R Ashwin has reignited the spirit-of-cricket debate by running out non-striker Jos Buttler without bowling the ball. It turns out the dismissal was touch and go when it comes to being within the laws of the game.

Running in to deliver the penultimate delivery of his final over, Ashwin stopped after entering his delivery stride. Buttler didn’t have his eye on the bowler and slipped out of the crease. As soon as he saw that, Ashwin simply turned around and broke the stumps at the non-strikers’ end with the batsman out of his crease. The decision was sent up to the third umpire, who didn’t need much time to send Buttler on his way.

Rajasthan Royals’ Buttler had an unpleasant exchange with Ashwin, the Kings XI Punjab captain, while the third umpire made his decision. He walked off angry, and was seen shouting in the general direction of one of the dugouts.

Speaking at the post-match press conference, Ashwin said of the incident: “Look, it was very instinctive. On my part, it was very instinctive. 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, naturally if it’s there in the rules it’s there.”

Responding to a comparison drawn between this incident and the 1987 World Cup match between West Indies and Pakistan – where Courtney Walsh did not run non-striker Saleem Jaffar out in the last over of the match, despite the latter being well out of his crease – Ashwin said the question of ‘sporting’ didn’t arise when it came to rules.

I don’t understand the point of sporting or sportive in that point because it’s rules. What applies for one man does not apply for everyone else. Neither was Jos Buttler playing there nor was I played so it’s very pertinent to just not compare two people…”

This was not the first time Buttler had been run out backing up too far. On air in host broadcaster Star Sports’ “Dugout”, Kumar Sangakkara pointed out how, in a game against Sri Lanka in 2014, Buttler was run out in a similar fashion after two warnings by Sachithra Senanayake. Ashwin, too, had attempted dismissing a batsman in similar fashion a few years ago. During an ODI against Sri Lanka in 2012, Ashwin had run out Lahiru Thirimanne for backing up too much. The appeal was withdrawn by then India captain Virender Sehwag, who stated that Ashwin had warned Thirimanne before attempting the dismissal.

The question here, though, was whether Buttler would have been inside his crease had Ashwin not stopped at the point of delivery. The updated law 41.16 says: “If the non-striker is out of his/her ground from the moment the ball comes into play to the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the bowler is permitted to attempt to run him/her out.”

The wording “expected to release the ball” leaves room for subjectivity, which is where Ashwin’s assertion that he hadn’t even loaded becomes critical. If the bowler hadn’t even loaded, as Ashwin said, is it possible to estimate a time when he was “expected to release the ball”?

Royals’ coach Paddy Upton, though, didn’t bother about the technicalities. He was miffed, and it showed in the press conference. “I think R Ashwin’s actions tonight speak for him and represent him, when I looked at his team-mates,” Upton said, “and I’m not sure it represented his team-mates. I think we’ll leave it up to the IPL fans to decide if that’s the kind of things they want to see, and we’ll leave it up to the cricket world to judge R Ashwin’s actions tonight. But for us, we’re certainly here to play cricket and entertain the fans and be good role models for people who love the game.”

Buttler was looking in control of the chase of 185 at that time, having scored 69 off 43. His wicket, though, triggered a collapse as hosts Rajasthan Royals lost seven wickets for 16 runs to lose by 14 runs. Every wicket brought about loud boos from the Sawai Mansingh Stadium crowd.

At the end of the match, Buttler shook Ashwin’s hand, but refused to look his way. Just behind Buttler, Upton seemed to have said something to Ashwin while shaking his hand, which made Ashwin stop in his tracks and give them a bemused look.

“Part and parcel,” Royals’ captain Ajinkya Rahane said at the post-match presentation. “Sadly we are not allowed to comment on controversial issues. I am sure the match referee will take a call. We take these decisions sportingly.”

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