The story so far : Two weeks ago, Rajasthan Royals’ Jos Buttler was run out by Kings XI Punjab bowler R. Ashwin in an IPL game in Jaipur. Buttler wandered out of his crease at the non-striker’s end before Ashwin had delivered the ball. The India off-spinner proceeded to take the bails off, in a hugely controversial form of dismissal colloquially known as the ‘Mankad’. The name is derived from the great Indian all-rounder Vinoo Mankad, who famously ran out Australia’s Bill Brown in this fashion in the Sydney Test in 1947.
What do Laws of Cricket say?
The provision to run the non-striker out is clearly laid out in the Laws of Cricket. The ‘Mankad’ is a thoroughly fair, legal act, as even Don Bradman, who was captain of that Australian team in 1947, insisted back then. Law 41.16, which pertains to the “Non-striker leaving his/her ground early,” states: “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.”
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the custodian of the Laws, has tweaked the Mankad rule and changed its wording over the years. In the 2017 Code, “Bowler attempting to run out non-striker before delivery” was replaced with “Non-striker leaving their ground early” in order to put the “onus on the non-striker to remain in their ground.” To emphasise this point further, on April 1 this year, the MCC slightly rephrased Law 41.16 again, replacing “the bowler is permitted to run [the non-striker] out” with “the non-striker is liable to be run out.”
Also changed in 2017 was an important aspect of the law. Previously, the bowler was only permitted to run out a non-striker backing up before entering his delivery stride. “This meant that as the bowler’s back foot landed, the non-striker could move down the wicket a considerable way before the bowler actually delivered the ball. This was considered unfair,” notes the International Cricket Council Match Officials’ Almanac 2017-18 (the ICC’s interpretation of the Laws).
The new playing condition permitted the bowler to run the batsman out “at any point before he releases the ball provided he has not completed his delivery swing.”
Why, then, is it frowned upon?
It is cricketing convention that a bowler at least warns a batsman who has backed up too far before attempting to run him out (if not refuse to consider this form of dismissal altogether) — although there is nothing in the Laws to this effect. In a World Cup match in Lahore in 1987, Courtney Walsh chose not to run out Saleem Jaffar in this way in the last over, when West Indies needed a wicket to win and lost the match. Bowlers have traditionally shied away from this mode of dismissal; the Mankad is taboo and anyone attempting it invites extraordinary criticism. Batsmen should not be Mankaded, it has been said, when they are not backing up out of the crease intentionally. But it is difficult to establish intent; and at any rate, a yard gained at one end is a yard gained at another. A run has been shortened, intentional or not. Part of the problem is that the Mankad seems to occur outside the natural structure of the game — the contest between bat and ball. That a batsman may be dismissed even before the bowler has delivered the ball perhaps creates the sense that the Mankad is a dishonest or underhand tactic. The bowler ought to, the argument goes, use bowling skills to defeat the batsman. It has also been suggested that the ball does not feel in play when the Mankad takes place. But the Laws make it quite clear that (20.5) “the ball ceases to be dead — that is, it comes into play — when the bowler starts his/her run-up or, if there is no run-up, starts his/her bowling action.” The most vociferous argument against the Mankad, though, is that it goes against the ‘Spirit of Cricket.’ In 2000, the Laws included, for the first time, a Preamble on the Spirit. “Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this Spirit causes injury to the game itself,” it says. But this spirit is applied arbitrarily and conveniently and, it could be argued, more harshly to bowlers than to batsmen. A batsman who leaves his crease early is not deemed in contravention of the spirit but a bowler who seeks to dismiss him is seen as taking unfair advantage. This bias perhaps has its roots in the origins of the game in England, and the distinction between amateur upper-class ‘gentlemen,’ typically batsmen, and professional working-class ‘players,’ largely bowlers. “The early professionals were usually hired by gentlemen to play for their teams or by the MCC as practice bowlers, the first of these being taken on in 1825. From the outset amateurs tended to be batsmen while professionals were bowlers, and their relationship, effectively that of masters and men, was defined partly through accommodation, partly through struggle,” writes Stephen Wagg, in a chapter on English county cricket in Amateurs and Professionals in Post-war British Sport . In the case of the Mankad, it would appear that tradition is being conflated with morality. It is not as if the bowler is exploiting a loophole in the Laws. Should cricketers be expected to follow such convention — with no logical basis — rather than effect a dismissal that is explicitly fair under the Laws?
Was Buttler dismissal legal?
As per Law 41.16, the bowler can run the non-striker out till the instant when he would “normally have been expected to release the ball.” It has been argued that Ashwin delayed his action to allow Buttler to leave his ground and the Englishman would have been in his crease had Ashwin delivered the ball as usual. This delay has been seen as a calculated trick on Ashwin’s part and not “instinctive,” as he put it. But what is “normal”? The ICC Match Officials’ Almanac, which umpires follow, interprets it physically: “The normal point of ball release should be interpreted as the moment when the delivery arm is at its highest point.” Ashwin’s arm does not go up at all, leave alone reach the highest point. By that yardstick, the dismissal is a legal one. The MCC initially reserved its judgment on whether Ashwin deliberately delayed his action, instead pointing out that it was “understandable” how the TV umpire opted to give Buttler out. A day later, however, Fraser Stewart, the MCC’s laws manager, felt the act was not within the Spirit of Cricket. “We think that Buttler was in his ground as Ashwin got into a position when the non-striker could reasonably have expected the ball to have been delivered,” he said. Ashwin’s lower body does appear to get into delivery stride even as his arms drop. But could the non-striker have reasonably expected anything about the ball’s release when he wasn’t watching the bowler and the ball?
The stigma around the Mankad has to be broken down: neither should the non-striker’s attempt to leave his ground early nor the bowler’s attempt to run him out be seen as deceitful. The batsman’s act — whether intentional or mindless — should simply be seen as a risk in the pursuit of a run. This would render irrelevant any ethical debate on the Mankad. The Laws could be clearer on what a “normal” point of ball release is. But it would be a challenge to find a better, enforceable definition for it. If more bowlers saw they were being exploited and treated the Mankad as a legitimate form of dismissal, more non-strikers would stay in their crease and watch bowlers till they released the ball.