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TONY COZIER: Neither saint nor sinner


TONY COZIER

TONY COZIER: Neither saint nor sinner

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IAN BISHOP’S first reaction when Keemo Paul whipped off the bails with Zimbabwe’s No. 11 Richard Ngarva backing up in last Tuesday’s decisive Under-19 World Cup match in Bangladesh was, “Oh, no!”

As TV umpire Tim Robinson checked the video replay on whether or not the last man’s bat was out of his ground, the former West Indies fast bowler, now globe-trotting TV commentator, commented: “It’s sad if it ends that way.” It did, as Ngarva’s bat was shown to be on but not within the crease.

After watching a fascinating, fluctuating match throughout on the other side of the planet, my sentiments were the same. The West Indies required one wicket and Zimbabwe three runs to win for one or the other to move into the quarter-finals.

As Paul started his run up, presumably to bowl the first ball of the last of the 50 overs, I found myself mumbling a silent plea that he would end it by knocking back the middle stump of the facing batsman, Kundai Matigimu, much as Azarri Joseph had spectacularly done twice earlier in the innings. Instead, Ngarva offered an easier option and Paul took it.

Nothing in the game has fuelled an outbreak of strong, contentious views more than chucking and “Mankading”, a term derived from the great Indian all-rounder’s run out of Australia’s Bill Brown, backing up in the 1947 Test in Sydney. Technology that precisely measures the permitted degree of flex in a bowler’s delivery elbow has largely eliminated argument over the former; no formula has yet been devised to deal with the latter, the most prominent a suggestion for one mandatory warning.

Inevitably and immediately, Paul’s latest intervention filled the Internet and the social, print and broadcast media with contrasting views from past and present players. As with chucking, most of the outraged comments referred to the “spirit of cricket” preamble to the Laws that are exclusively authored by the MCC [Marylebone Cricket Club].

It reads: “Cricket is a game that owes much of its appeal to the fact that it should be played not only with the laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains.” The ‘fact’ is that it has been used by teams and players, from W.G. Grace to the present time, only when expedient, prompting the International Cricket Council (ICC) to introduce its own code of conduct.

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Much of the denunciation of Paul’s action was wrapped in subjective emotionalism, irrationality and insincerity.

Stephen Fleming termed it “absolutely disgraceful”. He disregarded his own role as New Zealand captain in 2006 when Sri Lanka’s last man Muttiah Muralitharan strolled down the pitch to congratulate Kumar Sangakarra on reaching 100, only to be run out by Brendon McCullum’s throw from the outfield. I was on the tv commentary panel and recall Fleming stating that “the game doesn’t stop when a player gets 100”.

Fleming was right then, wrong now.

The MCC stated its position in unambiguous language.

“It’s clear to us. If he’s out of his ground, he’s out,” an MCC spokesman said. “If the batsman had not been out of his crease, there would have been no issue about the spirit of cricket. Obviously this is as small a margin as it gets but that makes no difference. If you’re out, you’re out. This is not a spirit of cricket issue, it’s a laws issue.”

It echoed Sir Don Bradman’s take on Brown’s original “Mankading”.

“The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered,” he wrote in his autobiography. “If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out? By backing up too far or too early the non-striker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage.”

It is personal preference whether the bowler issues a warning to an errant batsman. The most prominent case of a West Indian making such a choice was Courtney Walsh in the final over against Pakistan in Lahore in the 1987 World Cup. Pakistan needed 14 for victory with just the last pair, Abdul Qadir and Salim Jaffar, remaining. They got to within two runs when Walsh spurned the chance of clinching victory off the last ball by declining to run out non-striker Jaffar, a long way down the pitch. Qadir then duly got the required two to third man.

Charlie Griffith, a fierce no-nonsense competitor, had no such compassion for dosy batsmen. He despatched Trinidad and Tobago’s left-hander Alvin Corneal in a regional match in 1964 and Australia’s Ian Redpath in the Adelaide Test of 1968-69. As Australia sought quick runs pursuing a winning total of 359, Redpath was absent-mindedly advancing down the pitch when Griffith cut him short. Australia ended 21 short of their goal with nine wickets down.

Predictably, the incident set off a heated debate in the press box where I was a peripheral participant. It was put to Bill O’Reilly, Australia’s leading spinner in the 1930s, then writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, who supported Griffith, that he must have used the tactic at some time in his long career.

“Ah, when I was bowling they weren’t so anxious to get to the other end,” he shot back.

The same could not be said for Paul, although at 18 he appears to be an uncompromising cricketer.

Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.

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