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Journalism of Courage

Deepti Sharma and the question of law vs spirit in cricket

The non-consummation of the cricket act leaves, for many, a foul taste, a shallow feeling; and for many it’s a tribute to cricketing smartness. There is nothing black or white about this matter

Sharma spotted Dean, who only had her bat in the crease, and stopped and let her stroll out. (Twitter/Screengrab)

Why do people still feel upset when a bowler runs out a non-striker for stepping out before the ball is released? Perhaps their angst stems from the fact that this act preempts everything else: A ball hasn’t been bowled, the batsman hasn’t gotten into the act, and they feel “cheated” by the non-consummation of the cricketing act. The Lord’s crowd booed and many players like James Anderson exhibited similar emotion on Twitter when the Indian bowler Deepti Sharma shoved the bails off the stumps at the non-striker’s end when England’s batter Charlotte Dean stepped out before the ball was released.

To state the obvious first, Sharma did nothing wrong; if anything, she showed presence of mind and the courage to bear the “cheater” stigma. To state the non-obvious, neither was Dean attempting to cheat.

In the nationalistic and virtue-signalling din, nuance is unsurprisingly lost.

Dean had her bat inside the crease, when Sharma not only landed her back foot but almost pressed down her front foot as well. Only then did Dean lift her bat out of the crease. That moment when the bowler’s front foot lands as the right arm goes up to release the ball, seen through peripheral vision, is when non-strikers begin to depart from the crease. This is a habit that they will now have to shrug off.

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Sharma spotted Dean, who only had her bat in the crease, and stopped and let her stroll out.

Here is the grey area of intent: The non-striker was not charging out to steal but just assumed that the ball was released.

This is why the late Shane Warne had a problem with Ashwin’s run-out of Jos Buttler in the IPL: “(He) had no intention of delivering the ball — so it should have been called a dead ball”. A similar sentiment was expressed this time by England’s James Anderson about Sharma.


Sunil Gavaskar doesn’t buy that theory of penalising the bowler’s intent under the umbrella of the “spirit of the game”. “The simple thing is you have to look at the bowler and move out when he releases. You can’t look at the batsman and walk out of the crease. The law is clear,” he had once told this newspaper.

The laws don’t admit sympathy or foolishness or lack of intent as a cause to overlook a dismissal. Should the punishment be less to allow such lack of intent to steal a run as in Dean’s case?

As the cliche goes, cricket is a funny game where intent doesn’t really matter. Krishnamachari Srikkanth was run out in his debut Test by England’s John Emburey as he had absent-mindedly wandered out of his crease. A harsher incident was when New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum ran out Muttiah Muralitharan, who had left the crease to congratulate his partner Kumar Sangakkara on his hundred while the ball was still in play.


There were some eyebrows raised when South Africa’s wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock ran out Fakhar Zaman. The Pakistani had almost reached the striker’s end when de Kock signalled to the other end, as if he were telling the bowler to collect the throw there, which made Zaman turn around to look. To his horror, the ball was already well on its way to de Kock who whipped off the bails with a chuckle.

Perhaps, the former England spinner Graeme Swann’s witticism best captures the feelings of those against this move. In 2014, when the Sri Lankan Sachithra Senanayake ran out Jos Buttler (a repeat offender as evidenced by his run out by Ashwin much later in IPL), Swann piped up: “I think the Mankading is just wrong even though it’s not illegal. Like cuddling your sister while watching a film!”.

However, it also says something about the act of running out the non-striker when people who claim bounced balls as catches, run out a player walking to congratulate their partner for hitting a hundred, don’t walk after edging, tamper with the ball, use drugs and hurl abuses, unite in the moral war against it — and yet, the rules clearly say the onus is on the batsman not to leave the crease until the ball is delivered.

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The non-consummation of the cricket act leaves, for many, a foul taste, a shallow feeling; and for many it’s a tribute to cricketing smartness. Where we stand reveals our own personality and urges; nothing black or white about this grey matter.


First published on: 27-09-2022 at 04:15:55 am
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