I was listening to the BBC World Service on the radio and the presenters were going nineteen to the dozen about a Mankad incident which had happened in the opening match of this year's Indian Premier League. It was as if someone had comitted a terrible crime.
The ABC had this to say about the incident, two days ago:
Ravi Ashwin ran out Jos Buttler at the non-striker's end in the Rajasthan Royals' season opener against Kings XI Punjab in Jaipur, as the Englishman wandered out of his crease prior to Ashwin's delivery stride, assuming the Indian spinner was about to deliver the ball.
Instead, the Kings XI spinner paused and waited for Buttler to leave his ground before whipping off the bails.
- ABC News, 26th Mar 2019.
As you would expect, this offended the sensibilities of the presenters of the BBC World Service programme that I was listening to; who in what can only be described as a series of very English grunts, railed against this as being a 'low act' and 'an affront to the spirit of the game'.
Naturally, this being Radio 4 which is possibly the most singular expression of Englishness, where complaining about everything is itself a national sport, the bowler was chided as though he'd committed war crimes; and the crazy thing is that this was Rajasthan v Punjab, where England wasn't even playing, though given that it was Englishman Jos Buttler maybe that explains the jingoism.
By way of background, the Mankad is named after former Indian test cricket player Vinoo Mankad, who ran out Bill Brown in the second Test of India's tour in 1947/48¹. To do it once would have been notable but he had already done exactly the same thing to Brown in the game against an Australian XI (non-test team) earlier on the tour, while taking 8/84 in the match (run outs aren't included in bowling statistics).
The Australian captain at the time, Sir Donald Bradman no less, said of the incident:
For the life of me, I can't understand why the press questioned his sportsmanship. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the nonstriker 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 nonstriker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage.
- Don Bradman, 13th Dec 1948
To be honest with him, I think he was absolutely correct.
On the that note, I think that the spirit of every game is to win. Different games might have different win conditions and this includes collaborative games where everyone is trying to collectively arrive at the win conditions but if there are no win conditions, I don't think that what you have is in fact a game. Playing to win therefore is the spirit of the game.
I don't care if you are talking about playing a game of bridge on the kitchen table or the Football World Cup Final, the difference between the two is really only a matter of the scale of the audience who are looking on and playing by proxy. Really that's all televised sport is, it is many many people playing by proxy. While people joke that they might be playing 'for sheep stations' when in actual fact they're really only playing for the very ethereal and temporary glory which will fade and be forgotten, as far as the people playing are concerned, it may as well be identical in the moment.
It is precisely because playing games doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, which is why it matters so very very much. To that end, cheating is an affront to the spirit of the game because it is outside the defined scope of what the allowable win conditions are. What's up for dispute here is whether or not the Mankad is within the rules and on that point, the rules are tremendously dithering. You can not really look at the rules themselves to find out whether or not they like within the spirit of the game and so you need to look at the broader context of cricket itself.
As a bowler, your objective is to get the batsman out. In a Test Match, which is the highest form of the game, the win conditions mean that you must get more runs than the other side at the close of two innings each. To close out the other side's innings, unless they declare their innings closed, then the win condition is that the bowling side must take ten wickets². Actually, as a bowler in any form of the game of cricket, your objective is to take wickets.
I think that if a batsman has left their crease, then I don't care whether or not someone wants to label it as a 'low act', it is still the bowler's objective to get them out and if that means flicking off the bails while the batsman has left their ground, then so be it. By leaving their crease, the batsman has not only signalled that they are trying to gain an advantage but by doing so have already started to do so. They are already playing the game; so as far as I'm concerned, that's where this discussion ends. Mankads are in the spirit of the game because they are the bowler trying to achieve their objective.
I personally approve of Ravi Ashwin's actions because as a bowler it is his job to take wickets. The batsman Jos Buttler has already moved out of his crease and is already trying to achieve his job of scoring runs. I don't know how you can argue anything other than the game is already afoot and therefore it is already game on. The grand ontological question³ about whether or not the game has started is in my mind, settled; playing in the spirit of the game which is to meet the win conditions almost compels the bowler to take the wicket.
²To date, only Jim Laker and Anil Kumble have managed to take all wickets in an innings by themselves.
³ The Greek philosopher Parmenides thought that "existence is timeless". He would have been right when applied to cricket before 1939: