Usman Khawaja plays to the on side

Does my bum look big in this?

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High Fives

Debate me this

Five cricket arguments that are not going anywhere in a hurry

Jon Hotten |

The Massive Bat Incident, or I Like Big Bats and I Cannot Lie
Much of cricket's future was seeded in its earliest universe. Its distant past as a rogue's game saw betting, match-fixing and ball-tampering long before overarm bowling or the cover drive.

The Massive Bat Incident of 1771 marked the first debate over the size of cricket's key implement. In a game between Chertsey and Hambledon (effectively Surrey and Hampshire) at Laleham Burway, Chertsey's Thomas White walked to the crease with a bat carved to the width of the stumps. Hambledon's players objected, and having won the game by a single run, their fearsome fast bowler Thomas Brett wrote a letter of protest that resulted in the Law being altered to introduce a maximum bat width.

So stood the bat for the next few hundred years, a blade of 38 inches in length and 4¼ inches wide, its weight and depth unspecified and yet limited by the physical capacity of the batsman to wield it. The 1970s saw new shapes like the Jumbo, the Scoop and the V12 turn the bat into a marketable item, and then, with the dawn of T20 came its revolution as an object: reimagined as a new and lightweight weapon of war by pod-shavers who pushed the willow to its limits in its dryness and effectiveness. And yet it would mean nothing without the intent and desire of the players using it, new shots played with new style and new muscle, these effects indivisible from the impact of the bat itself.

The strange, Schrodinger's Cat-like notion of a batsman being in and out to exactly the same ball was just plain spooky

For the first time since the Massive Bat Incident, the size of the bat was reconsidered by MCC, and we will soon have a maximum depth too. The debate has been polarising, the eye and gut of the old pros - "These big bats they have now…" - challenged by the irrefutable laws of physics. The bat must slim down but it will not change new batting. The argument will rage.

Murali's Bowling Action, or The Truth About Flex
Science has slowly demystified the physical processes of cricket, at first in small increments and then with a roar of discovery. Shock No. 1: batsmen don't really "watch" the ball at all - or they only do for around 57% of its flight. The rest of the time is spent looking at the spot where the ball may land or the region it's expected to be struck. Shock No. 2: most bowlers do not keep their arm straight when delivering the ball. Instead, there is a variable but measurable degree of elbow flex in almost all of them.

Muttiah Muralitharan, son of a candy-making family from Kandy, twirled into the public consciousness when he bowled to Allan Border in a tour game back in 1992, the first sight of his action greeted with as much astonishment as the prodigious spin imparted with the unlikely whirr of shoulder, elbow and wrist. It couldn't possibly be legal, could it? Darrell Hair didn't think so, nor Ross Emerson. Science said the naked eye was wrong, and Murali, who played the game with a smile and the iron backing of Arjuna Ranatunga, even performed in a cast to prove his arm didn't straighten during the act.

The DRS: jury's out forever

The DRS: jury's out forever © Getty Images

As a bowler Murali will always divide opinion (even now, his ESPNcricinfo player profile opens with a line about his polarising effect) but his epic career made us understand better what happens when a ball is delivered, and has helped to remove the unnecessary stigma around "chucking", which had at one point meant only shame and exile. Like batsmen, bowlers change techniques. They are human. They get tired and they falter. At least now, like batsmen, they can repair that technique and begin again. This is Murali's legacy, along with a fighter's heart and a glimpse of the gloriously possible.

Will India Ever Accept the DRS, or Does Hawk-Eye Really Work?
It is cricket's sliding-doors moment, the point at which an alternative future can be not just predicted but revealed. With the use of GPS, or laser beams, or magic pixie dust or however it operates (I haven't quite got the science down), ball-tracking technology can let us know what would have happened had that pad - usually Shane Watson's - not interrupted the leather's progress. Combined with the heat-seeking Hot Spot and the all-hearing Snicko, justice for both bowler and bat can be swift and assured…

Except, can it?

The initial revelation that a batsman propping forward to spin was often plumb lbw changed batting and bowling. The use of the two-reviews-per-team system politicised and made tactical the fair implementation of the Laws. The strange, Schrödinger's cat-like notion of a batsman being both in and out to the same ball depending on the margin of the on-field umpire's original decision was just plain spooky.

Where you stand (no pun intended, although it's quite a good one) on mankading is probably generational

Technology that had been developed with the intention of entertaining those watching on TV was driving the game. It didn't, to the hardened observer, always look particularly accurate, and India to date do not use it. Other series sometimes can't afford it. Thus a two-tier system of adjudication exists, with a plethora of different equipment used around the world. Will the DRS ultimately take over? I'm calling for a review.

The Meaning of Mankading
"Mankad Again Traps Bill Brown" ran the newspaper headline describing an act that has passed into cricketing infamy.

Where you stand (no pun intended, although it's quite a good one) on mankading - the act of running out the non-striking batsman should they leave the popping crease while backing up - is probably generational. Cricket can be a place of antiquarian manners and customs, its Laws set in stone and yet mutable when subjected to what is deemed right and proper. Back in Vinoo's day, the notion of stealing singles was not the same as in the high-pressure, stats-driven environs of now - although Bradman is said to have backed Mankad's decision.

And yet the act retains its dastardly edge. In the Under-19 World Cup quarter-final last February, Keemo Paul of West Indies mankaded Zimbabwe's Richard Ngarava in the final over of the match with three runs needed. Ngarava had left his crease, his bat trailing on, rather than behind, the line. The umpires conferred, asked West Indies captain Shimron Hetmyer whether he wanted the appeal to stand, and went to the third umpire, who confirmed the dismissal. West Indies won the game and ultimately the tournament. Asked if he felt the mankad was within the fabled "spirit" of cricket, Hetmyer replied, "Probably not."

"Top o' the morning to ye, laddie" © Getty Images

Here was the perfect test case: a close mankading in the final over with a definite effect on the match result. And opinion? As divided as it's ever been, although the MCC's new attempt to clarify the Law, and to stress the advantage unfairly gained by the batsman, suggests a future in which Vinoo's name may be refracted in a new light.

Steve Waugh and Mental Disintegration, or Does the Sledge Work?
ESPNcricinfo's Jarrod Kimber once told a story about meeting Steve Waugh in a lift and, in his nervousness, cracking a lame joke. He received in return not a polite laugh but the same chilling, flint-eyed stare that had confronted Australian opposition (and occasionally errant members of his own team) for a generation.

Waugh saw the psychological hinterland of cricket as a battlefield that must be won as surely as session one on the first day of a series, and no one was better at it. As myth would have it, he was the deliverer of the greatest, most effective sledge of all time: "You just dropped the World Cup, son", to Herschelle Gibbs. He was the captain who rejected early declarations and he followed on in their most famous defeat in favour of grinding the opposition into puffs of dust. For Waugh, cricket was won in the mind before it was won on the field. Fans love the notion of this superiority being expressed verbally, either in the kind of brutal aside Waugh supposedly delivered to Gibbs, or the earthy humour of a Merv Hughes or a Shane Warne (another master of the side-of-mouth comment to an incoming batsman). Clips of stump mike conversations go up on YouTube, books of "amusing" sledges are published, after-dinner tales are told.

But does it work? The truth is, Australia won because they were a team full of legends, captained skilfully by Waugh, a rounded man with a life away from cricket. It's what great teams do, how they work. During the last few Ashes series, questions about sledging have been brushed away as irrelevant. It has become more important to the public than the participants. Waugh even confessed that he couldn't remember exactly what he had said to Gibbs (though he did eventually). And yet the myth of sledging lives on.

Jon Hotten blogs here. @theoldbatsman





  • POSTED BY Sid on | September 27, 2016, 15:37 GMT

    Spirit of the Game is not violated by bowlers in the case of mankading. people need to understand that. It is the batsmen who is unfairly out of his crease when the laws clearly suggest that batter can not leave his crease before the ball is bowled. If the batter is not being fair in the first place, then how can he expect the bowler to not run him out. Fair and Square.

    Some people compare it to bowlers bowling a no ball and that the extra ball is small punishment compared to batsmen being given out. But they need to understand that the initial rule clearly states that batter is not allowed to leave the crease before the delivery. plain and simple.

    Spirits of the game is broken when fielders claim a catch that they have not taken, Batsmen not leaving the field when they know they have edged etc but not in mankading as it is properly defined in the laws of cricket and is not ambiguous.

  • POSTED BY Sid on | September 27, 2016, 15:14 GMT

    Well, I do not understand why is mankading not termed as fair? First of all due to the so called SPIRIT of the game thing, batsmen usually on most occasions are given enough warning (at-least 2 times), and if still batsmen do no understand and try to steal an early run, well its totally their fault. They only have themselves to blame for it. Why should the batsmen be allowed to leave his crease before the bowl is even bowled. if he is given this leeway then who defines/controls how much/far can they leave the crease. They may directly stand besides the striker then. This is pure rubbish and batsmen shouldn't be allowed to leave the crease else mankading shouldn't be quoted as AGAINST spirit

  • POSTED BY Edwin on | September 26, 2016, 14:08 GMT

    Best allrounder - Botham, Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Kallis, Imran or Sobers?

  • POSTED BY Vinod on | September 26, 2016, 6:38 GMT

    Well interesting proverbial for thought, my 5c worth:- I wish the fair name of Mankad, a terrific cricketing family that provided 3 gen of TC and FC players was far removed from this type of dismissal. The mankads played with dignity, restraint in victory, with skill, passion and in an exemplary sportsmanlike fashion. Before the test match in which this 'unfortunate' dismissal occurred, Vinoo mankad warned Bill brown for backing up in an FC tour game. the batsman didn't pay heed & transgressed in a test match, leading to his dismissal in this manner. Just that vinoo mankad's name was so catchy that the term stuck with the media et al. It is a travesty that a gentleman's name, a player who played in the way you'd want any youngster to emulate- is associated with something that has negative almost un-sportsman like connotations. Wish those in the know would term this as 'bowler's run-out' or some other term/jargon.-cricinfo please publish

  • POSTED BY malchr9294662 on | September 26, 2016, 5:36 GMT

    I'm fairly certain that when Murali was tested, his elbow flex did indeed exceed the limits set down by the law at the time, which was 5 degrees. It was at that time that, from memory, a number of other bowlers were also tested and the flex limit was increased for all bowlers to 15 degrees.

    I also recall there was significant discussion (for want of a better word) as to how well the testing reflected a real match situation.

  • POSTED BY robpet1260883 on | September 25, 2016, 18:32 GMT

    The other great debate apart from who are the greatest individual players, but which test team would claim the crown as the greatest ever - the 1948 invincibles, the West Indies of the late 1970's and 1980's or the Australian team of the late 1990's and early part of this century?

  • POSTED BY ashesm6177584 on | September 25, 2016, 17:10 GMT

    The debate over who was the better batsman - Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar - is another one that will never go away.

  • POSTED BY Jeff on | September 25, 2016, 11:23 GMT

    Ive been a 'slogger' since the mid 1990's, and my hits are roughly the same distance now with huge bats as they were in the 1990's with more traditional planks. The differnce at the top level now is not bats, its the format of T20 which had changed players mindsets across ALL formats from runs-per-wicket to runs-per-over - meaning players are now taking huge meaty swings at the ball rather than more controlled strokes. Huge meaty swings are the reason edges are going for six, umpires are wearing lids and arm shields, and run rates are rising. Look at how modern players prepare for the ball. In the 2005 ashes, Trescothick and Hayden, hardly defensive players, still faced the ball with the bat on the deck. Nowadays even recognised 'defensive' players like Cook are holding the bat around thier ears like they are playing base ball.

  • POSTED BY Simon on | September 25, 2016, 3:18 GMT

    I always find the reaction to certain evolutionary situations interesting. The decision to restrict the depth of bats is much like the buoyancy wetsuit controversy in swimming, where technology has outpaced rulemakers for the ability to see where the game can go. Sadly rulemakers then flex their admin muscles and say "No, we aren't having that!" Ridiculous when you consider they should have the game as a whole in mind. What a breath of fresh air it would be if the rulemakers actually allowed the other side to counter the innovation rather than banning change. Wouldn't it be great if restrictions were taken off bowlers and they could attack slabs of wood which are wielded in which ever stance the batter wants whether standing at the crease or running at the bowler from the edge of the pitch? Wouldn't that give a more definitive answer as to whether slabs are the reason for telephone number scoring, or whether it is actually the batsman being able to walk to the wicket with no fear?

  • POSTED BY rob on | September 25, 2016, 2:33 GMT

    Waughs attitude was the result of numerous merciless hammerings by the West Indies and England. He basically got sick and tired of losing. The fact that one of the best sides we've ever had went along for the ride is, I think, coincidental. He would have been the same regardless how good his team was imo. .. Fair comment about Murali's legacy. He has indeed blazed the trail for bowlers to change their action and come back to the game. In days past being called for chucking meant permanent exile. .. Bat sizes? Don't care. Thick edges also make leading edges carry. There are some bad things about big bats too.

  • POSTED BY Arun on | September 25, 2016, 1:24 GMT

    Mankading: This is a non-issue. The laws of the game are more than sufficient to determine the rules under which the game ought to be played. This artifice of "spirit of the game" is invariably tilted in favour of batsmen. Why is it that the spirit of the game is never invoked when it comes to bowling? Things that are against the spirit of the game: Mankading, bodyline, intimidatory bowling, negative bowling, sledging (usually directed at the batsman), underarm bowling, appealing for handling the ball** or obstructing the field**, being run out for leaving the crease before the ball is dead (Ian Bell vs India). The only thing that is anti-batsman that I can come up with is running on a ricochet off the batsman. See a pattern here?

    Sledging: Meh. As long as it doesn't turn into an abusive shouting match, sledging (not abuse) is perfectly fine.

    ** The batsman is usually given out, but it is controversial despite the clarity of the law

  • POSTED BY Debra on | September 25, 2016, 1:21 GMT

    son of candy-worker from kandy. nice word-play

  • POSTED BY Arun on | September 25, 2016, 1:08 GMT

    The big bats debate: What's more likely, that the bats are the reason we have big hitting batsmen, or that the modern cricketer is just bigger, stronger, fitter, and better tuned than the beer guzzling, pot-bellied players of the 80's, and bats on flatter pitches?

    Chucking: Murali's case lead an investigation into actions that indicated that except legspinners, most bowlers had significant flex. The response, however, led the ICC to go overboard and allowed players get away with chucking (self-identified by their long sleeves). Thankfully, better sense has returned to proceedings.

    DRS: The BCCI is not wrong. To date, there hasn't been one public/peer-reviewed investigation into the efficacy of hawk-eye, and into whether its error is bounded under all conditions (I understand it isn't). The CEO of Virtual eye has admitted to the limitations of their system. Hotspot is broken. DRS itself is used as a tactic to overturn marginal calls, instead of being used to correct egregious errors.