Cricket's timed-out controversy underlines grey areas
Angelo Mathews

Controversy sparked by the manner in which Sri Lanka batsman Mr Angelo Mathews lost his wicket in his country's Cricket World Cup match against Bangladesh on Monday won't go away any time soon.

Mr Mathews had come in to bat in the 25th over of the 50-over contest but was unable to begin his innings immediately, after discovering that the strap of his helmet was broken.

He promptly beckoned to his team's dressing room for a replacement helmet.

In response, Bangladesh captain, Mr Shakib Al Hasan, appealed for Mr Mathews to be dismissed Timed Out, under a law of the game requiring that the incoming batter must be ready to receive the next ball within two minutes.

The umpires ruled Mr Mathews was out.

That Bangladesh went on to win, thus sealing Sri Lanka's exit from the race for a semi-final spot, and Mr Shakib was later voted man of the match, heightened bitterness and the comments in the cricketing world have been caustic.

Neutrals appear to have been mostly extremely critical of Mr Shakib. Sri Lankans have been even more so.

Mr Charith Asalanka, who scored a century for Sri Lanka, said the "dismissal was not good for the spirit of cricket". His captain, Mr Kusal Mendis, said the umpires should have used "common sense", as Mr Mathews had encountered "an equipment failure".

In his defence, Mr Shakib said, "I appealed and the umpire asked me if I was serious, whether I would take it back or not. I said no. If it is in the rules then it is out... I don't know if it's right or wrong. I had to make sure my team wins, so whatever I needed to do I had to do it."

A crucial question is whether the umpires had the authority to exercise discretion. Could they have ignored Mr Shakib's appeal, having seen that Mr Mathews had a difficulty?

We detect an absence of clarity.

This episode jogged our memory back to the 1987 World Cup when Jamaica and West Indies fast bowler Mr Courtney Walsh opted not to run-out Pakistan batsman Mr Saleem Jaffar in a crucial group game.

Mr Walsh was bowling the final over and Pakistan needed two runs off the last delivery to win. On his run-up, Mr Walsh noticed that the non-striker, Mr Jaffar, was well out of his crease. However, instead of breaking the stumps and running out the batter, Mr Walsh pulled out of the delivery and warned him. He then bowled the final ball and saw it being squeezed away for the winning runs.

That loss ended West Indies' World Cup campaign. While, initially, Mr Walsh was harshly criticised for that display of sportsmanship, it is among the exemplary acts that have distinguished his career.

However, in modern sport the need to win is greater than it has ever been — driven in huge measure by commercial considerations.

In the latest case, the bitterness and controversy could have been avoided had the umpires felt empowered to do the sensible thing, which would have been to simply allow Mr Mathews to have his damaged helmet replaced.

It's a signal that the game's governing body, the International Cricket Council, needs to get its act together and eliminate grey areas such as the rules of cricket vis-a-vis the so-called 'spirit'.

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