The debate over running out or stumping batsmen wandering out of the crease is often biased. When ‘spirit of cricket’, a noble but vague concept, is given more importance than the actual rules of the game, you have to question the logic behind that thought. (More Cricket News)
The subject has come up again due to the manner of England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow’s dismissal on the thrilling last day of the second Ashes Test at Lord’s.
Bairstow ducked a short ball from Cameron Green. It harmlessly sailed over his left shoulder and was collected by Australian keeper Alex Carey. Carey then threw the ball at the stumps. Bairstow, who had drifted out of his crease thinking the ball and over were complete, was out stumped.
Bairstow wasn’t happy, nor were some of his teammates and thousands of English fans in the stadium.
But here’s the irony. Nearly everyone agreed that as per rules, Bairstow was out. England captain Ben Stokes, who was the non-striker, said, “I am not disputing the fact it is out because it is out.”
England coach Brendon McCullum had no doubts either. “By the letter of the law, he is out.”
However, both said that the dismissal was against the spirit of cricket. There are a lot of intangibles in sport, such as body language. And the body language of the umpires after that ball seemed to indicate the over was complete. Bairstow seemed to think it was alright for him to leave his crease.
But Bairstow has a tendency to desert the Laxman rekha. Australia had noted this. When they got the opportunity to catch him out on it, they took it.
What does the rule book say on such situations, and what would have been in the spirit of cricket to do?
According to law 20.1.2 of the MCC’s Laws of Cricket, “The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batters at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play.”
Once the ball is dead, the batsman can leave his crease. But in this case the ball wasn’t dead. Carey did not collect it and start moving to the other end for the next over. He immediately wheeled it at the stumps.
From the spirit of cricket side, the right thing for Australia to do would have been to consider that Bairstow was not looking to gain any advantage from leaving his crease. He wasn’t going for a run. He was only going to talk to Stokes. Australia could have given Bairstow a polite warning and withdrawn the appeal.
How fair would that have been on Australia, though? You get a player out fair and square, yet due to an at times romantic notion of sportsmanship, can’t claim the wicket.
Many years ago in India, there was a famous case of an appeal being withdrawn. England’s Bob Taylor was wrongly given out in the 1980 Bombay Test. The Indian captain GR Viswanath, after consulting with the close-in fielders, confirmed
that Taylor was not out and withdrew the appeal. Taylor resumed his innings. The picture of Viswanath sportingly motioning Taylor back to the crease became one of the enduring photographs in sports history.
But Taylor was wrongly given out. That was not the case with Bairstow.
Proof that spirit of cricket is difficult to define and implement is in the fact that many players connected to the Bairstow incident, such as Coach McCullum and Bairstow himself, have effected or tried to effect similar dismissals.
Indian offpsinner R Ashwin, who has often been ruthless towards straying batsmen, asserted there was nothing unfair about Bairstow’s wicket, and that Carey deserved to be lauded and not villainised for his presence of mind.
“The keeper would never have a dip at the stumps from that far out in a Test match unless he or his team have noticed a pattern of the batter leaving his crease after leaving a ball like Bairstow did,” Ashwin posted on social media.
“We must applaud the game smarts of the individual rather than skewing it towards unfair play or spirit of the game.”
Spirit of the game is all very well. But rules are sacrosanct. Rules of cricket are the spirit of cricket.