Last week, a son finally emerged triumphant in his long-running battle to restore his father’s honour, with the act of ‘Mankading’ no longer consigned to the realm of unfair play by the laws of cricket.
Having played Ranji Trophy for Mumbai in an era when half the Indian cricket team played for Mumbai, Rahul Mankad could not digest the fact that his father’s name was attached with guilt and stigma every time a bowler ran the batsman out at the non-striker’s end. Rahul took up the battle with the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), and this has, eventually, resulted in a change in the law.
Law 41.16 — running out the non-striker — has been moved from Law 41 (unfair play) to Law 38 (run out). This means it wasn’t unfair play when the great Vinoo Mankad ran Bill Brown out, nearly 75 years ago.
William Alfred ‘Bill’ Brown was one of the finest opening batsmen ever to play Test cricket. He was part of the ‘Invincibles’, under the leadership of Don Bradman. Brown and Jack Fingleton were surely the best Test opening partnership in the history of Australian cricket. But Brown was not the flamboyant player oozing with natural talent; rather, he was a hard-working cricketer who climbed his way to the top through grit and determination.
Perhaps it was this determination that encouraged Brown to leave his crease before Mulvantrai Himmatlal ‘Vinoo’ Mankad was about to deliver a ball in a Test series Down Under. The year was 1947 and India had just gained Independence — and this confidence was reflected on the cricket field by one of the country’s finest all-rounders. Mankad had no hesitation in running Brown out at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Perhaps the confidence must also have come to Mankad from the fact that he was a great cricketer. From the time he made his debut in 1946 till the time Kapil Dev arrived on the scene in 1978, it was Mankad who was India’s greatest all-rounder. What made his run-out of Brown controversial was that the MCC — the custodian of the laws of the game — had already classified such a dismissal as ‘unfair play’ under Law 41.16.
Mankad was not the first cricketer to do it. Way back in 1835, English player Thomas Barker had done it five times in first-class cricket. Barker was an amateur — a trader who played only a few matches and later became mayor of Sheffield. If someone had to carry the stigma of ‘Mankading’, it should have been Barker.
What brought Mankad into the limelight was that he was the first to do it in international cricket. It caught the world’s attention as it happened at the SCG in the middle of a famous Test series. The Australian press invented the term and named it ‘Mankading’ or ‘Mankaded’. It could easily have been ‘Barked’, but the English press had chosen to let that pass.
The incident raised a great furore, and for some bizarre reason, it was the bowler who was seen as unethical. The fact was that it was the batsman who was trying to steal a run and gain some extra yards by walking out of the crease before the bowler had delivered the ball. Yet, it was considered unfair play by the bowler.
Mankad received a fair bit of unjustified criticism from many corners, but not from the man he had run out. What made it worse was that in almost all such cases, the bowler first cautioned the batsman with a warning. This meant that in almost all cases, the batsman was a repeat offender.
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There was one respite for Mankad. There was no television in 1947 and the incident didn’t flash across screens the world over. Ironically, in 1992, India’s other great all-rounder, Kapil Dev, ran out Peter Kirsten of South Africa. This time, the incident was for the whole world to see on television. Just as Mankad had cautioned Brown, Kapil Dev, too, had forewarned Kirsten. When Kirsten tried to be cheeky again, a furious Kapil Dev ran him out and rightly insisted that his appeal be upheld. Ironically, two of India’s greatest all-rounders were involved in running out batsmen trying to take unfair advantage.
The incident did nothing to diminish Mankad’s reputation. By the time he retired, he had scored five hundreds and six half-centuries, with a highest score of 231. More importantly, he took 162 wickets with the ball. It’s tempting to briefly look into his feats as a cricketer. He scored that 231 in a 1955-56 series against the Kiwis, putting on 413 for the opening wicket along with Pankaj Roy. He averaged an incredible 105 in that series.
India’s first Test victory over England, in 1952, came purely thanks to the great Mankad. On a Madras wicket with no assistance for spin, he took 12 wickets for 100-odd runs.
He reached his zenith at Lord’s later that year when he scored 72 and 184. Before he went into bat and score that 184, he had already bowled 31 overs on that day. The rival English captain, Len Hutton, ranked it as the greatest performance ever in a Test by a player on the losing side.
While the 1947 incident of Mankad running out Brown created an ethical debate for the press and the public at large, one man saw it in the right perspective. It was Brown himself. He confessed that Mankad had forced him to smarten up and be aware that a batsman cannot dupe a bowler by trying to gain extra yards.
The great Bill O’Reilly was flabbergasted when anyone condemned Mankad. O’Reilly, a bowler, was ever ready and willing to take on the batsman with the odd remark. When asked if he would do what Mankad did, Reilly replied in the affirmative and added wit to it by saying that non-strikers should not rush to the other end in the first place when great bowlers like himself and Mankad were bowling.
The change to the law isn’t just a vindication for the great Vinoo Mankad, but for all bowlers trying to stop the non-striker from taking undue advantage. It was the right thing to do then, it remains the right thing to do now, and it shall continue to remain the right thing to do for as long as the great game of cricket is played.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)
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