Tony Becca: Riddle me this, riddle me that
I have always believed that cricket is a unique and special game, and I believe that it is so especially because each side takes turn to perform, because it takes a long time to finish a game, because of the numbers and intricacies of the rules governing the game, and because the rules are often times open to interpretation.
On top of all that also, sometimes a rule is not a rule, it is used only sometimes, only by some, and sometimes when it is used, its use is the topic of controversy.
Last week, in the Under-19 World Cup, the West Indies narrowly defeated Zimbabwe by two runs to squeeze into the quarter-finals. Instead of showering praises on the young West Indians for being alert and aware of the situation and going on to win the match, all hell broke loose.
Bowling the 50th over, Keemo Paul ran-out non-striker Richard Mgarava, and, suddenly, from all around the world, came cries of surprise and shouts of condemnation.
From England's one-day captain, Eoin Morgan, came, "Disgraceful behaviour. West Indies should be embarrassed"; from Josh Butler, an England player, came, Can't believe what I have just seen"; from Darren Lehman, Australia's coach, came, "Unbelievable. Not out"; and from England's James Anderson, came, "Disgraceful."
What utter nonsense. According to the rules, the batsman was out. He was either out or not out. And for those who talk about fair play, there is nothing in the rules which talks about fair play.
NO AREA FOR INTERPRETATION
The rules about such things like bowl, leg before wicket, catch, stump, run-out, and no-ball are clear. There is no area for interpretation, and in run-outs and no-balls, if any part, of the bat or the front-foot, however small, is not behind the line, the umpire is obliged to call him out.
Nowhere, not yesterday and not today, has anyone ever warned a batsman before bowling him, getting him stumped, or before getting him leg before wicket before really doing it.
On top of all that, the non-striker is a batsman, and he gets run-out just like any other batsman. If he breaks the rule, if he leaves the crease before it is time to do so, how does the fielding side dismiss him when he does leave the crease?
Those who talk about the "spirit of the game", must be speaking about those who appeal for a catch when they know that the ball has touched the ground, when they know that the ball has not touched the bat, and when, while appealing for leg before wicket they know that the batsman played the ball.
Cricket has been used to this riddle as to when a batsman is out and when he is not out, and that is why the umpire asked the young West Indies captain if he really wanted to go through with the appeal.
Would he have asked him such a question had the appeal been for leg before wicket or for bowl? Maybe had he not done so there would have been no controversy.
New Zealand's former captain, Stephen Fleming, came up with a reasonable response, sort of: "Right or wrong, it's just a sad way to end a good game, especially one with so much on the line."
In 1987, in the World Cup in Pakistan, West Indies fast bowler Courtney Walsh warned non-striker Abdul Qadir of Pakistan for leaving his crease early.
On that occasion, Walsh was the bowler, Saleem Jaffer of Pakistan, the last man, was the batsman, Qadir strayed way down the pitch, Walsh warned him instead of running him out, and Pakistan went on to win the match two, three deliveries later..
I was there, I criticised Walsh for warning Qadir, mainly because he was so far down the pitch, and because he had stopped Walsh in his run-up the previous delivery and had walked down the pitch to talk to Jaffer.
It all seemed a deliberate action.
On this occasion, however, Mgarava was inches out of his crease, Paul was not in his delivery stride, I am not sure if Mgarava was trying to steal a run or he just strayed as batsmen often do, and it was so close that the umpire had to seek the help of the third umpire.
It did not matter whether the batsman strayed or not. The fact is that the batsman was out of his crease.
To me, the rule is the rule, whether the batsman is run-out by a foot or an inch, whether he is leg before wicket when the ball pitches outside the leg stump or not, and whether he is bowled whenever the ball clips the stumps or not.
It was tough luck for Zimbabwe, and good luck for the West Indies, even if it did not feel right for the West Indies to lose to England, to beat Fiji, and to beat Zimbabwe by the "Mankad" run-out to reach the quarter-finals.
It was in the spirit of cricket. It is cricket, regardless of the custom.