By Manish Kumar
In a bizarre incident, Sri Lankan all-rounder Angelo Mathews created an unwanted record by becoming the first player in international cricket to be given timed out during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 match against Bangladesh at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi on Monday. Mathews, who was supposed to bat at No.6 for Sri Lanka, faced a delay due to a problem with his helmet, which hindered him from taking his position at the crease within the stipulated time.
The incident happened when Sri Lanka lost Sadeera Samarawickrama in the 25th over and were tottering at 135 for 4. Mathews came out but just as he was going to the pitch, his helmet strap broke. The veteran all-rounder called for a replacement helmet. Amid this, Bangladesh captain Shakib al-Hasan approached the umpire and as Mathews was not ready to face his first ball within the stipulated two minutes as per ICC rules, he was given timed out.
Witnessing this, the entire cricketing fraternity went hammer and tongs after Shakib for not upholding the “spirit of the game” and for his “unsportsmanlike” conduct. And while we do so, we forget that any case should be judged on pure facts and merits rather than subjectivity based on perceptions and biases that creep in subconsciously and force us to indulge in value judgments at the drop of a hat.
At the risk of being perceived as playing the devil’s advocate, I will request the readers to ponder on the few pertinent points detailed below:
Firstly, I think Mathews had made it to the crease in less than two minutes as per what has been reported (1 minute 53 seconds) and it was only because of the helmet strap coming off (equipment failure) that he went beyond the 2-minute mark before facing a delivery. So, I feel Mathews certainly had a case to plead, which he did. Things did not turn out the way he wanted is another story.
Secondly, technically Shakib was well within his rights to appeal. What is this whole hogwash about the “spirit of the game”? Who decides what is in the spirit of the game and what is not? The patricians of Marleyborne Cricket Club or the plebeians that follow cricket like a religion in the subcontinent? I guess neither has the right to decide on what is in “ the spirit of the game “ and what is not.
This is a matter of personal opinion and subjectivity will always come in. So. discussion on the “spirit of the game” should be best avoided. The point is if there is a rule (whether right or wrong, logical or illogical), and if I am Shakib and I am appealing for implementing that rule, then why should I be castigated for that in the name of “spirit of the game”?
If it is against the spirit of the game, then the powers that be should be must change the rule – as simple as that. The same goes for “mankading”, which was earlier mentioned in the rule book as an “unsporting dismissal if the batsman is not warned”. The wording “unsporting dismissal” have now been removed from the rule book and rightly so. Why was Ashwin being lambasted when what he did was well within the laid down rules of the game and was to prevent the non-striker from taking undue advantage?
There should not be any scope for any value judgment in this type of thing whether an individual upheld the spirit of the game or not. Shakib was technically well within his rights to appeal and he did that.
Thirdly, I feel the onus of applying “common sense” was on the on-field umpires Erasmus and Illingworth. They should have used their authority to resolve this grey area at that very moment and told Shakib that Mathews was on the crease within two minutes and it was only because of equipment failure that he went beyond the 2 minute mark. The helmet is such equipment that could not be compromised even for a single delivery from a safety point of view and the on-field umpires should have reasoned with Shakib to let Mathews continue.
I am sure Shakib would have understood the logic and even if he did not, the on-field umpires have that much authority to prevail but they chose to not exercise the authority vested in them. In my opinion, Erasmus and Illingworth should also be held accountable to some extent — more than what they are being currently for their inaction to ensure that common sense prevailed rather than people getting into value judgment and castigating Shakib for not upholding the spirit of the game.
At times, many things go out of hand when people in positions of authority choose not to exercise their authority when they should and this was an example of that.
Lastly, if Shakib had appealed, then the arrow would have left the bow and technically it could have been taken back by only Shakib and no one else. The umpires can only ask the captain of the fielding side if he wants to withdraw his appeal, which I guess they did but Shakib refused. Maybe the on-field umpires could have been a bit more persuasive keeping in mind that the equipment in question was a helmet and not gloves or a different bat even before facing a single delivery.
These things happen and will keep happening and add to the spice of this wonderful game called cricket. These types of incidents allow us to get into never-ending debates with our loved ones over a cup of coffee or a mug of beer to decide who was right and who was wrong.
All said and done, let’s leave the debate on who was in the wrong in the “Timed Out” episode as the ICC ODI World Cup moves towards the business end. From an Indian fan’s point of view, I sincerely hope that the stars have finally aligned to ensure that 25.06.1983 Lords and 02.04.2011 Wankhede is repeated on 19.11.2023 at the Narendra Modi Stadium.
The writer is a cricket fanatic who is currently plying his trade in Oil PSU.
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