To mankad, or not to mankad?
It’s the question that’s getting asked more and more in world cricket, with cheeky run-outs of the non-striker, and other near-misses, seemingly multiplying.
Recent high-profile incidents have meant that the shadow of the mankad looms large over this year’s T20 World Cup.
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There’s a feeling in world cricket that the next mankad could strike any day, and trigger the millionth round of a debate that seemingly has no end.
That is despite cricket’s lawmakers taking the biggest step yet in trying to bring to an end the controversy surrounding the rare mode of dismissal.
New law changes made by the MCC, which came into effect on October 1, have legitimised the mankad by removing it from the ‘Unfair Play’ section of the game’s rules.
It is now simply classed as a runout.
In black and white, the mankad — running out a non-striker, who is out of their crease, instead of bowling the ball — is now as fair, and welcome, as a stumping or runout.
But the so-called ‘spirit of cricket’ casts countless shades of grey onto the argument, making the mankad still taboo for many cricket fans.
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Few sports hold the ‘spirit’ of their game in higher regard than cricket does and, as such, it’s feasible that the mankad will never be palatable for many.
For former India captain and coach Ravi Shastri, however, cricket is a game that should be simply played by its rules, just like any other sport.
As such, he thinks it should be open season for the mankad at the World Cup, and all cricket moving forward.
“My thoughts are very clear,” Shastri told foxsports.com.au this week. “It’s a law. I mean, a batsman has no business to be wondering out of the crease before a ball is bowled.
“And as the law in cricket says, if you’re doing that, the bowler is perfectly entitled to take the bails off.
“I know (the old rule) was there for a long, long time so a lot of players are still trying to get to terms with that new law of taking off the bails or not.
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“But as a coach, I would tell my players ‘just go out and do it, it’s a law. You’re not cheating, you’re not doing anything, it’s part of the game. The batsman should know his business, and the bowler will know his business”
Asked about the outrage every time a mankad occurs, Shastri said the new rule should make it an open-shut case.
“There is outrage but it’s because that law didn’t exist for that long,” said the 80-Test great.
“I mean, I don’t believe this where you warn the guy once and then the second time you do it. It’s like me telling a fielder ‘you dropped me once, second time you can catch it’.
“It is cheating if you’re going out of you’re crease, you’re trying to steal a march over the opposition and the bowler … so hold your ground until the ball has been bowled, as simple as that.”
Complicating the matter further, however, is the wording of the rule, which leaves some room for interpretation.
The law, covered by 38.3.1 in the laws of cricket, 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 words “normally have been expected” are problematic in the bid to bring the mankad controversy to a close once and for all, because not all mankads are the same.
For example, a non-striker could clearly take-off prematurely, the bowler notice the movement in the corner of their eye, and elect to take the bails off.
Another bowler, however, could be so desperate for a wicket that they pretend to bowl, deliberately stall, and try their luck, hoping that the non-striker won’t notice and wander forward with their eyes fixated on the striker.
Whether or not the non-striker was in their crease at the moment the ball “normally” would have been delivered becomes almost impossible to discern.
This was arguably the case in September when Deepti Sharma won an ODI for India at Lord’s when she dismissed England’s Charlie Dean at the non-striker’s end.
India had deemed that Dean was a serial offender for leaving her crease early during the game, while Deepti later said that she had been repeatedly warned.
With England needing 16 runs to pull off a one-wicket win, captain Harmanpreet Kaur was seen gesturing towards her bowler, and Deepti then whipped off the bails after stalling at the crease.
Who was in the wrong is up for debate. Either way, it was Dean that was left in tears.
It was a similar incident to one in 2019 when India’s Ravichandran Ashwin mankadded Jos Buttler, despite the batter not being in an obviously advantageous position at the moment the bowler entered his stride.
More recently, Buttler was involved again when Mitchell Starc gave the Englishman a warning for leaving his crease early.
“I’m not Deepti, but I can do it,” Starc was heard saying on stump mic. “Doesn’t mean you can leave your crease early.”
Afterwards, Starc suggested that third umpires should simply check where the non-striker stands at every ball, in the same way they check for no-balls, and penalise the team if they have left their crease early.
Earlier this month, India bowler Deepak Chahar had a clear chance to perform a mankad of his own to South Africa’s Tristan Stubbs, but he let him off with a warning.
Those warnings could soon dry-up, however, with this year’s T20 World Cup the first tournament to be held under the new rules.
And while some players have been inclined to give warnings in the past, Shastri thinks that with the green light, everyone will do the same thing if a big result is on the line.
“One run to win and one ball to go, and if the non-striker is out of his ground do you think any bowler is not going to take off those bails?” Shastri said.
“He will, rest assured.”