A rule is a rule, or it's just not cricket
A friend of mine at university had a newspaper cutting on his wall in the hostel, titled "Some unwritten rules". Underneath that heading was a list of numbers from 1 to 10, each followed by a line of blank space.
Which sums up, I think, the absurdity of relying on such rules. Nobody knows exactly what they say.
And yet, these so-called rules pop up all the time in one sphere of life or another.
One of them got me irritated this week. It's still firmly lodged under my skin, in fact.
As a youngster, learning the intricacies of the sport, I asked my Dad - the fairest man I've known, who'd had plenty to do with cricket by then, as a parent and an administrator - about just the situation that's had many around the English game in a froth of righteous indignation this week.
Not all of them; just as many have been perfectly sensible about the whole affair, but those who complain loudly tend to be heard, and their ridiculous stance has really got up my nose.
What I think I asked Dad, as a 9- or 10-year-old, decades before I heard of Vinoo Mankad, was whether or not a bowler could break the wicket at the non- striker's end if the batsman there, backing up, strayed out of his crease.
He said a bowler could do just that, but it was considered decidedly unsporting, not the done thing. An unwritten rule, if you will.
But he added a crucial rider - that a bowler catching the non- striker backing up too far could stop in his delivery stride and make it clear to the transgressor his infringement had been noted, and that a repeat would result in a run out.
That seemed completely fair to me, with the warning included. In terms of the game's laws, it's fair without it. Because, let's be clear, when a non-striker goes beyond the crease before the ball is bowled, he/she is cheating, shortening the distance still to be covered if a run should be called, increasing the chance of getting home safely, and reducing the fielding side's chance of effecting a run out.
Around that time, an incident in a South African one-day final saw giant Natal fast bowler Vintcent van der Bijl run out future England star Allan Lamb, playing for Western Province (WP), at the non-striker's end. That dismissal was different, though. Big Vince had delivered the ball, fielded it as was played down the pitch, and was walking back for the next delivery when he spotted Lamb was standing out of his crease and took a speculative, and successful, shy at the stumps.
Huge controversy followed, and the fact that Natal eventually failed to chase down the WP total was somehow seen as justice. There'd been no warning to Lamb, who may well have assumed the ball was dead. He certainly wasn't attempting a run.
That incident has always struck me as patently unfair, though there's an unwritten rule in operation there, because Lamb was given out, plainly according to the umpire's interpretation of the game's laws. But it's in complete contrast to the incident involving English batsman Jos Buttler and Sri Lankan bowler Sachithra Senanayake in Birmingham this week.
I switched on late and quickly realised Sri Lankan captain Angelo Matthews, who was batting, was being booed every ball he faced. I soon discovered that was because he'd chosen not to withdraw an appeal against Buttler when Senanayake had run him out at the non-striker's end earlier.
I've yet to actually see the incident, though I've read plenty about it, including comments that Buttler had, variously, been "six inches" (15cm) and "a couple of inches" out of his crease at the time. I don't know what difference the distance makes, but a photo I saw shows him standing at least a metre outside the crease as the bowler goes to break the stumps.
What's also been clear is that Senanayake had warned Buttler, twice.
Indian spinner Vinoo Mankad gained notoriety as the first bowler to effect such dismissals, twice getting Australian batsman Bill Brown in consecutive matches at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1947-48. Though controversial, a report of the second occasion, by "Ginty" Lush, reproduced on Wikipedia, pointed out that Mankad "can scarcely be called a bad sport for trapping Brown".
"The first time he had Brown at his mercy he beckoned the batsman back with a crooked finger when Brown was a yard out of his ground.
"This was hailed as one of the most sporting acts ever seen at the SCG.
"Yesterday there was no warning - just lightning-like action."
Since Mankad, who was defended by Australian skipper Donald Bradman, ran Brown out, there have been just seven more incidents in international cricket. "Perpetrators" include Australians Greg Chappell and Alan Hurst, and New Zealanders Dipak Patel and Ewen Chatfield, making Australasians responsible for half the total cases. Which might show the game's played a little harder Down Under. But hard doesn't equate to unfair.
The small number of instances shows it's something most bowlers have never considered doing, and that's fine. But the fact remains it's in the rules and if a warning's been issued, a batsman has no legitimate complaint. "There's an unwritten rule that you don't do that" doesn't wash.
In the aftermath of Sri Lanka's series-clinching victory, England skipper Alistair Cook said of the incident: "There's a line, and that line has been crossed."
He couldn't be more right. There is a line, it's called the crease, and his batsman crossed it too early, after being warned not once, but twice.
It's time he, and the rest of his team, got over it.
The Timaru Herald