Cricket’s first rule – watch the ball

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HOW NOT to be run out by the bowler and provoke a major controversy – it’s pretty simple, says RON REED:

INDIAN cricketer Ravi Ashwin is copping more flak than he deserves for the way he ran out Englishman Jos Buttler in the Indian Premier League the other night.

Yes, he chose to disregard a convention of the game – but he certainly didn’t break any rules. Or Laws, as cricket has always described its written directions on how the game should be played and umpired.

There’s a pretty simple, common sense way for Buttler  — and all other batsmen — to avoid being Mankaded, the term for a bowler lifting the bails without delivering the ball to catch the non-striker out of his crease as he backs up ready to run.

Don’t leave your crease until you see the ball safely on its way down the pitch. Watch the ball – it is, after all, the first principle of cricket.

If you do, you can be run out – as even most young schoolboy player are well aware.

If every batsman took that precaution, every ball, there wouldn’t be any debates about the spirit of the game or whether the “victim” was actually attempting to crib an advantage or whether the bowler should have warned him or should have stopped his delivery stride earlier than usual, whether the ball was legally in play when he did – or any of the other interpretations of what actually happened.

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Batsmen need to take their share of responsibility for this.

Buttler shouldn’t be complaining too loudly – he is a serial offender, it has happened to him before, and, indeed, the latest evidence is that he had left the crease prematurely twice before in the same over.

If play had proceeded normally and he had taken off for a short single and been almost run out – but saved by the proverbial bee’s dick, as regularly happens now with the camera technology – surely that’s benefiting from stretching the rules, spirit or no spirit.

And if Ashwin had at some stage been no-balled for overstepping by the same tiny margin, Buttler would gladly take advantage of the free hit consequently on offer – without a second thought about the spirit of the game, and rightly so.

That’s what the laws of the game say.

None of this is to suggest that the spirit of the game concept is not an entirely worthwhile  official component of the Laws of Cricket – it is, because it is there to ensure borderline cheating does not creep into a sport that prides itself on its ethics and decorum.

Or it did, until the Australian team went well beyond “borderline” in South Africa exactly a year ago.

That sorry episode has strongly reinforced the necessity to ensure that a tight rein is kept – voluntarily as well as being enforced – on what is and is not acceptable in the name of playing to win.

Nor is this is to suggest that Buttler is a cheat – that would be vastly overstating it.

But if Ashwin is to be accused of lacking respect for the game’s dos and don’ts, if not for the explicitly written instructions, then so should he.

The silver lining here might be that Ashwin has worn so much heat for this one it will be a major surprise if he – or any other bowler, for that matter – does it again in a hurry, and hopefully the same might apply to Buttler and all other batsmen.

Just make sure you don’t provide an opportunity, encouragement or reason for another such controversy again. It can’t be that hard, surely.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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