Ravi Ashwin Proves That Playing By The Rules Can Feel Like Cheating
Cricket is in uproar after an overnight incident in India. But was it fair play or foul?
In the opinion of this writer, it was a dark, cynical act that violates pretty much everything that makes cricket great. But let's run through the facts first.
In the overnight Indian Premier League match between Rajasthan Royals and Kings Punjab XI, Indian bowler Ravi Ashwin (Kings) dismissed England batsman Jos Buttler (Royals) by a rare form of run-out called a "mankad".
Named after Indian all-rounder Vinoo Mankad, who twice dismissed Australian batsman Bill Brown in said manner in 1947, the mankad is when the bowler runs in, and instead of bowling, removes the bails with the non-striker out of his crease.
The rule quite rightly exists to stop batsmen getting a head-start on stealing a single. Technically it's out, run out. But it's not that simple.
For years, the convention was to warn batsmen who habitually backed up too far. If they failed to heed the warning and you then mankaded them, fair enough. No arguments.
Not too long ago, the rule changed. No warning is now required. Law 41:16 of the Laws of Cricket states that:
If the non-striker is out of his/her ground from the moment the ball comes into play to the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the bowler is permitted to attempt to run him/her out.
So OK, you can now mankad someone without warning. Go for your life. And that's what Ravi Ashwin did.
Afterwards, when defending himself, he said "it is there in the rules of the game". Which it is. And in the face of criticism that his actions were not in the spirit of the game, he said one other telling thing:
I don’t know where the understanding of the spirit of the game comes from because quite naturally if it’s there in the rules, it’s there.
Many Indian commentators saw it similarly.
But sometimes in life, it's best not to obey rules to the letter of the law. It's like a cop letting you off for doing 62 km/h in a 60 zone. It's just common sense.
Cricket is unlike any other sport. For years, it prided and indeed marketed itself on being a "gentlemen's game". When that term came to be seen as archaic and possibly sexist, administrators introduced the term "the spirit of cricket".
Indeed, that spirit is enshrined in a preamble to the Laws of Cricket, which in part reads:
Cricket owes much of its appeal and enjoyment to the fact that it should be played not only according to the Laws, but also within the Spirit of Cricket.
That's the key point here. The spirit of cricket would have been to warn Buttler, even though the letter of the law says no warning was required.
Buttler was not cynically backing up in a blatant attempt to steal metres. He was just going through the rhythm of walking in with the bowler. And yes, he overstepped the white line of the crease. But no one in their right mind could argue he overstepped the bounds of sportsmanship.
But Ashwin did.
And guess what happened next? The Royals, who had been well on track to reach the 185 required for victory, collapsed after the Buttler dismissal from 1/108 to be all out for 170.
Ashwin won the game for his team. But it was far from a moral victory.