If Mankading is immoral make it illegal

The Cricket Under 19 World Cup is not usually an event that gets publicity but this year’s version in Bangladesh has. This is partly because of the pre event pull out of Australia for security reasons, partly because New Zealand and holders South Africa were upset by Nepal and Namibia respectively – but mainly because of a controversial incident in the game between West Indies and Zimbabwe where the winners would qualify for the quarter finals.

The match went to the last over with Zimbabwe needing three runs to win with one wicket left. The West Indies bowler Keemo Paul instead of bowling the first ball of the last over stopped to flick off the bails with non striker Richard Ngarava out of his ground. The umpire had no choice but to give him out after referring to TV replays and West Indies had won by two runs.

Cue uproar. Although Paul’s actions were legal under the laws of cricket running out a batsman for backing up too far is considered immoral. So much so the action even has a name – “Mankading”. This is named after the first man to dismiss a batsman by this method in Test cricket the Indian bowler Vinoo Mankad who on 13 December 1947 he ran out Australian Bill Brown who was the non striker backing up. Although he had done this to Brown earlier in the tour it was considered unsportsmanlike by the Australian press and is considered taboo. It has only happened three more times in Test cricket and not since March 1979. In one day cricket it has happened four times the last occasion was to England’s Joss Buttler in 2014. And it always causes controversy. England’s one day captain Eoin Morgan tweeted the following :

” Disgraceful behaviour in the U19CWC. WIs should be ashamed ”

While Buttler – a victim of “Mankading” himself  – said on social media :

“Can’t believe what I’ve just seen. Embarrassing.”.

And Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann weighed in with ” Unbelievable. Not out”.

But the fact is under the laws of cricket it was out. Paul had broken no law – just a vague unwritten moral code called the “Spirit of Cricket”. And unwritten laws always cause trouble precisely because they are unwritten. But there is a simple solution. If ” Mankading ” is so taboo why not make it illegal. There have been three examples in the history of one day cricket where actions were taken that were not illegal but considered unsportsmanlike or against the spirit of cricket. On each occasion the law was changed to make the action in question illegal.

The first one was on May 24th 1979. Somerset were away to Worcestershire in the Benson and Hedges Cup. They would qualify for the quarter finals unless they lost to Worcestershire Glamorgan beat the Minor Counties (South) – a certainty unless it rained – and both counties overtook Somerset on bowling strike rate ( number of balls bowled divided by number of wickets taken) which was used as a tie breaker if teams were level on points. So Somerset captain Brain Rose hatched a plan. He would bat first and declare after one over. It would mean that Somerset would lose the game but Worcestershire could not overtake them on strike rate and Somerset would be in the quarter finals. And he did. The match score was Somerset 1-0 declared in one over lost to Worcestershire 2-0 after 1.4 overs. Somerset were in the quarter finals.

But not for long. Although what Rose did was legal it was considered a “disgrace to cricket”, ” farce” and ” not in the spirit of the game “. Glamorgan – denied a quarter final place by Rose’s scheme – appealed to the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) and Somerset were disqualified for not complying with the spirit of cricket. The rules were amended to prevent declarations in one day cricket. Rose’s scheme was now illegal.

Later in 1979 came another incident. In a World Series Cup game on November 28 1979 West Indies needed three runs off the last ball of the match to win. Although star all rounder Ian Botham was bowling to number eleven Colin Croft England captain Mike Brearley positioned all ten fielders including the wicketkeeper on the boundary in order to make it harder for Croft to score the required boundary. Botham bowed Croft but again Brearley’s tactics – though legal – were considered against the spirit of cricket. Again the rules were changed to stop the scheme – in this case to limit the number of fielders allowed on the boundary (at the end of a one day innings teams are limited to five men outside the 30 metre circle).

The last example ” celebrated ” – if that is the correct word – its 35th anniversary on February 1st this year. In a World Series Cup game between Australia and New Zealand the Kiwis needed six to tie the game off the final ball. Australian captain Greg Chappell ordered his younger brother Trevor to bowl the ball underarm – that is to roll it along the ground making it impossible for Kiwi batsman Brian McKechnie to hit a six. Chappell junior obliged (one of the problems with sport in my opinion is its authoritarianism. Players are expected to obey the captain or coach making it very difficult for Trevor Chappell to disobey his captain – never mind his older brother). McKechnie blocked the ball threw his bat away and the controversy begun. The great commentator Richie Benaud was furious calling it a “disgraceful performance from a captain who got his sums wrong today” and even New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon called it an act of cowardice appropriate for a team wearing yellow. But again the Chappell plan was legal under the rules of cricket at the time but considered against the spirit of cricket. Again the rules were changed to make underarm bowling illegal.

Cricket has to make up its mind about “Mankading” once and for all. If they think it is a legitimate tactic stop complaining when anyone does it. If they think it is unfair make it illegal. Both are legitimate points of view. But the current position – where “Mankading” is legal but if someone does it they cop abuse from press fans and players is unsustainable. Cricket must decide. Is “Mankading” fair or not? If it is stop moaning about it. If it isn’t make it illegal. The current fudging of the issue is of no use to anyone.

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