In the recent crucial ICC World T20 match between India and England which finally saw the defending champions India being knocked out of the T20 World Cup, Harbhajan Singh pulled out of his delivery stride a couple of times. In the final over, when bowling to Foster, Harbhajan pulled out of his delivery stride just before delivering the third ball of the over. At the moment he pulled out, it was obvious that the non-striking batsman (Mascarenhas) was a few feet outside the popping crease to backup the striking batsman for running between the wickets. Witnessing this moment made me wonder about the laws of cricket pertaining to running out a non-striking batsman while bowling. So, here goes:

Backing up a batsman: The non-striking batsman usually backs up the striking batsman by taking a few steps towards the striking batsman during the delivery to facilitate running between the wickets by having to cover less distance. This “backing up” could have a profound impact on games, given the several close run-out decisions made using TV replays.

What does the Law say?: Law 42.15 of Cricket states that “The bowler is permitted, before entering his delivery stride, to attempt to run out the non-striker. The ball shall not count in the over.”  Appendix D of the Laws of Cricket defines a delivery stride as “the stride during which the delivery swing is made, whether the ball is released or not. It starts when the bowler’s back foot lands for that stride and ends when the front foot lands in the same stride

So, as per the Laws of Cricket, Harbhajan Singh could not have run out Mascarenhas even though Mascarenhas had left the popping crease as Harbhajan Singh had stopped bowling only after commencing his delivery stride.

And now for a little bit of history. Running out a “backing up” batsman has been around for a while. Though within the Laws of Cricket, it is considered unsportsmanlike. This action became famous when Vinoo Mankad ran out Bill Brown during India’s tour of Australia in 1947 and in fact a new term “Mankad” was coined for running out a non-striking batsman who was backing up. So, Bill Brown was mankaded by Vinoo Mankad :). Another famous incident which has been recorded in the annals of Mankading occurred when Courtney Walsh refused to mankad Salim Jaffer in the 1987 World Cup (this probably cost West Indies the World Cup).

The unwritten code of cricket suggests that a bowler ought to warn the batsman at least once before mankading him.

Why have a Law in a Sport, which when followed to the letter, alludes to unsportsmanlike behaviour ? Why put the onus of watching the non-striking batsman on the bowler?

Yes, there are laws and there’s the “spirit of the game”, but then where do you draw the line? If non-striking batsmen are over-enthusiastic in backing up and cover a few yards before the ball is delivered, it could make a huge difference and possibly facilitate scoring the winning run! The onus of identifying whether a non-striking batsman is backing up early or not should be put on the umpires (after all they have fewer decisions to make with the advent of the 3rd umpire). Nowadays, especially in formats like T20, most games are very close and it’s simply wrong to blur the thin line between victory and defeat in the name of the spirit of the game, when there’s a clear law in place. Perhaps, Law 42.15 should be modified to indicate that the umpires will watch out for early backing up by non-strikers and give them two warnings before declaring them out (for stealing some distance on a run) so that the bowlers may concentrate on their main job – bowling. Visit this Cricinfo article for some more information on Mankading.

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