Mon | Nov 12, 2018

Orville Higgins | Change the rules!

Published:Saturday | January 20, 2018 | 12:10 AMChange the rules!
West Indies Under-19 captain Captain Emmanuel Stewart.

It is like deja vu. In the last under 19 World Cup, that "Mankad" incident with Keemo Paul and the Zimbabwean batsman Richard Ngarava took the gloss off the West Indies' eventual win.

We heard the arguments from the purists then. "It was unsportsmanlike." " It was against the spirit of the game." "West Indies were desperate and would do anything to win." It wasn't all out criticism mind you. Some were adamant that the West Indies youngsters were simply playing by the rules.

Those who were on the side of the Caribbean boys felt then that if the cricket establishment is going to frown on the "Mankad" practice then they simply should take the rule off the books

A couple of years after and then here we go again. Playing against South Africa, the West Indies were facing a must win game. Jiveshan Pillay played forward to a ball. The ball was spinning back towards the stumps, then stopped. Almost without thinking about it, he picked up the ball and threw it to wicketkeeper Emannuel Stewart, who happens to be the captain of the team. He gave a half hearted appeal . Up to a year or so ago, Pillay could be given out handling the ball for an incident like this. That mode of dismissal no longer exists, and is now under the banner of "obstructing the fieldsman." The two on field umpires threw it to the third umpire. That was probably more an act of cowardice than anything else. Like Pontius Pilate in the Bible they wanted to wash their hands clean from this rather unsavoury incident. The third umpire, Ranmore Martinez, gave the batsman out and another firestorm of controversy started.

So much is wrong with this. Firstly the term "obstructing the fieldsman," by its very definition should mean that a fieldsman was being "obstructed." Law 37 speaks to a batsman being given out obstructing the field if he "willfully attempts to obstruct or distract through words or actions." That was not the case here. In picking up the ball and throwing to the wicketkeeper, Pillay was not obstructing or distracting anyone. He didn't do anything that prevented the fielding side from trying to get him out. He didn't do anything that could be seen as a disadvantage to the fielding side.

Trying to help

Indeed it could be argued that the batsman was merely trying to "help" the fielding team. So strictly speaking, this really should never have been given out. The third umpire got it wrong. The obvious question when a batsman is given out for obstructing the field is, who did he obstruct? The answer to that, in this case, is not a soul!

They took handling the ball off the books as a method of dismissal. Handling the ball would have made this an open and shut case. They lumped the "handling the ball" dismissal with obstructing the field and now find that there is a grey area, which they did not properly plan for.

Now the framers of this cricket law are now looking silly. Most of cricket officialdom must know that Pillay was both unfairly and unfortunately given out. This rule will persist of course because they expect people to play within "the spirit of the game." The thing is simple. If the powers that be in cricket feel that it is breaching some sacred code for fieldsmen to appeal in a situation like that, then simply amend or change the rule. They can word it, however, they like. Just don't create a scenario where a batsmen is given out for picking up a stationary ball and throwing it to a fielder! It is simply ridiculous!

The West Indies under 19 team have been getting a huge flak from a lot of the cricket luminaries around the world. The "spirit of the game" debate is on in full force.

South African captain Faf Du Plessis says he must have done something like this a hundred times and no one appealed. The cricket world again is caught between doing what's considered "right" and doing what is "lawful" under cricket rules. Not "Mankading" the non striker and not appealing for a batsman, who throws a ball to a fielder are cricket's two most sacred unwritten rules.

The West Indies youngsters, in the heat of battle, in back-to-back tournaments forgot about those unwritten rules. Now they have opened up the Pandora's box. It is hard for youngsters to be taking so much flak for effectively playing within the rules. It is time that cricket officials realise that these "unwritten rules" may sometimes be broken. It is time the cricket hierarchy understands that not everybody will play like gentlemen. They should just change the rules or live with the controversy!