3 June 2014: Senanayake mankads Buttler. Cue hands on hips from the English, deliberately over-the-top congratulations from team-mates for Senanayake and a familiar outpouring of opinion and vitriol from everyone else. Was it ever thus. Cricket’s rich history of the law v the spirit goes way back and takes in WG Grace, Bodyline, Trevor Chappell’s underarm and of course the original Mankad from Vinoo.
Common sense says Buttler was right to be given out – it was within the Laws, he’d been warned in that game and had been trying it on in previous games. He was arguably gaining an unfair advantage. But… but it still doesn’t feel right, it still feels a bit, I don’t know…off.
As many people have pointed out, was it any worse than Root punching it to the keeper but still waiting for the review? We’re in the same territory as we stumbled into last year with the Broad affair. Why is not walking for a thick edge worse than not walking for a thin one?
There’s no logic of course, somehow some things just feel worse.
Many people have called for Law changes to fix the mankad situation. This won’t work – tinkering with the laws solves nothing but simply shifts the goalposts – and often inadvertently creates a new set of goalposts.
Personally I’ve always found in difficult not to walk in the amateur cricket I’ve played. I can think of only a couple of occasions where I didn’t – once was in an under-17 match (yes, it was a while ago and clearly still resonates) where I was batting well for once and was our last realistic chance to win, and once in a senior league game where there was already bad blood between the sides after an opposition player refused to walk for a blatant edge, and we’d vowed to walk for nothing. Neither occasion sat comfortably with me.
Of course, my way is arguably the most lily-livered approach of all – a pragmatic and fickle approach based on no principle at all. I admire those that walk whatever the situation and I understand those that never walk. Until no-one is given out wrongly, this is the approach that makes the most sense. Indeed if we could get over the morally-baseless yuck factor of seeing an obvious edge missed or a batsman being mankaded, then this approach, if adopted by all, would actually solve all problems. We would no longer need to scratch our heads over why we expect people to walk for edges but not run outs or stumpings, which can be equally obvious.
But of course, this won’t happen. Each person has a moral compass and each compass reads slightly differently, with doing the right thing being an irresistible attraction to some while doing the best for themselves and the team being the magnet for others. Who is to say which is right, without recourse to broader moral imperatives that resonate in disciplines far beyond the field of play?
The spirit of cricket is an unfathomably nebulous expression that is impossible to nail down. Everyone’s definition is different. The interpretations of spirit of cricket can be so wide as to render it irrelevant, an empty husk to be blown on the winds of outraged huffing and puffing of fans and the media. It quickly becomes no more than a crutch to support personal preference and prejudice, and a specious validation of a fabled game that never existed.
Partisan supporters will always seize on moments such as this to hunker down even further into their entrenched positions. Their world is black and white, and that is how they like it.
In the absence of a universally accepted moral code, the yuck factor is all we are left with – and everyone’s yuck is different. Until we recognise that, accept it and get on with playing in an imperfect game full of imperfect people where occasional conflict is unavoidable then these arguments will continue to go round and round. There is no solution. Let’s just get on with it, shall we?