W G Grace, perhaps, was the best known Cricketer before Sir Donald Bradman decided to play the game in the backyard of his home in Adelaide as a kid. He (WG) was a great player and more importantly a popular one. He was also known for his reluctance to leave the crease when given out. Once, after his bails were dislodged by a bowler, he calmly collected them, put it over the wicket and told the umpire, “Pretty Windy Isn’t it?” In this particular incident the umpire seemed to have told him, “Yes. Make sure it does n’t blow your hat off while walking back to the pavilion.”
Millennials who follow the game today, may think, after reading the reactions to Ashwin mankading Jos Butler, that only Indians don’t play with the spirit of the game, what with every famous cricketer who played the game tweeted, ‘Ashwin did not play the game with the spirit that marks Cricket, a gentleman’s game.’ I thought let me put the record straight for viewers to get a balanced view of how the game is played with true spirit since someone invented the game so that people in England could get a bit of sunshine when the summer lasted for five days in a year.
Coming back to Doctor W G Grace, he played test cricket in the 19th century and was known for his wit and well, as I mentioned, his reluctance to leave the wicket once he got out. Dickie Bird, the famous umpire narrated a story he heard about the great man. Neville Cardus, the greatest writer about the noble game, once asked a Gloucestershire professional who played Cricket with WG, “Do you think that WG ever cheated? And the reply he got was, “The old man cheat? Why he were much too clever for that!”
He was so feared by the umpires of his day so much so that few umpires did not give him out and he bent the rules unashamedly on more than one occasion. During county game once he lofted the ball skywards into the outfield, ran one, and, as he turned for the second, noticed a fielder nicely positioned for the catch. He immediately declared the innings – while the ball was still in the air – to avoid being given out and having his average spoiled. He claimed the catch was taken after close of play.
He was also known to tell the umpires when given out, “People come to see me bat not to see you umpire.”
Coming back to the ‘Mankading’ incident, where a bowler dislodges the wicket if he sees the non striker is not inside the crease while the ball is about to be delivered. I don’t know why it is called ‘Mankading.’ The term ‘Mankaded’ was coined after Vinoo Mankad, the Indian Cricketer, ran out Bill Brown in the 1948 Sydney test. He had done the same in an earlier tour match as well. The Australian press went to town calling it unsportsmanlike, even after Sir Donald Bradman said it was perfectly within the laws of the game. The question here is, this kind bowler running out a batsman must have been in vogue for over a century before Vinoo Mankad did this and many might have got out in that fashion. Then why call it, ‘Mankaded?’ A Snow or a Carpenter or a Brown would have done this in the previous hundred odd years the game was played. Then why not call this ‘Snowed’ or ‘Carpented’ or ‘Browned?’
Everyone worth his/her salt has commented on this incident. Some of them were well known for playing the game in the true spirit (italics mine). There is an article in Espn Cricinfo after the recent Makaded incident, Ashwin ‘ain’t winning any spirit of cricket awards.’
Let us look at some of the players who called Ashwin’s act shameful.
Mr. Shane Warne, the best Leg spin bowler ever to have played the game. He has questioned Ashwin’s integrity. Yes the same Mr. Warne who was sent packing before the 2003 World Cup due to a drug scandal. People who have watched him appealing for a wicket know that he got a few of his 700 odd wickets through his forceful appealing for an ‘out’ verdict from the umpire. He would beg, plead, cajole and threaten the umpires to give the batsman ‘out.’ I am sure there must be few YouTube videos on this.
Next Mr. Dale Steyn from South Africa. Yes the same country which for decades did not allow black and coloured people to play the game with the superior white people. So much so that their ban from playing international sport came after they did not allow a coloured player from the English Cricket team, Basil D’Oliveira was included to be a part of the touring team. Even after the apartheid was lifted, lot of efforts had to be made including a quota system so that coloured and black people could play for South Africa. Otherwise, even today, we could not have watched a ‘Hashim Amla’ or a ‘Rabada.’
Or for that matter Mr. Eoin Morgan from England. The same England who devised bodyline bowling to get Donald Bradman out which must have ranked very highly in playing the sport with true spirit. Or when they asked ICC to restrict the bouncer to one per over after they were dropping like ninepins after the famous West Indies bowlers repeatedly whitewashing them in series after series.
Or Mr. Ponting who indicated to the umpire during Sydney Test that Michael Clark has taken the catch cleanly. The replays showed that Clarke had grassed it which made one of the best known gentleman of Cricket Anil Kumble to declare after the match, “Only one team was playing the sport with the spirit of the game.”
I am not debating what Ashwin did was clearly under the spirit of the game or not. I am just pointing out at the hypocrisy. If Ashwin had run out Sanju Samson or some other Indian cricketer the whole issue would not have blown out like this. It was Jos Butler, an English cricketer and how dare Ashwin could do this to him?
I have been an ardent fan of the game and I liked the way it was played quietly in the old days. I have seen Gavaskar walking immediately after nicking a delivery not even looking at the umpire. Once he saw the catch was taken, he would start his brisk walk, bat tucked inside, the ‘original walker’ I saw before Adam Gilchrist made ‘walking’ famous. Or Kapil Dev’s muted celebration after taking an important wicket – just a smile and a hug from the closest fielder. Or when you hardly saw any reaction from Windies pace bowlers (Roberts/Walsh/Ambrose et al) after bowling out a ‘set’ batsman. They just walked back to their crease as if nothing has happened. And compare that with today’s wild celebration after each wicket or a bowler showing the batsman the way to the pavilion. Yes it is a gentleman’s game and I would rather have it the old way. But the game has changed in many ways and so the spirit under which it is played.
But what irks me is the double standards. It reminds me of one my grandma’s proverb: மாமியார் உடைச்சா மண்குடம். மருமகள் உடைச்சா பொன்குடம் – if the mother in law breaks a pot, it is made of clay but if the daughter in law breaks it, then the pot is made of Gold. Different rules (or spirits) for different folks.