By Malinda Seneviratne –
Sachithra Senanayake was booed each time he came up to bowl, each time he touched the ball. This is after he ‘Mankaded’ Jos Buttler. A lot has been said and written about the incident. There has been self-righteous indignation, there’s been ‘titting-for-tatting’ arguments and there has been sober reference to ICC laws.
Ravi Bopara said ‘It is definitely not within the spirit of the game. I wouldn’t say Jos was stealing yards, he was just casually leaving the crease. It is just the done thing.’ He adds, ‘if that’s the way Matthews and Sri Lanka want to play their cricket then it’s up to them; hopefully we don’t step to that level.’
Now Bopara and Buttler had almost brought England a hard-to-imagine win in the 4th ODI. There were some 20 plus occasions when ones were converted into twos. ‘Good running,’ the commentators said. They weren’t watching Buttler doing the ‘done thing’ though. However, the only difference between this ‘done thing’ and running in a manner that compels the umpire to signal ‘one short’ is that the former happens at delivery point and the latter post-delivery and post-stroke. If one is the ‘done thing’ then the other is too.
According to Bopara, though, stepping out early is morally superior to being punished for doing so after being warned more than once. Should we not say ‘fiddlesticks!’?
The last word on the issue, to my mind, came from my colleague Callistus Davy: ‘It is not something that players should sort out. It’s for the umpires to decide.’ True. The ‘spirit of the game,’ frequently alluded to with reference to this incident is way too subjective to come to any conclusion one way or another. ‘Laws’ are more robust and they are pretty clear on this matter. If you are deliberately taking cover under ‘spirit of the game’ to steal a few singles and with it a game, that’s the worst kind of violation of this ‘spirit of the game’.
The warning should have come from the umpire, not the players. The umpire watched for no-balls and is required to ascertain if a run has been completed. People get run out by fractions of an inch and therefore gaining a couple of yards by ‘doing the done thing’ is cheating. What Bopara is therefore saying is ‘We cheat and that’s the “done thing” as far as England is concerned’. In this instance Senanayake, by warning, was being kind. Rightfully, though, Sri Lanka need not refer to the warning to buttress justification. Mankaading is legal. That’s it.
The ‘booing point’ however is that Senanayake’s action was brought into question before the final game began. He was the most successful Sri Lankan bowler in the series. His action has been cleared by many on many occasions. This of course doesn’t mean that he cannot or would never again err, but the timing of the complaint is significant. It coincides with England facing a decider.
Is this cricket? Is it politics (as usual)? Here’s an analogy. Sri Lankan security forces were about to vanquish the LTTE in the first few months of 2009. ‘War crimes!’ was the word for ‘Mankaading’ in that context. ‘Not in the spirit of the game’, was the argument, the relevant reference being the Geneva Convention, never mind that the said document is like used toilet paper if the USA and its allies (the UK included) are involved. That match was won, but the Bopara-like whines didn’t stop. In that instance, apart from ‘tokenist’ objection to LTTE’s preferred methodologies of ‘playing the game,’ there was largely silence on what the other side was doing. Like holding some 300,000 civilians hostage, for example. That was the equivalent of doing Buttler’s ‘done thing’. Calling a probe on bowling action, then, is also the ‘done thing’, as ‘done’ as trying to steal a single and as ‘done’ as being horrified when the thief is caught napping.
One thing is certain. The call to hang Sachithra Senanayake will continue. There are Navi Pillay’s in the cricketing world too, after all. Obamas and Camerons too. It’s called ‘doing the done thing’. That’s polite-speak for getting away with cheating and what better way than to pass the cheat-buck back to the enemy, huh?
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com