It was just a matter of time. Yet it was entirely fitting that the latest Mankading Incident should erupt on Groundhog Day 2016. The date notwithstanding, it was, of course, just like the one in 2014. And the one in 2012. And the one in [that’s enough Mankad examples—Ed.].
What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was the same, and it always involved mankading? pic.twitter.com/4hcW6V7aqR
— Erik Petersen (@CricketErik) February 2, 2016
Except it wasn’t. For without warnings from the bowler, nor blatant attempts by the batsman to steal ground, you could view this as a purer example. To use a programming term, this was an boundary condition: one in which the parameters are placed close to their perimeter, so as to test the system. The fact that the the batsman was apparently not attempting to gain ground, and the bowler was apparently always intending to run him out, was a twist on the usual situation. The opportunity to re-evaluate one’s own attitude under different conditions makes this latest furore almost welcome, even though on first glance, it seems like covering old ground.
Chris Smith’s careful handling of the matter is well worth consideration, going some way towards teasing out why many will have felt uncomfortable about the situation, and yet explaining why he, ultimately, supports such action.
For me, it’s been an opportunity to revisit my thoughts on the subject from 2012. On the whole, my view has changed little: I maintained then, and still do, that to criticise a bowler for effecting a fair dismissal, explicitly permitted (and regulated) in the Laws, on the basis of the Spirit of the Game, is an abuse of that concept, and is counter-productive.
At the same time, the passage of three years has resulted a slight shift in my opinion of what action should be taken. David Hopps, most notably, is leading the call for a mandatory warning to be issued to the batsman.
ICC must make unambiguous ruling on a Warning because game is utterly bewildered, especially at amateur level. It would be better to keep it
— David Hopps (@DavidKHopps) February 2, 2016
Nothing wrong with a warning. I'd enshrine a warning in Laws and after that legitimise Mankading for that batsmen https://t.co/UBSFyFceta
— David Hopps (@DavidKHopps) February 2, 2016
The idealist in me rejects this as an unnecessary alteration to Laws that are already ultra-clear. The pragmatist in me suggests this may be a sensible compromise that may help to bridge the divide in opinion.
The Laws, of course, are unambiguous. The MCC Laws of Cricket give Mankading a clean bill of health, specifically addressing it in Law 42.15. The difficulty arises, at least in part, due to the fact that knowledge of the Laws cannot be relied on, even amongst cricket lovers. Furthermore, the idea of warning the batsman first is so thoroughly ingrained in the perception of so many cricketers that it has to be given due consideration, and cannot merely be dismissed as irrelevant sentimentality.
For many, such behaviour isn’t what they wish to see in cricket. Their difficulty is that cricket’s Laws don’t outlaw it. Others believe, and I’m in this category, that if something’s in the Laws, there can be no quarrel with its enforcement.
If, though, the Laws were to change, providing support for the first group, then the second group, by virtue of the fact they they’ll stick rigidly to what the Laws prescribe (present tense), should, in theory, find themselves pulling in the same direction as the first group.
For that reason I find myself tending towards what might be termed the Hopps Solution. While my idealist side inwardly screams that it simply isn’t necessary, my pragmatic side says that it may be of some benefit. Enshrining a warning in the Laws would be unlikely to remove all the controversy—note that warning Buttler did not save Mathews from the ire of many (including Cook)—but as a practical first step, it has some merit.
Implementation would require careful consideration. Most obviously, there is the question of what would constitute a warning. Would a feinted Mankad count? Would a successful Mankad have to be effected, but without any appeal made? Or would a verbal reminder to the batsman that a Mankad was lurking suffice? These are not insoluble questions, though.
As an alternative to the Hopps Solution, MCC could change Law 42.15 to explicitly flag up that no warning shall be expected (which would run counter to their 2014 recommendation to provide a warning), or re-write the Preamble (which attempts to explain the Spirit of Cricket) to underline the fact that Mankading is not a contravention of the Spirit.
Regardless of whether any action is taken or none, Mankading is not going away, and neither will the debates. Whether you support change or not may well depend on your appetite for another Groundhog Day.