AS the bowler comes into bowl, the non-striker leaves his crease at the very point when one would have expected the ball to be delivered.
Jos Buttler, the non-striker, is not looking at Ravi Ashwin, the bowler, but straight ahead down the pitch as he begins to back-up in time-honoured style.
But Ashwin does not deliver the ball.
Instead, he stops, waits for Buttler to move even further out of his crease, then runs him out by removing the bails.
The popular term for this is ‘Mankading’, named after former India all-rounder Vinoo Mankad, who did it in a Test match, and, say many, the strategy stinks.
In fairness to Mankad, who ran out Australia’s Bill Brown during the Sydney Test of 1947, he had warned Brown earlier in the tour that he was backing-up too far.
It was cheating, quite frankly, in everything but name.Chris Waters
Clearly, it is an unfair advantage to the batting side if, in trying to take a quick run, the non-striker is already halfway towards the opposite end when the ball is delivered.
But the striking thing about this latest incident, which took place in the Indian Premier League when Buttler was playing for Rajasthan Royals against Kings XI Punjab, who are captained by Ashwin, was that Buttler was not seeking to gain an advantage.
Indeed, he was not even one pace down the pitch at the point when the India spinner should have released, nor had he first been warned by the bowler, which normally precedes such unusual dismissals.
“Ah, yes,” cry the punctilious sticklers for the letter of the law. “But where does it say in the rules that Ashwin was in the wrong?”
Usually, such punctilious protestors are to be found lurking behind net curtains, busily jotting down the registration numbers of illegally parked cars, and, technically, Ashwin was within his rights to behave in that way.
Ethically, though, it was about as unsporting an act as has been seen in cricket for some time, discounting anything to do with sandpaper and the like.
“He ain’t winning any spirit of cricket awards, old Ashwin,” tweeted Dale Steyn, the South Africa pace bowler, one of many to condemn the Indian’s behaviour.
For his part, Ashwin pleaded innocence after the event.
“Look, it was all very instinctive,” he said.
“It was not planned or anything like that. It’s there within the rules of the game. I don’t understand where the spirit of the game comes (into it). Naturally, if it’s there in the rules, it’s there.”
The old saying that the law is an ass, however, is an old saying for a reason.
If Buttler had indeed been halfway down the pitch, or repeatedly warned, then he would have been guilty of sharp practice and Ashwin entitled to feel aggrieved.
What happened in this case, though, was a bit like a penalty-taker in football stopping just before the point of contact, waiting for the goalkeeper to dive one way and then placing the ball into the opposite corner.
It was cheating, quite frankly, in everything but name.
Alas, there is no such thing as the “spirit of cricket”, one of those nebulous concepts that is effectively meaningless.
The days of batsmen routinely walking when they are caught, for example, fell by the wayside long before Stuart Broad stood his ground after edging to slip in the Trent Bridge Ashes Test of 2013.
As that incident showed, the game is now win-at-all-costs, and to hell with how it looks to any youngsters watching on television.
Indeed, one would have to possess a certain degree of arrogance in the first place to believe, as Ashwin clearly did, that his actions were not only justified, but also that they are the sort of thing that people want to see.
It is the sort of behaviour, in fact, that could only be performed by someone who considers himself bigger than the audience, bigger than any wider consideration as to how the game should be played.
Amid the raft of opinions whether for or against Ashwin’s conduct, perhaps the most telling came from Paddy Upton, the Rajasthan Royals coach.
“I think Ashwin’s actions speak for him and represent him,” he said.
Ergo, it will be part of Ashwin’s legacy and how he will be remembered.
Sportsmen do not think about this enough – if they care at all.
For my question would be: who wants this sort of thing on their record? Who wants their grandchildren to see that they ran out Buttler in frankly cowardly fashion, or that they stood their ground in a Test match after edging to slip, or that they applied sandpaper to the ball, or that they unleashed a torrent of abuse towards a batsman, and so on?
Who wants that as part of their cricketing legacy?