Murali Kartik’s run out of Sandipan Das in the Ranji Trophy match between Railways and Bengal in New Delhi has become the subject of needless controversy.
Worse, the incident led to such ill feelings between players of both sides that the traditional hand shaking at the end of the game was dispensed with and there was also tense situations and unacceptable behavior during play.
Kartik’s 'sin' was to run out Das at the non striker’s end while the latter was out of the crease while backing up. It must be added that Kartik had warned the batsman earlier.
In cricketing circles this is known as 'Mankading' after the great Indian all rounder Vinoo Mankad similiarly ran out Bill Brown during the second Test at Sydney on India’s 1947-48 tour of Australia. Mankad had done the same thing to the same batsman during the match against an Australian XI played before the first Test but on that occasion had warned the batsman first.
This has happened in international matches on a few occasions since then and every time the team to be affected has invoked 'the spirit of the game' to register their protest at this kind of 'unsporting' dismissal as they term it.
One recalls how Charlie Griffith the West Indian fast bowler ran out Ian Redpath of Australia in a similar manner in the fourth Test at Adelaide in 1968-69. On that occasion Griffith had not warned Redpath and since he had done so when the match was poised for a close finish he became the target of the Australian media.
Indian cricket followers will no doubt remember Kapil Dev running out Peter Kirsten for backing up too far in the ODI against South Africa at Port Elizabeth in 1992. On that occasion Kapil had not warned Kirsten but had done so three times previously during the tour and Kirsten obviously paid the price of not heeding the warnings.
Actually there is nothing to warrant a bowler warning the batsman in such cases. Let us hear it from none other than Don Bradman. In his autobiography 'Farewell to Cricket' published in 1950 he writes in the aftermath of the Mankad – Brown incident. "For the life of me I cannot understand why Mankad’s sportsmanship was questioned. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered. If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out? By backing up too far too early the non striker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage. On numerous occasions he may avoid being run out at the opposite end by gaining this false start."
I have always shared this view and have no sympathy for batsmen who are run out at the non-striker's end for backing up too far. If the bowler is accused of bad sportsmanship and acting against the spirit of the game is the batsman too not acting against the spirit of the game by 'stealing' a run.
In any case the laws have been suitably altered and these days the bowler can legitimately run out a batsman if he is out of the crease at the moment of delivery. The onus is now squarely on the batsmen to see that he remains within his 'boundary' and not gain an unfair advantage. This is particularly noticeable in T-20 cricket.
Bengal’s coach Ashok Malhotra was way off the mark in his reaction to Kartik’s run out of Das. The former Indian batsman was quoted as saying "I can understand if you are playing one day cricket where a batsman tries to steal a single. This is a four day game he was just an inch out. I am not not talking about rules, but about the spirit of the game."
Well in the first place it does not matter if you are an inch or a foot outside the crease. A bowler is no balled even if his foot is fractionally over the crease. Secondly by arguing thus what kind of message is Malhotra conveying to his young ward? Instead he should be advising him to follow the rules of cricket. The spirit of the game works both ways, Mr Malhotra.
Kartik is a highly competitive cricketer and was rightly unperturbed by all the fuss. In fact only last year while playing for Surrey in county cricket he dismissed Alex Barrow of Somerset in a similar fashion to boos from angry spectators.
But he had his supporters too who reckoned that he had done nothing wrong. This is a view that is gaining momentum for with time it is becoming clear that the bowler is well within his rights to run the non-striker out and the onus is on the batsman not to take unfair advantage.
Unfortunately an off shoot from the incident was that the situation became highly tense and confrontational for the rest of the game. There were several unsavoury incidents which finally led to the teams dispensing with the traditional shake of hands at the end of the match. And to think that all was the result of a dismissal which was within the laws of the game.