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. Ashwin seemingly waited for that to happen, possibly even giving Buttler an opportunity to get back, and then eventually ran him out. The decision was sent up to the third umpire, who didn't need more than one replay 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 after the game, Ashwin said of the incident: "No real argument. Pretty instinctive. I didn't even load. He left the crease. That's it... I didn't even load. He wasn't even looking at me. He just left the crease."
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.
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 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, Uption 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."