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England v Sri Lanka fifth ODI: England moans paper over cracks

England 219 Sri Lanka 222-4 (Sri Lanka win by six wickets): Senanayake’s ‘Mankading’ of Buttler merely a sideshow to another poor limited-overs display as Cook’s men lose the series

Only in cricket. The result of the fifth one-day international and the outcome of the series were overshadowed by a question of morality. Never mind that new  England lost to old Sri Lanka by six wickets and played in a largely uninspiring fashion while doing so.

No matter that it ended with an adeptly judged  pursuit by Sri Lanka who had ten balls in hand. Heed not that this was England’s fourth loss in their last five series and that the solitary win was achieved with a T20 team. Ignore the fact that there probably needs to be a fundamental review of what kind of limited overs cricket England are seeking to play. Those are mere incidentals.

What properly exercised attention and stirred the very soul of the game was an incident in the 44th over of England’s pretty vapid innings when the country’s new batting hero, Jos Buttler, was run out while backing up at the non-striker’s end by the Sri Lanka off-spinner, Sachithra Senanayake. This is wholly legitimate under both the laws of cricket and the ICC regulations governing one-day internationals but it is an action that has always been considered somehow to be not quite cricket.

Buttler was barely stealing an advantage as he was dawdling from his crease when Senanayake reached the end of his short run-up and was about to enter the delivery stride. But he had already warned both Buttler and Chris Jordan in his previous over about such transgressions, which made Buttler’s wandering seem a little bit dozy for such a patently alert cricketer.

When the bails were removed in what was pretty clearly a premeditated action, the umpire Michael Gough, standing in only his third ODI in England, appeared to ask the Sri Lanka captain, Angelo Mathews, if he wished the appeal to stand. When Mathews indicated that he did, Gough raised his finger.

The crowd immediately vented their feelings by booing Sri Lanka in general and Senanayake in particular for the rest of the innings. Sri Lanka were, of course, perfectly within the letter of law 42.15 and the slightly amended ICC regulation to which it is attached.

This has no flummery about batsmen stealing an advantage. It merely says straightforwardly: “The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker.”

The practice has become known as Mankading since 1947 when Vinoo Mankad of India ran out the Australia batsman, Bill Brown in a Test match after the batsman left his crease. Sri Lanka could easily hide behind the law and the fact that the bowler had already told the batsman about wandering down the pitch, albeit by inches. But there were two ancillary points they might have  considered.

Senanayake is embroiled in controversy at present after being reported by the umpires at The Oval in the fourth ODI for a suspect action. He will be independently tested in the next 20 days and although the two events are unconnected, he might have avoided anything contentious. Mathews perhaps felt he had to support him on this. Secondly, in an ODI in Brisbane two years ago, Lahiru Thirimanne was Mankaded by R Ashwin of India. The umpires asked India’s captain for the match, Virender Sehwag, if he wanted the appeal to stand. Sehwag, after discussing it with Sachin Tendulkar, withdrew  and Thirimanne stayed to score 63. Batting at the other end that day was Angelo Mathews.

Buttler, who still had plenty of time to inflict severe damage on Sri Lanka, will have learned a lesson. But it is also true that if bowlers regularly took advantage of this law, non-strikers would be run out in most matches.

England, who were already suffering from another bout of melancholic batting, could ill afford the loss. They wasted a reasonable start by Alastair Cook and Ian Bell but a series of tame dismissals on a pitch whose lack of pace England underestimated, caused avoidable difficulties.

Bell prodded a return catch to one that held up in the surface, Gary Ballance was undone by another ball that did not come on as he anticipated, Joe Root was caught behind but only after a Sri Lanka review.

Root’s dismissal was barely given a second thought after the replay clearly showed he had gloved the ball but quite what he was doing trying to fool the umpire when it was so blatant was also breaching a moral code. Anyone tempting to claim ethical high ground for England or at least deride Sri Lanka, should remember that.

England’s total was perhaps better than it looked given the surface. Sri Lanka assessed it correctly when they went off rapidly against the hard new balls. Only the loss of wickets could stop them reaching a modest target.

Three fell 21 balls for eight runs, one to Jimmy Anderson and two James Tredwell, which required some careful rebuilding. Mahele Jayawardene was just the man for this job, responding in typically measured fashion despite his quiet time of late.

When he miscued a slower ball from Chris Jordan having reached his first fifty of the series, there was still work to do. Thirimanne and Mathews saw it through with a composed unbeaten partnership of 62 from 60 balls. England might have been tempted to run one of them out backing up but Tredwell does not seem the type for such conjuring tricks.

What’s a Mankad? How and when it works

The laws of the game state:

“The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker.

“Whether the attempt is successful or not, the ball shall not count as one of the over. If the bowler fails in an attempt to run out the non-striker, the umpire shall call and signal dead ball as soon as possible”

The law was named after India’s Vinoo Mankad, who ran out Australia’s Bill Brown in 1947 as he was backing up in his crease. Previous examples of the law being invoked include: in 1975, England’s Brian Luckhurst was run out by Australian Greg Chappell in a Melbourne ODI, Derek Randall of England fell victim to New Zealand’s Ewen Chatfield in a 1978 Test and South African Peter Kirsten caught out by Kapil Dev of India in an ODI in 1992.