For nearly eight weeks between April and May every night for the past decade, the Indian Premier League has grabbed our eyeballs. We try steadfastly to affirm our loyalty to the longest version and dismiss the T20 slam-bang as tamasha cricket and time-pass, we fake-mock the closeness of the contests and whisper conspiratorially about ‘contrived’ close finishes – to matches as well as to the qualification process – but we just can’t stay away from it. The pull of the IPL is arresting, magnetic, irresistible; love it or hate it, you simply can’t ignore it.
One gets sucked deeper and deeper into the IPL quagmire the closer you get to the playoffs, in the lead-up to which event gets magnified, almost every action scrutinised. And yet, some thought-provoking passages effortlessly get relegated to the background because such is the nature of the format that everything revolves around the result.
Take the final over of Mumbai Indians’ extraordinary run-chase against Kings XI Punjab on Thursday (May 11) night, for instance. The first ball of that final over, to be specific. Mumbai need 16 off the last six deliveries to scale down Punjab’s 230 for 3 and complete the highest successful chase in the history of the competition. Kieron Pollard is on strike, on a beefy 42 off 18; he is just three hits away from history, but up against him is the canny Mohit Sharma, him of the wonderful changes of pace and an array of slower deliveries to die for.
Law 18.5: Deliberate short runs
18.5.1 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 and apply 18.5.2.
18.5.2 The bowler’s end umpire shall – disallow all runs to the batting side – return any not out batsman to his/her original end – signal No ball or Wide to the scorers, if applicable – award 5 Penalty runs to the fielding side – award any other 5-run Penalty that is applicable except for Penalty runs under Law 28.3 (Protective helmets belonging to the fielding side) – inform the scorers as to the number of runs to be recorded – inform the captain of the fielding side and, as soon as practicable, the captain of the batting side of the reason for this action.
18.5.3 The umpires together shall report the occurrence as soon as possible after the match to the Executive of the offending side and to any Governing Body responsible for the match, who shall take such action as is considered appropriate against the captain, any other individuals concerned and, if appropriate, the team.
Pollard carries all of Mumbai’s hopes for, at the other end, is Harbhajan Singh, at one time a ferocious striker of the cricket ball but whose exploits with the bat are increasingly becoming as rare as hen’s teeth. Mumbai are happy Pollard is on strike; they want the giant Trinidadian on strike until the final denouement.
Mohit’s first ball is fullish on off, but Pollard can do little with it except muscle it along the ground to long-on. The batsmen are always eyeing two because Pollard must be on strike. Glenn Maxwell, having a very poor day on the field, swoops on the ball and infuses doubts in the minds of the batsmen. Uncertain if he can beat the throw if he goes all the way into the crease at the non-striker’s end, Pollard plonks his bat at least a foot in front of the safety of the crease, then whirls around and beats the ordinary throw to the wicketkeeper. The umpire at the bowler’s end has noticed the transgression and therefore signals ‘one short’. Mumbai will only get one run, but Pollard will be on strike, the equation now 15 off 5.
Was that Pollard’s cricketing sense at play? His presence of mind? And the belief that he could get away with it because officialdom is not always consistent in cracking down on such ‘marginal’ infractions?
As it turned out, Pollard managed just seven from those five deliveries as Punjab trooped home winners by seven runs. That was reason enough to overlook the Pollard incident that might otherwise have triggered a storm. Had, for instance, Pollard finished the game – and Punjab’s qualification chances – off with a couple of big blows, would not have the spirit of the game have been invoked? Would not his intent have been questioned?
There is a provision for ‘one short’ within the Laws of the game. Law 18.3 deals with short runs, and goes thus:
18.3.1 A run is short if a batsman fails to make good his/her ground in turning for a further run.
18.3.2 Although a short run shortens the succeeding one, the latter if completed shall not be regarded as short. A striker setting off for the first run from in front of the popping crease may do so also without penalty.
As much as one respects the Laws as they exist, the one question that has been nagging me is: If you haven’t completed the first run, how can you be deemed to have completed the second? If you don’t clear Standard 1, you don’t get to Standard 2, do you? A dear friend with impeccable cricketing credentials pointed out that technically, that would mean even if the batsman was in the safety of his crease after the second run, he could still be run out because he hadn’t completed the first run!
How do you measure/judge intent? How do you get into the minds of players during the heat of battle to figure out what’s ticking inside? How do you figure if it is a deliberate short run, with which Law 18.5 deals, if a batsman gets to within a foot of the making his ground, as opposed to whirling around immediately after the two batsmen have crossed mid-pitch? And, if you do believe it is deliberate, how far does the match referee go to impose the laid out strictures even though he is not chary of fining Mahendra Singh Dhoni for jocularly making the DRS sign earlier in the tournament?
Since we are on Laws and stuff, how do we resolve this: A bowler is no-balled in a limited-overs game because there are three men behind square on the on-side. The strike hasn’t turned over, so the field can’t be changed, which means three men will continue to remain behind square which means the next ball, a free hit, too will be a no-ball. Alive to this, the batsmen assiduously ensure the strike isn’t rotated off the resultant free-hit deliveries. How on earth will that ball ever legally be deemed completed?
Can we not take all the conjecture out of the equation by simply cancelling out all runs accumulated subsequently after the short run? Perhaps something for Anil Kumble and his ICC Cricket Committee to ponder over when they meet in London later this month, on May 23 and 24?
Speaking of. Why not check for a no-ball when a run-out appeal is sent upstairs to the TV umpire, too? Yes, agreed, a batsman can be run out off a no-ball, but what about the other events surrounding his key event?
Every time the third umpire is called to adjudicate on a bowler’s wicket – veracity of a catch, a stumping, whether a batsman has nicked the ball on his pads – the process begins with checking if the bowler has overstepped. For the run-outs, the only parameters used are whether the batsman has made his ground, and whether the bails/stump have been removed legally, by the hand holding the ball if it is not a direct hit. But what if the bowler had overstepped? The said batsman is still out, agreed, but in a limited-overs game particularly, the prospect of the extra run and the extra ball – a free hit, no less – can mean the difference between defeat and victory. Especially with DRS set to make its foray into Twenty20 cricket as well, perhaps it’s time to redress this run-out imbalance in the white-ball format, at the very least, if not across all versions.