Mankading - See the big picture amid the controversy
The game agonises over millimetres when it comes to no-balls, stumpings and run outs but ignores blatant excesses like backing up too far
Now that the IPL has earned a reputation for being a fearless innovator, the actions of Ravichandran Ashwin present it with the opportunity to continue to lead the way.
In a variant of the old saying, it could be a case of fools following where angels dared to tread.
The IPL is undoubtedly the lead innovator of franchise-based T20 cricket. The spectacle of the player auction, the mid-innings 'strategy' break, being prepared to move the tournament to another country and still retain branding rights; even the controversial move to ban players from a country are examples of an organisation prepared to think outside the box.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the IPL can hold its head high.
So now is the time for the IPL to take a stance on the ridiculous farce that Ashwin has brought sharply into focus with his warning to Aaron Finch and the run-out of Jos Buttler last year. That a true legend of cricket, Vinoo Mankad, has been linked to this mode of run-out for so many years is a disgrace to both the game of cricket and to India. It took another luminary in the form of Sunil Gavaskar, renowned for his courage under fire, to offer some suggestions that are surely worth investigating. The irony of a game that agonises over millimetres when it comes to no-balls, stumpings, run-outs and boundary ropes and yet ignores blatant excesses that can be measured in yards speaks volumes for the short-sightedness of cricket's lawmakers. Think of it…a tight run is analysed down to a split video frame but no thought is given to the fact that the non-striker may have stolen a metre at the other end. Imagine this being allowed in the long jump pit at the Olympics. And to make matters worse, the "cheat" (deliberate or accidental) is portrayed as the poor victim.
It wasn't always thus; when the Laws of Cricket were first drafted, this issue must have been seen in its proper context. Unlike other forms of run-out, this type of dismissal was classified under Law 41—Unfair Play.
Say it slowly. Unfair Play. The lawmakers clearly viewed it as not any old way of being dismissed—but rather, conduct by a batsman that is egregious enough to warrant the tag "unfair play". Punishable by being out—Run Out.
It beggars belief that conduct considered so bad as to be deemed to be Unfair Play somehow attracts an argument that awakens that old dinosaur, The Spirit of Cricket, from the brink of extinction.
This ridiculous argument is prosecuted along the lines that if a batsman cheats, it is the bowler who is cast as the villain.
This is where the IPL can take a lead role. Get the third umpire to monitor this (as is the case for front-foot no-balls) and either call a short run (if a run is taken) or issue a penalty run if it is a dot ball. Faced with a consequence that puts the onus on the batsman to play by the rules, it would not take long before this sharp practice can no longer hide under the cloak of hypocrisy.
Perhaps during a trial phase, whilst batsmen get used to this new rule of playing "fair", the umpires can be proactive by stepping in under Law 41.2 and acting on it as soon as they see (hear) it happening, even if the call is relayed to them by the third umpire. One warning and then the penalty is invoked. That will allow any batsman who claims that it is non-intentional to quickly change their habits. Again, I'm not sure what other sport allows athletes to 'steal' an unfair advantage by claiming it is not intentional but let's pretend that cricket still aspires to be The Gentleman's Game.
It is difficult to imagine what arguments can be mounted in defence of this practice of backing up too far. It may be habit but let's not use tradition as an excuse.
It is a poor sport where tradition enables the law to be broken where it unfairly benefits the culprit. Tradition is a thing of beauty, not a mask for deception. The IPL, with a history of pushing new boundaries, can once again be the catalyst that rocks the establishment to its core. And let us never refer to a great Indian cricketer with anything other than the respect and humility that his record as a gentleman so richly deserves.
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