Timed out! That’s what happened to Angelo Mathews. It’s in the laws of cricket. We’ve all heard about it but never seen the law implemented until Monday. The incident during Sri Lanka’s match against Bangladesh in the Cricket World Cup 2023 is the first in 146 years of international cricket. Which is why there’s been so much discussion and debate around it.
If you haven’t followed, here’s what happened in New Delhi. After Sri Lankan batter Sadeera Samarawickrama’s dismissal, Mathews arrived at the crease to take the strike and found that his helmet strap had snapped. He called for another helmet, which was brought to him, causing a delay in the resumption of the game. Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan appealed for a timed-out dismissal, and the umpires upheld it.
Mathews was livid and left the field fuming without facing a delivery. He continued his tirade on social media, posting time-stamped images and videos that showed he was at the crease before two minutes elapsed. He said the broken helmet strap was an equipment malfunction, and he was at the crease. But the rules make no allowance in time for equipment malfunction.
What the laws of cricket say
Let’s get one thing straight. It was a legitimate dismissal. Mathews hadn’t taken the strike within two minutes, contravening Law 40 in cricket. It says: “After the fall of a wicket or the retirement of a batter, the incoming batter must, unless Time has been called, be ready to receive the ball, or for the other batter to be ready to receive the next ball within 3 minutes of the dismissal or retirement. If this requirement is not met, the incoming batter will be out, Timed out.”
For ICC tournaments, the incoming batter should face the next ball two minutes after the previous dismissal. This is the rule that caught Mathews on the wrong foot.
Has this happened before? Not in international cricket, but there have been six instances in first-class cricket. Andrew Jordan of Eastern Province, South Africa, was the first to be timed out when he failed to reach the ground to resume his inning the next day in the match against Transvaal as the streets of Port Elizabeth were flooded.
India’s Saurav Ganguly nearly became the first timed-out victim in international cricket in the 2006-07 series in South Africa. He arrived at the crease after a six-minute delay during the third Test in Cape Town as Sachin Tendulkar was ineligible to bat immediately (he had to wait for a further 18 minutes, the duration he spent off the field) and the next batter VVS Laxman was in the shower. Fortunately for Ganguly, Proteas’s skipper Graeme Smith did not appeal for a timed-out dismissal.
Timed out is one of several unusual ways of dismissing a batter, including handling the ball and running out the non-striker who is backing up. These modes of dismissals often rake up the topic of the spirit of cricket and references to the gentleman’s game.
Indian batter Virat Kohli was spotted picking up the ball and handing it to the bowler or the wicketkeeper during the match against South Africa on Sunday. If a rival player appeals, Kohli would have no leg to stand on. He can glare at the rivals, but the dismissal will hold as it’s legitimate. So Kohli should be careful and ask the player’s permission.
Unlike a non-striker stealing a few yards in the Mankading dismissal, by handing over the ball the batter derives no advantage. So is the case with Timed out. Mathews didn’t gain any unfair advantage, but his delay clearly contravened the law. So the umpires had to uphold Shakib Al Hasan’s appeal.
Mathews has reason to be aggrieved but no legal backing. Since Timed out has never happened in international cricket, he may not have realised that he was violating a law. Now cricketers will be more careful. They will remember Mathews.
What could he have done? Mathews could have played a ball and called for a helmet change. It would have ensured that he faced the ball inside two minutes after the previous batter’s dismissal. Or he should have sought the permission of the umpire or the opposing captain to change the helmet. Maybe that could have saved him.
Did Shakib Al Hasan’s action violate the spirit of the game? No, not at all. As captain, he used the law to his team’s advantage. There was nothing unfair about it. After all, the spirit of the game should be upheld by adhering to the laws of cricket. Shakib Al Hasan did just that.