Much water has flowed down the Thames and yet the ghosts of a legitimate dismissal are yet to find salvation. Instead, we have a spirited debate about the elusive ‘spirit of the game’ and there is simmering anger within the English ranks while the Aussies have the ‘what-is-this-fuss-about’ look.
Jonny Bairstow perhaps felt betrayed by a fellow-member of his wicket-keeping tribe as when the England batter went walk-about outside his crease at Lord’s last Sunday, the Australian gloveman Alex Carey threw down the stumps. Ahsan Raza and Chris Gaffaney, the on-field umpires, sought clarity from third umpire Marais Erasmus, who watched it on television and passed on the verdict to the gentlemen on the turf.
The scorecard mentions the mode of dismissal as ‘stumping’ and that is what it was before controversy became a dark shroud and is now threatening to rob the sheen of a gripping contest that Australia won while England skipper Ben Stokes’ 155 remains a knock for the ages. It was perhaps the first tipping point in a gripping Ashes Test (the second of a five-match series) with England pursuing 371 in the fourth innings of the game.
Bairstow was getting into his groove before he avoided a short ball from Cameron Green and trudged ahead, perhaps presuming that the ball was dead. Obviously, he had no intention of stealing a run, it was more about ‘lemme-say-a-hi-to-Stokes’. The last named, positioned at the non-striker’s end, watched in dismay as Carey relayed an under-arm throw at the stumps.
Even if Bairstow had no intention of nudging a run, the ball was still in play and Carey was well within his rights to effect a dismissal of the distracted batter. As per the law, “The ball shall be considered dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both the batters have ceased to regard it as in play.”
Basically, it is a judgement call and it can be subjective, Bairstow perhaps thought that the ball was dead while the Aussies felt that the culmination was yet to fructify.
None are disputing the veracity of the dismissal but people are harking back to the ‘spirit of the game’ construct and depending on which side of the spectrum you are: England or Australia, the responses are in contrast. The former is largely about injured innocence and the latter is all about it being a regular exit just that the batter wasn’t smart enough to stay within the crease.
Cricket, at least the Test version, with its pristine whites, often harks back to a pastoral era of languid sport and measured applause, with breaks for lunch and tea, and some memories to cherish. It even led to that remark – “it is not cricket” – just to describe something that is not appropriate in life at large. This obsession with purity has bolstered ‘the spirit of cricket’ argument, often propped up when a cricketing act seems to push the moral compass.
The same spirit is evoked when bowlers run-out non-strikers stepping out of the bowling crease. India’s R. Ashwin has largely removed the stigma around this dismissal and yet there are always whispers when an alert bowler penalises a greedy non-striker trying to pinch a run on behalf of the striker. And now, with Australia leading 2-0 and the Ashes potboiler brimming over, there are references to M.S. Dhoni recalling Ian Bell (in 2011) or the great G.R. Viswanath recalling Bob Taylor (in 1980), the first was deemed a run-out, the second was adjudged as caught behind.
The hint is that perhaps Australian captain Pat Cummins could have recalled Bairstow and ended the acrimony. Now, that is a call up to the skipper and even if there are past precedents, if Cummins felt that it was a legitimate mode of dismissal and the laws state as much, all this current fire and brimstone amount to nothing. There are also those counters about Bairstow not being immune from effecting such dismissals when he donned the wicket-keeping gloves.
Fact is, England lost to a smarter rival. The Bairstow episode should be deemed a mere footnote while the Ashes caravan heads to Leeds and more cricket needs to be savoured. But obviously we won’t hear the last word on the ‘spirit of cricket’ yet.
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