Last spring my son came home all excited from a cricket match beaming ear to ear! He ranted and raved about his amazing performance that day, but one word stuck with me, I didn’t really understand what he meant when he excitedly screamed into my ears, “I ‘mankaded’ and caught Navin on the wrong foot, taking a head start in this way is shameful!”
I interrupted him, “What is ‘mankaded’, is it some kind of abuse?” In so many years I had never heard of this verb in relation to cricket.
Then the lad explained to me that when a batsman on the non-striker’s end is out of the crease, the bowler can get him run-out before bowling a ball. As he gulped down water, he explained to me that it all started when Vinoo Mankad, an all-rounder, ran out an Australian batsman — twice — during a tour of 1947-48, lending his name to a form of dismissal which, while being perfectly legitimate according to the laws of the game, is not gentlemanly enough!
That day the cricket academy’s WhatsApp group was swarming with various opinions about this dismissal of the day. I wondered whether it was akin to sledging, was my son going astray? Thus, I argued with the kid, “Don’t you think it is a little unfair to get somebody out that way, I mean he could probably have been out of the crease because of excitement!”
The kid’s voice gathering momentum, he squealed, “The umpire had warned the batsman once, he wanted to take a head start in a previous ball too... so I guess it was fair to get him run out, as he wasn’t being fair and gentlemanly!”
This ‘mankad’ term still perturbed me and it cajoled me to call my father, who was supposedly an authority on cricket.
My mother answers the call and I tell her abruptly,
“Can you pass the phone to baba, I have to ask him about ‘mankad’!” I heard her exclaiming loudly, as if she had just heard an expletive on the mouthpiece! I wondered why. I heard her squirming voice, as it told my father, “She wants to ask you about that ‘Mann ki baat’, what’s wrong with this girl?” Thanks to the poor network and her receding power of hearing, she changed ‘mankad’ to ‘mann ki baat’!
“Mann ki baat? That’s the one-way conversation the Indian prime minister has with the citizens,” blurted my father, even before the “hello” could be uttered by me... when I told him that it was ‘mankad’ that I meant, he seemed calmer.
“The boy is legally right; that rule holds true. But yes, the batsman at the non-striker’s end needs to be warned. The game has to be played in the true spirit of sportsmanship!”
And now, recently when I heard the word mankad during an IPL match I experienced deja vu of the weirdest kind! There was a volley of arguments on social media, the debates turned ugly and unreasonable at times. Famous cricketer versus commentators, “vigilantes” versus liberals and the myriad extrapolation of facts seemed to be flooding the place! News channels showcased ridiculous presenters, trying to role-play a ‘mankad’ attempt as they threw at us their outrageous antics.
Coincidentally I was reading a book which described how queen Sita was lured into setting her foot outside the “crease” that her brother-in-law had drawn for her and paid heavily for it! I somehow drew an analogy between the two events.
There are rules that give us the right to catch a person on the wrong foot and punish them for the same, however the rules come with unsaid/unwritten principles and ideals that lie embedded in them. The line is very thin... and it is left to us to decide whether we want to ruthlessly erase that moral compass and attain our goals in life.
Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp