GAME PLAN: Spirit evaporates when stakes are high

Jaideep Ghosh

Representational image Photo-PTI

Representational image

I’m actually quite pleased that the West Indies used ‘Mankad’ system to make their way into the ICC Under-19 World Cup. At least now some people are actually paying attention to the whole thing.

The U-19 World Cup, with all due respects, is really one of those many non-happening events that the International Cricket Council insists on carrying on with.

The sheer difference in the qualities of the sides is amazing. On one side, you have teams like India, where many of the youngsters are on the fringe of first-class cricket, if not having played already. Even sides like England now have players with County credentials.

Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have sides like South Africa and New Zealand or Zimbabwe, who are schoolchildren really, thrown into the deep end.

So, to all intents and purposes, it’s an unequal contest, especially since the ICC insists that it is ‘globalising’ the game, through sides like Nepal, Ireland, Afghanistan and Namibia.

Please note that the global involvement is by and large from exactly the same sides as 10 years ago.

So, with all of these things going on in half-deserted stadia in Bangladesh, the ‘Mankad’ issue was, well, quite interesting.

To cut a long story short, Zimbabwe needed three runs to win with one over left when West Indies bowler Keemo Paul broke the stumps at the non-striker’s end when running up to bowl.

Zimbabwe last man, Richard Ngarava, was just outside the crease, literally millimetres, and was adjudged out after the Caribbeans insisted on keeping the appeal alive.

As a result, the West Indies entered the quarter-finals, while Zimbabwe, who ideally should have won long before the last over, went home.

Immediately, the cricketing world was divided. While some of the older hands were appalled by the act, especially coming from the young and supposedly innocent, others said it was all within the rules.

Here is where the debate gets interesting.

Here we have the ICC, eternally touting integrity and honesty in cricket, while the game has a series of cases involving match-fixing and betting.

Then, it is also a major advocate for the ‘spirit of cricket’, but the cases of people taking unfair advantage at every opportunity isn’t unheard of either.

What is beyond my understanding is that if a certain action is against the ‘spirit’ of the game, why is it still in the rule books? Look at the famous case of Trevor Chappell bowling underhand to New Zealand. Absolutely against the ‘spirit’, but within the rules, wasn’t it?

Similarly, if ‘Mankading’ is not outside of the rules, why so much song and dance if it is implemented? Sure, a little warning may have worked, but then, where’s the fun in that?

Cricket has rules where the ball ricocheting off the wicketkeeper’s pads or gloves and breaking the stumps can be translated into a stumping.

Equally, if a bowler gets a finger to a balls truck back at him, and the ball then breaks the stumps, the non-striker is out. All in the rules.

Cricket is a game where the rules have been bent to the maximum. Look at the bats and batsmen.

The face of the bat has to subscribe to some dimensions, which it goes. But there’s nothing in the book about the thickness of the bat, so there are pieces of willow around the world now, where you can find edges which are almost as thick as the middle!

No stops on the batsman using the back, edge, shoulder or back of a bat to get runs. No rules against them switching grips without warming, or about where they hit the ball. No rules against using the pads, gloves, helmets, thigh or elbow pads to deflect the ball and get runs.

And what does the bowler get? Pretty much the same rules as a century ago. Same ball for 80 overs in a Test, two different ones in an ODI, which is more beneficial to the batsmen really and restrictions on fielders.

So if an occasional bowler takes the bails off at the non-striker’s end as the batsman is trying to steal an extra yard, so be it. All within the rules, after all.

Former India left-arm spinner Murali Karthik, who had the entire might of the British Empire on his case when he Mankaded a batsman during a County match puts is succinctly. “It’s just another form of dismissal,” he observes. So there you go.

One feels sorry for the young Zimbabweans, no doubt. They thought they were on the verge of winning and making it into the quarter-finals. But maybe that in itself would be a lesson for them, to be more vigilant when playing other sides.

Its a jungle out there, after all. The rules are those of the jungle, and ‘spirit’ has fallen prey.