‘The spirit of cricket’ is nothing more than an illusion

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Senanayake 'mankading' Jos Butler. (Picture via Sky Sports)

The cricketing world was divided over the actions of Sri Lankan spinner Sachithra Senanayake in the series deciding ODI against England last week. His ‘mankading’ of England batsman Jos Buttler was seen as unfair, and against the spirit of cricket.

First, for those who didn’t see the incident, I shall briefly outline the events. Throughout his innings Jos Buttler, England’s greatest hope for respectability in the batting department, was found to be backing up out of his crease before the ball was released. The bowler, Senanayake, offered him two warnings – one ‘friendly,’ one ‘official’ – informing Buttler that if he continued, he would have no qualms with whipping his bails off and sending him packing. Despite these warnings Buttler was found to repeat the offence and Senanayake honoured his word, sending Buttler on a lonely walk back to the pavilion. This mode of dismissal is known as a ‘mankad’ or ‘mankading’ named after Vinoo Mankad who infamously ran out Australian Bill Brown using this method way back in 1947.

My first emotional reaction to the Senanayake mankad was one of fury. I immediately declared Senanayake an immoral person; the sort of guy who would callously walk past an old lady struggling down the street with heavy baggage. I couldn’t possibly see a way his actions were within ‘the spirit of the game.’ My irrationality was aided and abetted by the fact that I was listening to the incident unfold on BBC TMS. Jonathan Agnew was in his pomp, conducting English outrage by describing a Sri Lankan team in cahoots as they went about undermining the very fabric of the game for their own mischievous ends.

In the moments that followed I found myself going through the five stages of grief synonymous with loss. Denial: I couldn’t possibly believe the events had truly unfolded. Anger: at the unsporting-like manner of the dismissal. Bargaining: I found myself pleading to no one in particular that the decision should be reversed. Depression: with the loss of Buttler the game and series was ultimately lost, a depression kicked in that reminded me of the dark times of the recent ashes series. Then finally, after a good night’s sleep, acceptance.

Looking at the incident objectively Senanayake and his captain acted within the laws of the game and by offering multiple warnings were actually unnecessarily polite. It is preposterous that the ‘spirit of cricket’ can hold so much influence that it actually stands against the upholding of the laws of the game. By asking the Sri Lankan captain if he wanted to go through with the appeal, umpire Gough put undue pressure on him. Mathews was made out to be a villain as he was seen to be doing something abnormal that required special confirmation and Alistair Cook commented that a line had been crossed. Buttler was ran out by a couple of centimetres which made it even more difficult for English fans to accept, he wasn’t deliberately gaining an advantage and was instead absent-mindedly strolling out of his crease.

Nonetheless, he was warned and technically was gaining a slight advantage even if he wasn’t doing it deliberately. Mathews commented after the game that he actually knew no other way of stopping Buttler prematurely leaving the crease, and that is fair enough. If it takes a slightly shocking incident like that to ensure the cricketing world understands and accepts the legitimacy of the ‘Mankad’ then so be it. ‘Spirit of cricket’ be damned.

By and large the spirit of the game is nothing more than an old fashioned illusion of grandeur, something that in theory sets cricket apart from other sports and gives it a gentlemanly edge. There still remains an element of chivalry, with clapping and shaking of hands commonplace in acknowledging individual achievement. But it can’t be disputed that cheating and unsportsmanlike play has been central to the sport throughout its history. From WG Grace refusing to be given out, to the bodyline series; cricket is a sport like all others that siphons the worst of human competitiveness out onto the pitch, enhancing the drama and creating a spectacle. New technologies have allowed the public to see the full extent of this unsportsmanlike behaviour and for those punters still labouring under the misconception that cricket remains a gentleman’s game, this has caused quite a shock.

The recent Ashes double header provided ample examples where the spirit of the game was questioned and in the IPL heated confrontations were commonplace most notably the incident between Kieron Pollard and Mitchel Starc which culminated in the burly West Indian flinging his bat at the bowler in a moment of rage reminiscent of Marlon Samuels assault on Shane Warne.

In short the demonization of Senanayake and Mathews by England players and the media is truly unfair. I think that history will find that it was Buttler and Cook who acted against the spirit of the game by kicking up such a fuss. It must be noted that since the incident Butler has urged to play the incident by accepting his fate and move on.

In the light of the Senanayake Mankad a new standard is likely to be set, one in which the umpire doesn’t put pressure on the fielding side to act within the ‘spirit of cricket’ and instead simply does his job. Mankading is now a house hold term for cricket fans and gradually the mode of dismissal will become more accepted and normalised.

I can’t wait to play this Sunday on the off chance I get the opportunity to mankad, because I will take it without a moment’s hesitation and I will sleep easy knowing that my actions were justified.

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