Culture wars are fought over social issues, where polarized groups compete for the acceptance of their respective belief systems. Debates over the idiosyncrasies of cricket don’t often fit this definition. Yet, the U19s Women’s Cricket World Cup fixture between Pakistan and Rwanda has seemingly done it.
On the 15th January, the Pakistan bowler Zaib-un-Nisa dismissed the Rwandan batter Shakila Niyomuhoza by a run out at the non-striker’s end, commonly known as a ‘Mankad’. According to the game’s lawmakers, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the run out was legal: “If the non-striker is out of his/her ground at any time from the moment the ball comes into play until the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the non-striker is liable to be run out.”
The rule is in place to ensure that non-striking batters don’t receive an unfair advantage by leaving their crease before the ball has been bowled. However, what followed has been a polarized social media examination into the sporting merits of Zaib-un-Nisa’s decision to enact this form of dismissal.
So, if the dismissal is legal, why all the controversy?
Historically, the sport has followed a form of ‘etiquette’, coined by the London-based MCC, as the ‘Spirit of Cricket’. This is the expectation that players will follow certain traditions and forms of behaviour when playing cricket. The ‘etiquette’ for the ‘Mankad’ is for the bowler to hold the ball over the stumps, warning the non-striking batter of their intention to enact the dismissal the next time around. Still, even with this warning, many consider it to be an ‘ugly’ dismissal.
Stuart Broad, fast bowler for the England men’s test team, has stated how he believes the ‘Mankad’ to be ‘unfair’ and that it ‘requires zero skill.’ While England’s One-Day International captain, Jos Butler, says that he would ‘call the batsman back’ if a teammate used the ‘Mankad’, as ‘no one wants to see it’ in the game.
Yet, with all the eccentric rules that cricket has (watch the 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup final to learn a few), who decides which are ‘sporting’? Who judges whether something is skillful or not? And who polices this ‘Spirit of Cricket’?
While the level of skill required is up for debate, it doesn’t explain the centrality of ‘sportsmanship’ in this conversation. Harsha Bhogle, Indian cricket commentator and journalist, believes that there are colonial undertones in the cricketing world’s moral reflections on the ‘Mankad’: “The English thought it was wrong to do so (the Mankad) and because they ruled over a large part of the cricket world, they told everyone it was wrong. The colonial domination was so powerful that few questioned it.”
This suggests a continuation of an imperial mindset, where the ex-colonisers still have the moral authority to decide the values and beliefs in the global cricketing community. An argument particularly pertinent when considering how cricket was used as part of the British empire’s ‘civilising mission’.
Anthony Bateman, an honorary visiting research fellow at the De Montfort University, wrote in his book Cricket, Literature and Culture: “Not only was cricket coming to represent what were believed to be the ‘higher’, ‘civilised’ values of the coloniser over the colonised, but its discourses endowed it with the ability to transform the colonised into English gentlemen.”
Intriguingly, the first ‘Mankad’ was enacted by Indian cricketer Mulvantrai Himmatlal Mankad in a test match against Australia, only a few months after the Partition of India in 1947. It’s difficult to argue with certainty that Mankad’s use of this dismissal was consciously part of a wider rejection of British ‘civil’ values from Indian life. Or, to an even greater degree of uncertainty, that the use of the ‘Mankad’ today is an act of agency against lingering colonial power structures in cricket.
However, the polarity in conversations over something as mundane as a cricketing dismissal should force some reflections on the origins of these ‘sporting morals’ and whether they are still applicable today.
Image Credit: CC2:0//Getty Images/David Munden.