Arriving at the mid point of the IPL 2020 season, two topics have hogged the headlines. While the Super Over issue seems fairly settled, debate rages on about the non-issue that is Mankading.

Interesting perhaps what angle the debate would have assumed had some other bowler been caught in the net. But once again, as in the 2019 season, it was the astute Ravichandran Ashwin exposing the batsman’s attempt to cheat at the non-striker’s end.

Aaron Finch of the Royal Challengers Bangalore was caught walking out of his crease even as Ashwin (Delhi Capitals) was about to deliver the ball.

The big difference from last year? Ashwin let off Finch!

Controversy had erupted last IPL after Ashwin dismissed Jos Butler of the Rajasthan Royals who was their man in form. Criticism was hurled at Ashwin then captain of Kings XI Punjab for violating the so called spirit of the game.

This time on his social media account Ashwin said it would be the first and last time he had let off a batsman, with the move seen as a way of toeing the line laid down by Capitals coach and former Australia captain Ricky Ponting.

This is what Ashwin wrote: “Let’s make it clear!! First and final warning for 2020. I am making it official and don’t blame me later on.”

At the start of the 2020 season, Ponting was adamant that he would not let Ashwin do what he did with Kings XI Punjab, and that he certainly would not hand Ashwin the ball in the final over. Ponting said it was unbecoming of the gentleman’s game to Mankad a batsman.

As social media fans called out Ponting’s holier-than-thou preaching, he appeared to soften on the issue after a discussion with Ashwin who pointed out that teams may regret not making the move in a cliffhanger game.

While Ponting agreed that it was ‘cheating’ on the part of the batsman at the non-striker’s end to try to steal a run, his argument that such a win would feel hollow seemed out of place.

Ashwin later stated that he was friends with the Australian batsman, Finch, from his time with the Kings XI Punjab, and therefore had let him off.

The bowler could be accused of partiality and favouritism, but not of going against the spirit of the game.

Super Over Rule Settled

Who would have thought that the Super Over – at the heart of controversy at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 – would be a far easier issue to resolve than one that is already clear cut in the rule book of the game?

With so many matches ending up as close affairs, their propensity to be decided by a Super Over has proportionally gone up this IPL season in the United Arab Emirates.

The saga over the tied Super Over being decided by the boundary count came as a huge blow to New Zealand who became finalists to the eventual winners, England, in the epic World Cup final last year. Thereafter the backlash was substantial, the spectators wholly dissatisfied with the ICC decision not to declare the teams joint winners.

After months of backlash, the ICC came to revise the rule about a tied Super Over to allow more such overs to be played until a result is reached.

The amended rule was suitably put to the test in the match between the Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab when Punjab pulled off a sensational win in the second Super Over after the first one, like the match itself, was tied.

With fans suitably satisfied with the result and the process, a consensus about Mankading should not be hard to achieve.

Mankading by the Rules

With the Super Over the rule on dismissing the batsman at the non-striker’s end also underwent a wording revision, if nothing else. This time the onus was explicitly shifted to the batsman to plant himself well behind the crease untll the time of delivery rather than involving the bowler at the centre of the rule.

This is how the rule on Mankading goes:

“If the non-striker is out of his 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 out.”

The Marylebone Cricket Council stated while revising the wording:

“The bowler is criticised for attempting such a run out but it is the batsman who is attempting to gain an advantage. The message to the non-striker is very clear – if you do not want to risk being run out, stay within your ground until the bowler has released the ball.”

Simple enough. And not a new rule either.

Those claiming that Ashwin and bowlers like him who stand by the Mankad rule are violating the spirit of the game, by not warning the batsman first, must also explain why a batsman who is cheating should get away scot free.

Furthermore, what other dismissal – a catch, run out or a caught behind – demands that the batsman be warned? Doesn’t the batsman understand the rules of the game? Even gully cricket rules are clear and non-negotiable in this regard.

Captains who want to stand their ground against the rule must also realise that this is a free hit for the batsman on the opposition team, knowing that their attempts to cheat will be condoned by the captain of the fielding team. How does that playing into the spirit of the game, by making it harder on the bowler to enforce clearly laid down rules?

Penalize the team by way of runs for the batsman’s indiscretions. That is now the alternative being put forth. The idea behind this suggestion is that penalising the team would do more to deter the batsman from stealing a run.

It is a dubious take because inevitably the bowler will become the centre of trouble. It could be then argued that bowlers were deliberately stopping in their runup in a deliberate attempt to catch the batsman out.

The idea that an umpire could decide the dismissal or penalty is equally troublesome, given that umpires are already dealing with front foots and no balls.

Besides, when the batsman at the crease can be stumped or run out for being out of the crease or not making it in time, why should the non-striker be given any leniency for not upholding the basic rule, of keeping the bat grounded behind the crease line at all times, as they are taught by coaches from the beginning?

As Cricket Iceland aptly quipped on their social media page, Dhoni was violating the spirit of the game by stumping batsmen without warning. Point well made.

Why Edify Brown?

What’s in a name? Apparently everything if the likes of Sunil Gavaskar are to be believed. The former Indian captain was belligerent on the issue of calling it a “Mankad”, suggesting that it does little to honour Vinoo Mankad, who was instrumental in effecting the first such dismissal in international cricket. Gavaskar claimed that using the name only paints the former player in a bad light.

More to the point, if the words of the late great Donald Bradman are to be believed, the mention of Vinoo Mankad’s name is a poignant reminder of the need of uphold the laws of the game. Bradman was front and centre when Mankad dismissed Bill Brown in the 1947–48 series, a move similarly labelled as being against the spirit of the game by sections of the partisan Australian media.

This is what Bradman wrote in his book when touching upon the subject, which should fairly settle the matter:

“For the life of me, I cannot understand why. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered.

“If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out?

“By backing up too far or too early the non-striker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage. There was absolutely no feeling in the matter as far as we were concerned, for we considered it quite a legitimate part of the game.”

Mulvantrai Himmatlal Mankad, or Vinoo Mankad as he was popularly known, was the first Indian cricketer to reach the milestone of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in Test cricket – taking just 23 matches to do it.

He and Pankaj Roy held the record for the highest opening pair stand for over half a century, with 413 runs in the Madras Test against New Zealand in January 1956. Mankad scored 231 runs, a record broken by Gavaskar nearly three decades later.

Taking Mankad’s name with pride is not only negating the lamentable manner in which the former cricketer’s name was unfairly used in the past but also, identifying and honouring the bowler who was willing to implement the rules of the game and therefore, upholding the spirit of the game as a reminder that bowlers have as much a role to play in this great game as the batsmen do.

What is unsportsmanlike is the batsman at the non-striker’s end attempting to steal a run which is clearly an unfair advantage. What is against the spirit of the game is those in the fraternity looking to absolve the batsman despite knowing he is in the wrong.

What is in the spirit of the game, is upholding the rules of the game. The bowler should rest his case, as should the rest of the cricket world.

Cover Photo: Ravi Ashwin 'mankaded' Jos Buttler in IPL 2019. Pic: IPL/Twitter