We’ve all seen it by now. The Indian bowler prepares to deliver the ball. But halfway through the actual delivery, she suddenly stops and whips off the bails. The poor English girl is not looking. She is backing up, her attention wholly fixed and what is about to – but now won’t - happen at the far end. Huzzat? (Or whatever the equivalent is in Hindi.) Out! No question about it. The laws are quite specific about this. A batsman (sorry, ‘batter’, seeing as she was a woman) must remain in the crease until, and only until, the ball has been delivered. The act of running out a batsman backing up too sharply is perfectly legal.
So why has this simple and legitimate piece of quick thinking generated so much heat in TV studios, behind radio microphones, in the sporting press and in pubs up and down the land? Because it ‘just isn’t done’. It’s ‘not playing the game in the right spirit’. It is ‘mean and underhand’ – ‘it’s not cricket’. It is significant that the latest incident of ‘Mankading’ was performed by an Indian woman. After all, Indians have form here. The very first Test cricketer to gain a dismissal like this was Vinoo Mankad (hence the name) who ran out the Australian Bill Brown in the second Test of India’s tour of Australia in 1947-48. It was not well received back then as it was not well received at Lord’s last Saturday, when the England batswoman was similarly duped.
Anybody who has been on a cricket tour of the Indian sub-continent will know that players over there do not share the same assumptions about fair and unfair play as we do. Any sharp practice that does not actually break any rules is applauded, especially if the victim is a member of the former colonial race, who, after all, built an empire on sharp practice. The biter bit, eh?
On a schoolboy tour of the continent, the boys we played against were trying to Mankad us all the time. They would suddenly turn after one pace of making their way back to theirmark to deliver the ball while you were not looking, busy scratching your guard. They would wait until the ball was ‘dead’ in the field – or so we would assume – and then pick it up and hurl it at the stumps whilst we were gardening or heedlessly walking up the pitch to exchange a word or two with our partner. They would appeal for anything, even the most obvious not outs, in the hope, belief, really, that eventually the umpire would crack and raise his finger. And if somebody in the crowd was shining a mirror in your face while you were batting…. well, that makes up for forcing us to play in England when it’s cold and wet. They never saw this as cheating. They were not doing anything illegal. In fact, it was considered praiseworthy. The object is to win, especially if it’s against the English. The Spirit of Cricket? What a quaint, Anglo-Saxon custom. Victory is what counts.
All this seriously pissed us off. It had the effect of creating a siege mentality in the team. It was quite alien to us, far removed from the gentility of school cricket in the county age groups where we had grown up. In our defence, I can only offer that we were young and naïve; we should have accepted and understood that this was a clash of cultures; a different ethos and code of ethics were at play here. No one country holds the copyright of the correct and proper spirit in which to play the game. There was nothing personal in our hosts’ antics; indeed, after the game they were gracious and friendly, crowding into our dressing room, chatting excitedly and inspecting our kit, some of which, especially our bats, they would barter with us in an attempt to get us to part with them.Sui fueris Romae…. When in Rome and all that.
And yet…and yet…. Running somebody out who is inadvertently, as distinct from blatantly, backing up at the bowler’s end, without first giving a warning, has never sat easily with me. In county cricket, it was – and still is, I imagine – profoundly disparaged, behaviour beyond the pale. Nick Pocock, a good friend and former team-mate of mine at Hampshire recounted to me this incident which took place in a Hampshire v Sussex match. Nicholas Edward Julian Pocock (Shrewsbury) was the captain of Hampshire; John Robert Troutbeck Barclay (Eton) was his opposite number on the Sussex side. (You had to have at least three initials to your name to captain your county in those days.) Malcolm Marshall, the great West Indies fast bowler was bowling to Barclay. There was a sound as the ball passed the bat and eleven Hampshire players went up in unison for an appeal. Barclay remained motionless and the umpire said, “Not out!” For the rest of the over, Marshall peppered the luckless Sussex captain with a barrage of bouncers. At the end of the over, Pocock sidled up to Barclay. “Tell me, Jonny,” he enquired gently, “Did you hit that?” Rather shamefacedly, Barclay replied, “Yes, I’m rather afraid I did.” Marshall overheard the exchange and “went ballistic”, as Pocock described. “Whenever Macca got excited, his voice would go up an octave and he would speak faster and faster in a broad Barbadian accent. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. I asked Gordon Greenidge to come over and translate. ‘He’s going to kill that cheating bastard,’ Gordon told me. So far, so typical fast bowler.”
An over or two later, Barclay had engineered the strike such that he was at the non-striker’s end, safe for the time being from Marshall’s wrath. The West Indian ran in with those quick, short steps of his to bowl. He did not bowl another bouncer. He did not bowl at all. He stopped and whipped off the bails with Barclay stranded a yard out of his crease. Out! He started to trudge off the pitch in the direction of the pavilion.
“No, stop! Come back, Jonny!” shouted Pocock, “That’s not the way that Hampshire play their cricket. Umpire, we withdraw the appeal.”
“Nick, it’s alright, I’m going,” the Sussex captain assured him, “I was in the wrong. I’m prepared to go. Relieved actually.”
But Pocock insisted that the batsman be reinstated. But then he had a problem, a rebellious, recalcitrant fast bowler refusing to bowl if Barclay was brought back.
“Okay,” said Pocock, thinking furiously and quickly, “Dougal! Come and finish the over. Macca, leave the pitch please.”
More unintelligible Bajan patois. Greenidge was once more pressed into service as an interpreter. “Macca says that he is insulted at being replaced by gentle off-spinner. He will carry on bowling.”
It was an entertaining story, recounted many years later. But you can understand that the practice of ‘Mankading’ has always aroused fierce backlash.
But if you think the controversy is limited only to crafty Indians and excitable West Indians, think again. It happened to me once, when umpiring a Junior House match at school. “Not out!” I roared. “That is completely unlawful,” I lied, as a quick afterthought. The boy’s gleeful smile was instantly wiped off his face and the game proceeded without further incident. The meek acceptance of common sense was not replicated in an incident that happened over 60 years ago in the annual fixture between Malvern and Repton, a row that continues to simmer to this day. The Repton captain ran out his opposite number when he was backing up. “Perfectly legitimate,” claimed the Reptonian, “He was backing up shamelessly.” “I have never seen a more disgraceful act on a cricket pitch in all my life,” was the riposte of the Malvernian. The amusing part of the story is that the pair of them knew each other well, captaining their respective teams in all the age groups through the two schools, both at cricket and football, and they remain on the very best of terms. But they still bicker about it and neither has backed down.
All I can say is that in the professional game in this country, if you ever tried that trick, you would be persona non grata for the rest of your career, stained forever with the label of ‘cheat’, and would never be allowed to forget it either. Rather like diving in the penalty area, once you get a reputation, it can never be shrugged off.
“He that filches from me my good name robs me of that which enriches him and makes me poor indeed.”
Othello, as a Moor from north Africa, did not play cricket but knew well enough that sometimes a dubious act is just not worth the candle.