WERE MUMBAI Indians actually penalized a run when Kieron Pollard plonked his bat almost a foot short of the popping crease and turned around for the second run on Thursday, or were they in fact awarded one? For the record, the equation following the first ball of MI’s final over stood at 15 needed off the last 5 balls. More importantly, it also meant Pollard the danger man was back on strike. So both Mumbai and Pollard had achieved what they wanted to and also reduced the margin by a run after Pollard was deemed to have been “one-short”.
Umpire Abhijit Deshmukh deemed Pollard’s act as unintentional. This despite the Trinidadian not even trying even once to stretch his bat to get anywhere close. If Deshmukh had instead gone the other way — with the public perception that Pollard had indeed been aware of exactly what he was doing — the batsman would have still have retained the strike but not the run. That would have left the euqation at 16 required from 5.
This opens up a can of worms where the popping crease becomes a line that divides gamesmanship from cheating. It’s a scenario that plays out match after match in the T20 format. A tense run-chase, and a dominant hitter desperate to keep the strike. The law itself is ambigious, and the umpire’s call very subjective. If falling short by nearly a foot is not deemed intentional, then where do you draw the line. But Law 18.5, which covers deliberate short runs, categorically leaves the on-field umpire as the only judge of intent.
“If either umpire considers that one or both batsmen deliberately ran short at that umpire’s end, the umpire concerned shall, when the ball is dead, call and signal Short run and inform the other umpire of what has occurred,” reads clause 1 of the law. And if the “bowler’s end” umpire does deem it to have been deliberate then he shall “disallow all runs to the batting side — return any not out batsman to his/her original end,” reads clause 2 of Law 18.5.
It can get tricky to nail the batsman’s intent. Pollard can turn around and say that all he was doing was to get back to strike and he was not trying to gain an illegal run in the process. After all it’s the umpire’s call to penalise that run; how can a batsman be accused beyond proof that he was trying to steal the extra run? Be that as may, the entire process presents a loophole for batsmen to abuse in end-game scenarios. And probably it’s time the law covers more ground. Unlike with no-ball calls, the TV umpire cannot intervene in these scenarios.
“The on-field umpire has to be satisfied that the act was deliberate. It’s very hard for a TV umpire to judge the intention while not being on the field,” said a seasoned umpire.
It’s somewhat similar to the law that existed with regards to the use of runners in cricket. Even there it was solely up to the on-field umpire to decide whether the batsman in question was injured enough to warrant a teammate “running” for him. And since “intent” can never ever be defined conclusively, the law remains vague. At least, with the runners’ debate, the ICC lawmakers could just get rid off them to clear off all ambiguity. But dealing with a “short-run” is not that straightforward. They obviously cannot penalise a batsman and his team every time he fails to ground his bat behind the popping crease. But then by leaving it the way it stands, they risk the law and the line between unintentional and deliberate being stretched even further with the stakes only getting bigger in the T20 world.
Will we actually see a batsman turning around from the middle of the pitch and trying to complete a “second” run next?
The law, however, isn’t overly lenient on the issue. The decision to disallow the “second” run acts like a first warning, like in the case of a bowler infringing on the “danger area” of the pitch. In case, the batsman is found guilty of deliberately indulging in a short run a second time during an innings, the team can be penalised more sternly with the fielding side being awarded five penalty runs. To superimpose this clause on the Pollard situation, hypothetically that is, Mumbai’s equation might have gone to 21 off 5 balls.
Debate has raged over the controversial “short run” and whether Pollard could be punished retrospectively. But that cannot be the case. According to one senior umpire, since Mumbai were allowed the second run by the umpire, the final decision on the issue had been taken then and there at the centre of the Wankhede Stadium. “Had it been deemed deliberate, they could have explored the code of conduct option. But the procedure invoked was that of “unintentional short runs”, and the law doesn’t allow you to penalise an unintentional act,” he said.