’s perspective makes it harder for the fans of the victim to digest. In other words these dismissals come as a shock and a blow to the spectators, which makes accepting Mankading an uphill task.
At the effectors end this time Sri Lankans sympathized with Senanayake, naturally, and the English felt they have been hard done. With the reversal of roles, there would have been reversal of opinions too.
So depending on the transitory emotions of the fans and some of the expert critics who were at the mercy of their emotions when they tweeted out their views, is it right to call Mankading a morally wicked behavior? How can an immoral act be legalized? Or How can law become immoral?
To find an answer lets strip the incident off its real life references. Senanayake never Mankaded Jos Butler, who was backing up too much. Instead a bowler called X Mankaded a batsman called Y who was backing up too far. So now there is no problem of patriotism and personal favoritism; intellect can function freely with no intrusion from our mind.
If you are gong to consider the act of Mankading immoral, even after issuing several warnings, why shouldn’t be the act of a Batsman to wander out of his crease after being shown the courtesy of being given two warnings considered immoral?
Sir Donald Bradman quoted after the first incident of Mankading saying that “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.”
There were myriad of tweets arguing that Jos Butler was not trying to “steal” a run, hence cannot be Mankaded. So had Senanayake actually delivered the ball, and had the striker hit it and run, Jos Butler certainly would not have needed to cover the length of the pitch completely, since he would have already covered a certain distance unfairly when the bowler was in his delivery stride. This is an unfair advantage gained by the batsman.
The by-runner system was decimated for the exact reason since batsmen started abusing and misusing the leniency, law offered to them. At the death it was a common site to find the runner, running for the striker, begin his run even before the ball is delivered.
The law has been unfairly bent to favor the batsman and bowlers undergo severe attrition. Allowing batsman this undue advantage would further worsen the plight of the bowlers. Batsmen need to be penalized for their act of insolence and infringement of rules. Since this mode of dismissal is one of the rarest it will be difficult for the spectators to digest the outcome especially if your team at the receiver’s end.
May be what Senanayake did would become an eye opener for the bowlers. It will open a new channel for the bowlers and Mathews’s spunky decision to uphold the appeal would mean bowlers in future would be encouraged to Mankade batsmen. Batsmen can no more be incautious. In the future we might be able to see more dismissals of this sort and, then, spectators would need to acclimatize. A future incident of Mankading would then, not become an outrage.
If the Brits are still going to think that Senanayake cheated, then the only ones who can answer the question Mathews raised, “How do you stop a batsman from backing up too far?” are the Brits themselves. Their intellect has the answer, but their mind will never accept it. Perhaps had England been profited, there would have been sundry grievances.