It’s That Mankad Again

In About the Game by Bill Ricquier

“So disappointed in him (sic) as a person…”. “Why do such a disgraceful and low act?” “This (sic) embarrassing and disgraceful act…”

What are we talking about here? A leaked (fake news) version of Robert Mueller’s report on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? The results of a survey as to whether Sir Philip Green should be ennobled for services to, er…?

No. These are extracts from Shane Warne’s twitter feed talking about Ravi Ashwin’s dismissal of Jos Buttler in the IPL match between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals at Jaipur on 25 March.

Buttler was playing what was clearly going to be the pivotal innings in the Royals’ run chase.

Buttler was the non-striker as Ashwin ran in to bowl the fifth ball of the thirteenth over. The Royals’ score was 108 for one, chasing 185, and Buttler was on 69, off 43 balls.

But Ashwin didn’t deliver the ball. Instead, he paused momentarily in the process of delivering the ball and whipped the bails off with Buttler just out of his ground. The run-out appeal was answered affirmatively by the TV umpire. Buttler, normally the soul of discretion on the field notwithstanding his pyrotechnics with the bat, was clearly furious. The Royals collapsed and lost but that seemed almost irrelevant compared to the storm of controversy the dismissal engendered.

Warne’s rant – is this part of an ongoing, and slightly improbable, attempt by Australia to claim cricket’s moral high ground? – was just an example. Most cricketers and former cricketers who gave their views on the matter were highly critical of Ashwin.

Is it strange that this should be so? It is a fact that this very specific form of dismissal, the running out of the non-striker by the bowler, is very rare in professional cricket. In his indispensable commentary on the Laws, Next Man In (2nd edition, 1985), Gerald Brodribb said there had been only 29 cases worldwide since 1835. It is hardly surprising that this was the first such case in the IPL.

Even then it is a little hard to comprehend the level of opprobrium heaped on Ashwin. Brodribb’s attitude is decidedly nuanced. This section of the book is illustrated by a drawing from the Victorian classic, Felix On The Bat, of a non-striker being run out. The caption reads “Never leave your crease unless you are sure that the bowler is not watching for his opportunity.”

In his text Brodribb asserts that “[s]ome run-outs carry little credit”; he refers expressly to cases like the Ashwin run-out. “Such dismissals” he continues “always cause controversy and smack of sharp practice” unless a prior warning is given.

Again one cannot help thinking that this is at least an arguable point. One of the first things a boy or girl taking up cricket learns is that when you are batting, but not actually facing the ball, you have to back up. This makes it easier to take singles as you are not taking off from a standing start. At the same time though, the boy or girl will be taught, or quickly learn through a sense of self-preservation, that if you venture too far too soon you may be run out. The bowler is perfectly within his or her rights in doing this at any time before delivery if the batsman is out of his or her ground. Clearly the bowler must have such a right to prevent the non-striking batsman, and his team, from gaining an unfair advantage.

Law 38 (“Run Out”) does not distinguish between different forms of that dismissal. It provides, as it has pretty well always done: “Either batsman is out Run out if, at any time while the ball is in play he/she is out of his/her ground and his/her wicket is fairly put down by the action of a fielder.” The only substantive amendment since the time of Brodribb’s second edition has been, intriguingly, the addition of the word “fairly”.

The most significant change in the Laws has come, as usual in respect of Law 41 (“Unfair Play”). Law 41.16 provides as follows:

“Non-striker leaving his/her ground early”

“If the non-striker is out of his/her ground at any time from the moment the ball comes into play until the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the non-striker is liable to be Run out. In these circumstances, the non-striker will be out Run out if he/ she is out of his/ her ground when his / her wicket is put down by the bowler throwing the ball at the stumps or by the bowler’s hand holding the ball, whether or not the ball is subsequently delivered.”

Away from the Twitterati the most interesting discussion about this has been on “The Final Word” Cricket Podcast presented by Adam Collins and Geoff Lemon. Lemon in particular is interesting on Law 41.16. The critical words as he notes, are those referring to “the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball”. Obviously up to a point this is an issue of timing: Ashwin could be expected to release the ball 0.0x of a second after planting his back foot. But on this occasion, as Lemon observed, Ashwin never “got into” his bowling action. Anyone watching, Lemon said, could have seen that he was not going to release the ball. Buttler’s problem was that he wasn’t watching Ashwin.

Lemon made a separate but related point about the impact of the Decision Review System (“DRS”). The non-striker used to stand wide of the stumps and could have at least a peripheral view of the bowler’s approach before focussing on his partner. Now the DRS requires the non-striker to stand closer to the stumps because he/she might be needed to help decide whether to review an lbw decision. That makes it harder to focus on the bowler’s delivery. Fraser Stewart, Laws Manager at MCC, has made the similar point that the non-striker and the bowler’s umpire, are particularly in the shorter formats, in the target area for big-hitting batsmen.

Both Lemon and Collins were struck by the fact that Ashwin paused unusually long and Stewart too, speaking on behalf of MCC (the custodian of the Laws) has stressed this point. This suggests an element of pre-meditation, as opposed to the instinctive reaction the bowler himself has spoken of.

Ashwin must certainly have been aware of the fact that Buttler has been “done” this way before. Indeed it is odd – or maybe not? – that for a form of dismissal that is so unusual, the same names keep reappearing.

Buttler was run out by Sachitra Senanayake in the fifth ODI between England and Sri Lanka at The Oval in 2014; Sri Lanka won the game and took the series 3-2. There was predictable bleating by the English about the spirit of cricket: more on this shortly.

In the fourth Test between Australia and the West Indies at Adelaide in 1968-69 the Australian batsman Ian Redpath was run out by bowler Charlie Griffith. Brodribb does not mention this in his book, but he does mention Redpath being run out by the bowler in a Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and Western Australia in 1962-63 and being reprieved.

The most famous cases though, took place on the Indian tour of Australia in 1947-48. The Australian opening batsman Bill Brown was run out twice by the bowler, in each case the bowler being the all-rounder Vinoo Mankad. Ever since a batsman dismissed in this way has been “Mankaded”. It seems strangely unfair that a form of dismissal that seems to be regarded as unfair is now the principal reason for remembering this genuinely great cricketer, particularly as Brown was the first to acknowledge that the fault was entirely his.

Going back to Ashwin, I mentioned that there was a feeling he had over-stepped the mark with his “pause”. Was this why Warne and the others were so upset? One can’t be certain – some commentators, such as Brad Hodge, called it that way from the start – but I don’t think so. I think the problem for many of Ashwin’s critics was that he did not give Buttler prior warning.

This seems odd in a way. Are security personnel in a department store supposed to give prior warnings to shoplifters? 

It is this question of the warning which seems to have given “Mankading” the perfidiousness hinted at by Brodribb. Like everything else it all started with Mankad himself. In his first encounter with Brown when the Indians played an Australian XI at Sydney, Mankad warned him about wandering outside his crease and ran him out soon afterwards. Then they met again when Brown was playing for Queensland. Brown wandered again, but Mankad just warned him. In the second Test, at Sydney, Brown was run out without a warning; he was Mankaded.

Griffith did not warn Redpath at Adelaide. The incident has been described as “infamous”. No doubt it was. Redpath himself, however, has been quoted as saying “Like an idiot, I decided to go walkabout.”

Which brings us back to Buttler. The incident at The Oval was very different from the Ashwin case. Part of the problem with the latter was that there was genuine room for doubt as to whether Buttler was out of his ground at the material time, though the TV umpire ruled that he was.

At The Oval he was well out of his crease. Even so – and this perhaps is the strongest possible evidence of the professional game’s attitude to Mankading – Sri Lanka’s captain Angelo Mathews was actually asked if he would like to withdraw the appeal; he declined. “He was taking starts, not only in this game but in the last game as well. We gave him two warnings and I don’t know what else you can do to stop him doing that.”

Ah yes, the spirit of cricket – Joe Root, the England Test captain, has asked for clarity before the World Cup. Well Law 41.16, like most laws, could no doubt be improved. But if he wants their star batsman not to be Mankaded, a little schoolboy coaching might not come amiss.

Bill Ricquier

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