A blemish on gentleman’s game

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A blemish on gentleman’s game

Sunday, 12 November 2023 | Asad

A blemish on gentleman’s game

Mathews’ timed-out turmoil has sparked a heated debate. The cricket world is grappling with a nadir in sportsmanship and rule interpretations in the World Cup spectacle, writes ASAD

The ongoing Cricket World Cup has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Virat Kohli’s feat of equalling Sachin Tendulkar’s record with 49 ODI centuries, the rise of India’s pace battery, and Glenn Maxwell’s once-in-a-century epic knock left cricket enthusiasts spellbound. However, the lowest ebb of the gentleman’s game was Sri Lankan Angelo Mathews’ timed-out, a gut-wrenching moment.

The adrenaline surged during the high-octane clash between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the 25th over at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi on November 6. Lankan all-rounder Mathews walked in to take a stance on the crease after the fall of the wicket of Sadeera Samarawickrama. Just two minutes into the game, pandemonium erupted as Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan appealed for Mathews’ timed-out dismissal.

The unfolding events left both those watching live and in the stadium in complete disbelief, especially since Mathews had not even faced a ball yet.

Initially, many couldn’t discern what had occurred until the commentators clarified the situation by explaining the International Cricket Council’s World Cup playing conditions and rule 40.1.1, which states, “After the fall of a wicket or the retirement of a batter, the incoming batter must, unless time has been called, be ready to receive the ball or for the other batter to be ready to receive the next ball within two minutes of the dismissal or retirement. If this requirement is not met, the incoming batter will be out, timed-out.”

At times, the nuances of cricket rules can be as enigmatic as a magic trick, revealing their secrets only when someone unravels the mystery.

The seasoned 36-year-old batsman, boasting an impressive record of 106 Test matches, 224 ODIs, and 78 T20 appearances for Sri Lanka, displayed a strong reluctance to step back at the crucial moment when his team was struggling at 134 with four wickets down. Mathews went as far as persuading the Bangladesh skipper, laying out the details of his predicament with the broken helmet strap and requesting additional time for a replacement. However, despite his reasoning with the opposition, success was elusive.

Sporting a concerned look, Mathews engaged in an animated conversation with the umpires, Marais Erasmus and Richard Illingworth, to no avail.

On Shakib’s insistence of adhering to the rules of the game, the umpires took the historic call of declaring the Lankan batter timed-out.

Visibly upset by the unconventional dismissal, one of Lanka’s all-time greats exited the field, expressing his displeasure by slamming his helmet down as he crossed the boundary rope. Head coach Chris Silverwood stepped in to offer consolation during this moment of frustration.

Consequently, Mathews etched his name in history by becoming the first batsman to be declared timed-out in the ODI World Cup, marking a unique occurrence in the 146-year-old history of international cricket.

Even in domestic cricket, timed-out dismissals have occurred rarely. Six instances have been recorded, the latest being the case of Zimbabwean Charles Kunje in a Logan Cup match in 2017.

The timed-out dismissal has triggered passionate discussions within the cricketing community this time around.

Shakib found himself at the heart of controversy, facing criticism for “tarnishing” the spirit of the game. Expressing visible displeasure with Shakib’s actions, Bangladesh coach Allan Donald said Bangladesh should have afforded Mathews the necessary time to replace his broken helmet.

However, the Lankan batter could have avoided the embarrassment if, upon reaching the crease, he had faced the first ball from the spinner Shakib without a helmet, instead of persistently insisting on replacing his malfunctioned helmet. The inability to make that critical decision in the heat of the moment ended up costing Lanka the crucial wicket of Mathews, who was dismissed without even facing a ball.

Even though Bangladesh secured victory by dismissing Lanka for 279, a target they successfully chased down in 41.1 overs, the narrative of perception appeared to take a different turn. The aftermath of a win isn’t always solely dictated by the numbers on the scoreboard.

Many voices chimed in, slamming Shakib’s conduct and questioning its alignment with the essence of cricket.

An outpouring of support inundated Mathews, as former South African bowler Dale Steyn characterised the incident as “uncool”, Australia’s Usman Khawaja deemed it “ridiculous”, and former Indian captain Gautam Gambhir bluntly labeled it “pathetic”.

Former Pakistan fearsome pacer Waqar Younis said in a TV broadcast, “I didn’t enjoy what I saw out there. That wasn’t good for the spirit of cricket...”

The cricket community voiced their opinions in a straight forward manner, devoid of any embellishments. In the post-match Press conference, Mathews didn’t hold back, launching a relentless critique against Shakib. He deemed Shakib’s appeal for the controversial dismissal as “disgraceful”.

The tension between the two teams escalated to the extent that, after the match, Lankan players opted not to partake in the customary handshake with Bangladesh batters Tanzim Hasan Sakib and Towhid Hridoy in the middle — an unusual departure from the usual norms of cricket camaraderie. There were no efforts from the Bangladesh camp to ease the tension; however, the support staff from both sides did exchange handshakes.

Mathews, in a post on X, conveyed that he had taken his position with only seconds to spare before the chinstrap on his helmet broke, necessitating the arrival of a replacement. He supported his stance with time-stamped video screenshots and further reinforced his claims by sharing a video post. He wrote, “Video evidence shows I still had five more seconds even after the helmet gave away! Can the fourth umpire rectify this please? I mean safety is paramount as I just couldn’t face the bowler without a helmet.”

“This is clear cheating; I want justice,” he added in another post.

The discussion about the timed-out decision remains fervent even five days after the incident. Many individuals, including iconic cricketers and influencers, are joining in, and comments are escalating, adopting an unusually acrimonious and personal tone — an uncommon occurrence for cricket, which was previously known for on-field sledging, especially by the Australians.

Shakib, whose outstanding performance with bat and ball earned him the player-of-the-match award, maintained a resolute stance regarding the episode.

During the post-match Press interaction, Shakib revealed that the umpire had inquired whether he intended to reconsider Mathews’ dismissal after the appeal had been validated.

“I said he is out, if you call him back, it doesn’t look good. So I said I won’t call him back ... yes unfortunate but within the rules. We had to win this match. When you are fighting a war for your team or country, I believe everything is fair. One of our fielders came to me and said, ‘If you appeal, the law says he’s out because he hasn’t taken guard within the timeframe’,” Shakib said.

When asked about whether he regrets that his appeal breached the spirit of the game, Shakib responded assertively, stating, “Then (the) ICC (International Cricket Council) should look into it and change the rules.”

Although Marylebone Cricket Club, the custodian of the rules governing the game, has endorsed the umpires’ decision and the ICC has emphasised that the spirit of cricket is not the exclusive possession of any individual player, country, or culture, the Bangladesh team’s insistence on cashing in on a strange rule has certainly dented the image of sportsmanship.

The current discourse centres on whether there should be revisions to these rules to prevent similar controversies in the future.

Also, the incident seems to have initiated a more extensive conversation about striking the right balance between following the rules and preserving the essence of the game.

The longstanding debate over the Mankad issue has also prominently come to the forefront. It seems cricket appears to be wrestling with questions around sportsmanship and rule interpretations, making these debates an integral part of the sport’s ongoing narrative.

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