I will not allow anyone in my advocacy and defense of sportsmanship (if the MCC Laws Committee still allows such a word: no doubt they are about to dictate that it should be sportsmanship) in cricket. The dwindling number of us who still want to believe that the game is a metaphor for life, distinguishing not only between good and evil, but also fairness and decency on the field, know that playing the game within the limits of its traditional spirit is essential.
However, I struggle to feel outrage over the running out of English batswoman Charlie Dean at Lords on Saturday by Indian bowler Deepti Sharma, as Dean had stepped out of her fold just before Sharma delivered the ball. Sharma well followed a venerable Indian tradition, dating back 75 years to Vinoo Mankad when he enforced the law specifying that the non-striker remains in the fold until the ball is delivered. We are, as the politicians say, all equal before the law.
In the slightly less cutthroat world of first-class cricket, there has long been a tradition (which is not inevitably observed) of a bowler warning a batsman who does this that if he does it again he will run out. Sharma gave Dean no such warning. So her dismissal was within the rules of the game, but not in the spirit of them. It’s one of those philosophical moments that makes cricket so fascinating. England and India played the most civilized form of a one-day match, the 50-over variant, in which there is time to correct mistakes and concede. But like any version of the great game, this one has been influenced by the win-at-all-cost mentality that has accompanied cricket’s steady march away from a sport to a business.
Harmanpreet Kaur, the Indian captain, defended her bowler and I’m not surprised. What room can there be for a second chance, not only in cricket with 50 left, but especially in T20 or the ridiculous Hundred? In the latter case, with only 99 other balls at your disposal, you can’t pass up the chance to secure a wicket fairly and within the law. What Sharma Dean has done is an inevitable consequence of the authorities prostituting a once-great game into a relentless monetization exercise, chasing an ever-decreasing level of spectators by compressing the game into inappropriate formats and at the expense of all aggressive pressure for victory . It’s not a pretty sight, but it never would be.
A wake-up call for all cricketers
Sharmas’ act was therefore quite predictable and she deserves no shame for doing it. In a four-day match, things would have been different: but there’s no such breathing room in limited-excess cricket, especially that of the most Mickey Mouse variety. It will be a wake-up call for all cricketers. Dean is unlikely to get himself into the wicket well in the future before the ball has left the bowler’s hand; other batsmen and batswomen will reflect accordingly. And many bowlers will be reminded of this hitherto underused weapon in their arsenal. Thanks to the climate of greed fostered by cricket authorities around the world, not least in India, where the IPL is estimated to be worth several billion dollars, this will not be the last such layoff. So get used to it and write it down as an example of the toxicity seeping into today’s game.
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