Ravichandran Ashwin
Aaraon Finch of Royal Challengers Bangalore leaves the crease before Ravichandran Ashwin of Delhi Capitals delivers a ball in Match 19 of the IPL 2020 at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on October 5, 2020. Image Credit: BCCI

To Mankad or not to Mankad, is the question that’s burning the social media after Ravichandran Ashwin refrained from running out Aaron Finch. Whenever Mankading comes up for discussion, opinions have been polarising. So the twitter erupted soon after Delhi Capitals’ Ashwin let off Finch of Royal Challengers Bangalore with a warning.

If it’s within the rules of the game, who should there be a furore? That’s the nub of the problem. Such a dismissal, although legitimate, is deemed to be against the spirit of the game. Says who? Says the moral guardians of the game.

Why don’t these guardians deem a stumping to be against the spirit of the game? There too the batsmen go for a walk from the popping crease. He tries to meet the ball earlier than it is intended. You can find all sorts of technicalities to dismiss the argument.

What’s Mankading?
It’s a legitimate form of dismissal: a run-out. That occurs when a bowler runs out a batsman [the non-striker] who has left the crease before the bowling action is completed.

The spirit of the game is simply a bushelful of baloney. Cricket has never been a gentleman’s game. If it is, we would never have had the Bodyline series. The John Lever Vaseline episode. There are many more such unsavoury incidents.

So the spirit was broken long ago. Delhi head coach Ricky Ponting insists that he wouldn’t back Mankading. But the former Australian captain doesn’t have any qualms about sledging.

Sledging is not banned by the laws of cricket. There’s no mention of it. Does that legitimise sledging? All teams sledge. Does that make it acceptable?

Some of the sledging (remarks from the fielders aimed at disrupting a batsman’s concentration) may be humorous, but there are occasions when it crosses the line. There have been times the legality of a batsman’s birth or his wife’s fidelity has been questioned.

All these breach the limits of decency. Not just the spirit of the game. So anyone who has practised sledging or even condoned it cannot use the spirit-of-the-game excuse to lambast a bowler for running out the batsman, who has tried to steal a run.

We’ve [Sri Lankans have] always tried to play in the right spirit, but if the other teams are not going by the right spirit, not going by the law which is written, we have to take the law into our own hands. It’s fair enough I think.

- Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lankan player, in 2014

By leaving the crease too early, the batsman is trying to steal a run. He would need to run only less than 20 yards, and isn’t that a form of cheating. When did stealing and cheating become acceptable? And they call cricket a gentleman’s game.

As Kings XI Punjab captain last year, Ashwin was hauled over the coals when he ran out Jos Buttler of Rajasthan Royals, who was backing up too far. Ashwin was deemed to have paused mid-stride to allow Buttler to leave the crease before effecting the run-out. But Buttler is a serial offender.

He was dismissed similarly in England when the Sri Lankans toured in 2014. English captain Alistair Cook had the temerity to ask Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews to withdraw the appeal after Sachithra Senanayake ran out Buttler who had gone down by a yard. Mathews rightfully stood his ground.

Mumbai Indians’ head coach Mahela Jayawardene would remember the incident at Edgbaston. At the post-match press conference, he said: “We gave him [Buttler] a fair chance.” Jayawardene was referring to the two warnings given by Senanayake in the 42nd over before removing the bails in the 44th over.

“We’ve always tried to play in the right spirit, but if the other teams are not going by the right spirit, not going by the law which is written, we have to take the law into our own hands. It’s fair enough I think,” Jayawardene had said.

What Law 42.15 states
The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker.

This is what Senanayake and Ashwin did. They followed the law to the letter. The spirit of law depends on whom you are talking to.

Former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar was on the air, when Ashwin warned an errant Finch. “He didn’t have to,” was Gavaskar’s precise words during the Star Sports commentary. He’s spot on. Cricket is played according to the laws that govern it.

On a previous occasion, Gavaskar took umbrage at the dismissal being branded as Mankading. By using that term, Vinoo Mankad is bestowed notoriety for dismissing Bill Brown in the Sydney Test in 1947. What’s conveniently forgotten is Mankad’s warning to Brown in a previous tour game.

Predictably, the Australian press slammed the decision as contravening the spirit of the game. Defending Mankad’s action Don Bradman, the captain during that Test, wrote in his book Farewell to Cricket: “For the life of me I cannot understand why. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker 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?”

Gavaskar is absolutely right when he says the term should be named “Browned”, not “Mankading”. By terming it Mankading, you are punishing the bowler who was merely following the laws of the game, while the batsman who broke the law wallows in obscurity.

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The spirit of cricket, that’s an illusion. How many batsmen walk, when they have nicked it to the wicketkeeper. I can’t remember anyone other than Adam Gilchrist. How many captains have reversed their LBW appeal when they are convinced that was some bat in it? Have anyone recalled a batsman who’s been given out for a non-existent edge? In four decades, I have seen it once. Indian captain G.R. Vishwanath recalled Bob Taylor in the Bombay [now Mumbai] Test after he was given out. India lost the 1980 Golden Jubilee Test against England, but beyond some good words at the time nobody remembers it.

Monday’s incident during the IPL match took a life of its own on social media. Kolkata Knight Riders’ captain Dinesh Karthik too weighed in after Ashwin suggested a Free Ball on the lines of a Free Hit, if the batsman leaves the creases ahead of the delivery. A Free Hit is given when the bowler oversteps while bowling, a no-ball ensues. A batsman can’t be dismissed off a Free Hit. Ashwin’s Free Ball concept aims to dock the batting side five runs if the batsman is dismissed. That’s certainly food for thought.

The stigma from this [Mankading] run-out should be erased? How can it be done? All bowlers should follow Ashwin’s thinking. Only then will batsmen be alert. And when they are run out, the moral guardians will not yell blue murder.

And we won’t have the spirit of the game debate.