Why is there stigma involved in running out a non-striker? Because it’s all about power

October 02, 2022

Turns out one of the laws of the game is immoral if applied, even if why that is so cannot be explained or defended

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Was it premeditated? Did Deepti Sharma intend to even bowl the ball? Why didn’t she do what she did sooner and not when it got really tight if she was so concerned about the laws of the game? Is she comfortable winning that way?

Did Harmanpreet Kaur, the captain, know about the plan? Was it an individual thing or the team plan? Was a warning given? Whom was the warning given to - the umpire or the batter? Is Harmanpreet comfortable winning that way?

These make for a pretty impressive and incisive set of questions, which have been put to the India bowler and captain. A third set of questions, though, deserves to be asked more than they are being asked at the moment.

Why was Charlie Dean out of her crease? Why was she not watching the ball? Did she premeditate stepping out of her crease before the ball was bowled? Did she ever intend to stay in? How many times did she do it? Is her batting partner comfortable scoring her runs that way? Is this an individual thing or the team plan?

To be clear, Dean did nothing wrong. There should be no stigma attached to being out of your crease. Except that there are consequences for it in the laws of the game, and you should be able to live with them when they apply. Except for Peter Della Penna’s genius Twitter thread, Dean and England have hardly faced the kind of scrutiny and questioning of their intentions that India have had to face.

The more the spotlight shifts like this, the more obvious is the hierarchy of power. The gaze being turned on the player who actually enforced the law is an effective tool to make them question their actions. In the process, those who enjoy the advantage continue to be blissfully self-unaware.

Keemo Paul is a prime example of a player who was at the receiving end in this way. He effected such a run out to win a crucial Under-19 World Cup match, sobbed in his hotel room following the reaction it provoked, and told me he decided to not do it again, not because he thought he was wrong but because he lost the will to face the attacks in the aftermath. Three years later the MCC - no less - kept the gaze on R Ashwin’s pause in his delivery stride when he effected one such run out, but didn’t comment on the number of times Jos Buttler, the batter involved, had stolen ground in the lead-up to the dismissal.

This gaze is integral to sustaining hierarchies of power. The one doing the gazing is superior to the one who is the object of the gaze. In this case the usual suspects are claiming moral superiority even though the MCC has finally followed the ICC in trying to destigmatise the bowler involved in this latest dismissal.

The first power hierarchy is that of batters over bowlers, which has existed from the days of amateur batters and professional bowlers in England. Most international captains are batters; the ICC cricket committee has eight former batters, two bowlers and one allrounder on it. The other power structure involved is more sinister.

As Abhishek Mukherjee has written on wisden.com, this mode of dismissal was prevalent before Vinoo Mankad too. No questions of morality were attached to these dismissals when English bowlers used to effect them. Such confusing, random and exclusionary codes of honour are also integral to hierarchies. In the wider world, these manifest themselves in the form of dress codes, customs, etiquette, convenient definitions of patriotism, blasphemy, and so on.

Players who glorify not walking when out, appealing when aware the batter is not out, bullying players they identify as “mentally weak”, running in the path of a throw, and who indulge in many such acts to gain a competitive advantage within the framework of the rules, consider this kind of run out an immoral act.

It is immoral because it is not “earned”, not pure luck as when someone is caught off the body of the non-striker, and it occurs before the actual duel has begun, although the laws clearly state the ball becomes live at the start of the run-up. If the moral police pause to reflect, they will come face to face with the mental gymnastics they need to indulge in just to keep the focus off the transgressor.

The mere fact that you question the discrepancy automatically makes you an outsider incapable of understanding the moral superiority of those who have decided the act is immoral. It is a vicious, self-sustaining loop where you either follow blindly or face derision.

Australia’s “hard but fair” cricket is an abstract notion that accommodates illustrious captains claiming catches off the ground, vicious sledging, their batters insinuating chucking when walking off after being dismissed by a bowler but crying murder when Virat Kohli questions their captain’s integrity. When someone sledges them back, there miraculously appears a line that cannot be crossed, which is drawn by Australia and whose location only they know.

Using a lozenge to attain reverse swing is fine in England till such time as others do it or do it in a different way. The definitions of an ideal pitch that often emerge when a Test ends in two days in Asia disappear when the old ball is seaming around prodigiously in the second innings as it did in the recent two-day Test at The Oval. Such sermons often flow from these two countries, and are sometimes backed by New Zealand and South Africa.

The financial power in the sport now rests with Asia, more particularly India, but when it comes to controlling narratives, Australia and England are still far superior to other teams. They have more articulate players who are trained to deal with media from an early age. Their teams and boards also have the most professional media-management arms. Their commentators - not all of them - serve to carry the message more efficiently than those from other countries.

Look around you. These hierarchies of power exist everywhere. The lower someone is in the power structure - a religious minority, an immigrant, a historically disadvantaged caste, non-male, non-heterosexual - the greater the onus on them to act righteously and carry the weight of their community on their shoulders. Those exercising the power hardly face that scrutiny. If someone from a disadvantaged background earns money and power, they are still liable to be excluded by vague codes.

That is why it is important to turn the gaze around. When Deepti ran Dean out, the caller on air at the time, Nasser Hussain, who is a superb commentator and is entitled to his opinion, said much more through what he left unsaid: “I am not so sure. I know it’s [permitted] in the laws of the game...”

It is far from ideal to say something to that effect or question the integrity of a batter the next time one is caught out of his or her crease before a delivery is bowled, because morality is best kept to oneself in a competitive sport played within the rules. But if such a thing happens, it will make batters experience what it is to doubt themselves and worry about the backlash - just as much as bowlers do when effecting these dismissals. –Cricinfo



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