Spiritual hogwash

The spirit of cricket should stop interfering with its laws.

Kartik's mankading this week raises questions about the relevance of aged notions. Exhibit A

Pepsi knows a thing or two about the zeitgeist. Their latest television commercial shows youth icon Ranbir Kapoor harassing MS Dhoni. Ranbir instructs the India captain to lose his good manners at the World Twenty20. “Yeh T20 hai, boss*,” he says. “Yeh na tameez se khela jata hai, na tameez se dekha jaata hai.”

It’s unclear if Pepsi formed this cringeworthy opinion by watching only those games that Munaf Patel has played. But they are probably right in suggesting that the game has changed since the time the old fogies at Marylebone Cricket Club defined the Spirit of Cricket. Which brings us to...

Exhibit B

At the U-19 World Cup recently, Bangladesh’s Soumya Sarkar mankaded Australia’s Jimmy Pierson. Australia asked Bangladesh to reconsider their appeal. Bangladesh didn’t budge. They had a quarterfinal to win. Australia's coach Stuart Law showed his progressive outlook by not whinging about cricket’s spirit being violated by the run-out. “It is in the laws of cricket... it is out,” he said. The interesting bit here is that a U-19 team stood by their actions despite the associated taboo. Senior teams have tended to be old school with such touchy matters.

THE ZEITGEIST

You’d be surprised by the things that were once taboo in cricket. Till around the 1860s, over-arm bowling was illegal. All bowling was under-arm and later round-arm. Then, one Edgar Willsher trashed the round-arm laws of the mid-19th century. Helped by his defiance, the art of bowling evolved. With the development of over-arm bowling, progressions such as reverse swing, the breaking of speed barriers, the googly, the doosra and many more happened. Without Willsher’s catalytic rebellion, you’d still be seeing bowlers making dull under-arm lobs. Try that for a spectator sport.

Then, there’s the reverse-sweep. In a domestic game in the 1920s, KS Duleepsinhji changed his stance from right to left and played a ball to third-man. The opposition considered this “unfair play” — an expression you’ll see multiple times in that MCC preamble — and appealed for his wicket. The umpires obliged. The reverse-sweep didn’t remain taboo, but very few batsmen played it till the 1990s. Now, it is everywhere. The game moved on.

So let’s come to a part of the game that needs to move on.

TO MANKAD, OR NOT TO MANKAD

The original MankadingThis week, Surrey’s Murali Kartik mankaded Somerset’s Alex Barrow. Marcus Trescothick, the Somerset captain, played the incident by the book. “I'm very disappointed,” he said. “It’s not something you want to see in cricket. I've never witnessed anything like it before at any level. Theoretically, Alex was out, as we all know, but it was against the spirit of the game.”

Note that the MCC preamble doesn’t specifically frown upon mankading – it has happened many times in international cricket. It’s a legal mode of dismissal that continues to be looked down upon by some cricketers. But Somerset fans directed abuse at Kartik. It's not like their captain is the standard bearer of cricketing ethics. England had won the 2005 Ashes with the help of some spectacular reverse swing bowling created in part by Trescothick illegally polishing the ball with peppermints. England owe their finest triumph of this generation to cheating.

Earlier this year, Ravichandran Ashwin had mankaded Sri Lanka’s Lahiru Thirimanne. The worn-out ‘spirit of the game’ lines were pouted again. On air, Tom Moody called it “a shame”. Virender Sehwag withdrew his appeal when prompted by the umpires. Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said “I don’t play like that.” He then said, “The spirit of the game was the winner.” No matter that Thirimanne continued to violate that spirit by repeatedly leaving his crease after the incident.

It’s unclear why the spirit must keep winning at the cost of the game’s laws. In 2011, Dhoni had run-out Ian Bell legally but was asked to withdraw his appeal. He obliged, and in doing so, violated Law 27.8 which says a batsman can’t be recalled if he has left the field of play. 

This concept of sporting spirit stems from cricket’s amateurish days when Britain ruled the world. Cricket was one of the tools the empire used to further their beliefs and way of life. Courtesies and fairness were expected of the gentlemen who played the game. But the game has moved on.

In the professional era of sport, you don’t make allowances for the opposition. Not mankading a batsman is one such allowance. In modern cricket, there are few Courtney Walshes, many Saleem Jaffers and so it is time the game moved on.

An interesting aside regarding the Pepsi commercial: Dhoni has won the IPL Fairplay award three times in five years. Don’t expect him to start a riot in Sri Lanka.

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ALSO SEE:

The laws on 'Mankading'
Lob bowling
The stupidity of spirit

(*This is T20, boss. You don’t need good manners to play it or see it.)

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