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18
Sun, Aug

England's Jos Buttler, who himself suffered a Mankad dismissal, was among those to voice his disapproval ©Getty Images

CRICKET
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Two contrasting but deeply controversial incidents have taken place in sport in recent weeks.

The first concerned 19-year-old Belgian cyclist Femke Van den Driessche, a European cyclo-cross champion last year who, after failing to finish the women's under-23 race at the World Championships in Heusden-Zolder, was reportedly found to have had a motor concealed within her bike.

As ever, this was more complicated than it at first seemed. Van den Driessche claimed to be unaware of any wrongdoing, and said that the bike had belonged to “a friend”. But the incident, an example of “mechanical doping”, has become a source of worldwide derision; a seemingly remarkable case of cheating in its purest and most blatant form.

The second incident came in the Under-19 Cricket World Cup currently ongoing in Bangladesh.

In a nail-biting finish and with a quarter-final place at stake, Zimbabwe required three runs to win in the final over of a thrilling match against the West Indies - a composite team made up of players from the Caribbean islands and Guyana - in Chittagong. West Indian fast bowler Keemo Paul charged into bowl the final over, but, instead of releasing the ball he swiftly removed the bails of the wicket at the non-strikers end, thus running out Zimbabwean batsman Richard Ngarava, who had begun to slowly shuffle out of his crease in pursuit of a quick run.

Now this is where it gets confusing. This type of dismissal, known as a “Mankad” after India’s Vinoo Mankad controversially ran out Australia's Bill Brown this way during a Test match in Sydney in 1947, is not outlawed in the rules of the game. International Cricket Council Law 42.15 reads: “The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker. Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one of the over. If the bowler fails in an attempt to run out the non-striker, the umpire shall call and signal dead ball as soon possible.”

Yet what is legal is not necessarily ethical or moral and the rule is strictly not within the etiquette of the game. And if you are going to attempt it, tradition dictates that you must at least warn the batsman first.

On this occasion, the fielding side were asked if they wanted to withdraw the appeal, which they declined to do. So, after a video replay proved Ngarava was out of his crease, the batsman was out, the match was over and Zimbabwe were eliminated from the tournament.

The anger was palpable across world cricket, with top player after top player tweeting their disapproval, including England’s Jos Buttler, who was “victim” to a similar dismissal against Sri Lanka in 2014. Calls are intensifying for the rules to be changed.

And yet, when viewed objectively, is there really anything wrong with doing something which is permitted within the rules? It is certainly not cheating in the same way as building a motor onto your cyclo-cross bike is. No-one complains in baseball when a pitcher throws to second base to out a hitter trying to scamper from first to second, for example.

The fuss does say something about cricket, a game built more than most around halcyon and long-extinct values of chivalry, fair play and supposedly gentlemanly standards. (What other sports incorporate lunch and tea breaks into the day's play...?)

Cricket’s history, however, is also riddled with skulduggery. Take the art of “sledging”, for instance, where the fielding team insult the batsman in the most offensive way possible with the aim of provoking them into making a mistake.

Last week marked the 35th anniversary of an incident in 1981 when, with New Zealand requiring a six off the final ball of a limited overs match against Australia in Melbourne, Aussie captain Greg Chappell instructed his bowler, and younger brother, Trevor, to bowl the ball underarm in order the deem it impossible to hit it out the ground and thus win the match. This action, subsequently deemed illegal, prompted a diplomatic row, with New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon describing it as “the most disgusting incident I can recall in the history of cricket”.

“It was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow,” he added.

Half a century earlier and it was Australia doing the complaining in the 1931 to 1932 Ashes Series. England, taking on a batting line-up including Don Bradman, a player still considered the greatest to ever play the game, resorted to a tactic which was swiftly dubbed in the press as “Bodyline” bowling.

Led by Nottingham’s Harold Larwood, England’s strategy was bowl the ball in short, fast and into the body of the batsmen, before packing the leg-side with close-catching fielders.

The tactic proved successful, nullifying Bradman in a way no-one had ever succeeded in doing before, but provoked fierce controversy, with members of the England team even opposing the tactic. Several Australians were injured, and a cable was sent to London threatening that “unless [Bodyline] is stopped at once it is likely to upset the friendly relations existing between Australia and England”.

England’s captain Douglas Jardine, every bit as good a leader as he was poor a diplomat, famously responded to criticism that the Australians did not like him with the line: "The feeling is f****** mutual”.

Once again, however, the sense of hysteria appeared out of all proportion to what was going on, and the English tactic differed little from what has been done regularly in more recent times.

It was another case of this grey area between cheating and using the rules to one's advantage.

Examples of this are endemic across other sports as well as cricket. Take last year's Solheim Cup golf competition, for example, where the United States were inspired to a thrilling 14½ to 13½ victory over Europe after suffering in a moment of controversy midway through.

US rookie Alison Lee narrowly missed the hole on the 17th green and, after England’s Charley Hull began walking to the next hole, traditionally a sign of concession, Lee scooped the ball up and began to walk to the 18th.

But Hull’s Norwegian partner Suzann Pettersen had other ideas, and steadfastly refused to concede, meaning the US automatically lost the hole and thus the tie.

“It's just not right, you just don't do that to your peers,” claimed US captain Juli Inkster. “It's disrespectful. It's just BS as far as I'm concerned.”

It was the Americans who ultimately had the last laugh, fighting back on the final day to claim victory.

Examples have also been provided at the Olympic Games.

At London 2012, Britain's German-born team sprinter Philip Hindes crashed into the track soon after beginning the the opening ride in the team sprint competition, resulting in an automatic restart. He told the BBC after the team had gone on to claim gold: "We were saying if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart. I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned, really."

Unfortunately, the rules only permit a restart in light of a "mechanical fault or a genuine accident".

Surprise, surprise, by the time he got to the press conference, his account had changed and he had "lost control" and crashed unavoidably. British Cycling claimed he had been initially misunderstood "due to English not being his first language," and no action was taken. Most of the home team's rivals were not convinced, however.

But the incident which has had the most significant long term impact on a sport must have come in sailing, and the climax of the laser competition at Sydney 2000.

Britain’s future knight-of-the-realm Ben Ainslie needed to finish 10 places ahead of Brazilian rival Robert Scheidt in the final race of the regatta to claim gold. Instead of trying to sail a clean race, Ainslie, who had missed out to Scheidt after being tricked into false starting by him in the last race four years earlier in Atlanta, maneuvered his opponent to the back of the fleet and forced him into a series of risky attempts to overtake, eventually resulting in his opponent's disqualification.

It was a ballsy move which had never been seen before, and effigies were burnt of the Briton in Rio de Janeiro amid fierce criticism. But, crucially, it was a legal tactic and it has now become a standard strategy in Olympic sailing.

There is thus a paradox between etiquette and rules. It is something that sits increasingly uneasily in our modern professional age, but neither should it be forgotten that tensions like these have been commonplace back to the 1930s and before.

Sportsmen and women want to play by the rules, but, more than anything else, they want to win, and at all levels they will continue to invariably prioritise the second aim over the first one.

The West Indian youngsters were merely following an age-old tradition.

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