Embracing the Ethos of Cricket: The Significance of Adhering to the Rules in the Ashes 2023
In the ongoing debate about running out or stumping batsmen who wander out of their crease, it is essential to consider the importance of adhering to the rules of the game rather than relying solely on the vague concept of the “spirit of cricket.” The recent dismissal of England’s Jonny Bairstow during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s has reignited this discussion.
Bairstow was stumped after ducking a short ball from Australia’s Cameron Green, which sailed harmlessly over his shoulder and was collected by Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey. Thinking the ball and over were complete, Bairstow had drifted out of his crease when Carey swiftly threw the ball at the stumps. Although most agreed that Bairstow was out according to the rules, there was a sense that the dismissal went against the spirit of cricket, as indicated by the body language of the umpires and Bairstow’s assumption that it was safe to leave his crease.
Ironically, Bairstow himself has been involved in similar dismissals, and even England captain Ben Stokes acknowledged that the decision was correct according to the rules. However, both Stokes and England coach Brendon McCullum argued that it was against the spirit of cricket. While there are intangible elements in sports, such as body language, the laws of cricket provide specific guidelines for such situations.
According to Law 20.1.2 of the MCC’s Laws of Cricket, the ball is considered dead when it is clear to the umpire at the bowler’s end that the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket no longer regard it as in play. Once the ball is dead, the batsman can leave the crease. However, in Bairstow’s case, the ball was still in play when Carey threw it at the stumps, making his dismissal valid.
From the perspective of the spirit of cricket, it could be argued that Australia should have considered Bairstow’s actions as unintentional and not aimed at gaining an advantage. They could have given him a polite warning and withdrawn the appeal. However, this raises questions about fairness. If a player is legitimately dismissed, it seems unjust to nullify the dismissal due to a romantic notion of sportsmanship.
In contrast, there have been instances in cricket history where appeals have been withdrawn due to clear errors. In the 1980 Bombay Test, England’s Bob Taylor was wrongly given out, but the Indian captain GR Viswanath, after consulting with fielders, withdrew the appeal, allowing Taylor to resume his innings. While this exemplified sportsmanship, it is important to note that Bairstow’s dismissal was not a case of an incorrect decision.
The incident involving Bairstow highlights the difficulty in defining and implementing the spirit of cricket. Even those connected to the incident, including Coach McCullum and Bairstow himself, have attempted similar dismissals in the past. Indian off-spinner R Ashwin, known for running out batsmen who stray out of their crease, defended Bairstow’s dismissal, emphasizing the importance of game intelligence and praising Carey’s presence of mind.
While the spirit of the game holds significance, the rules of cricket should be considered sacrosanct. They form the foundation of the sport and ensure fairness. Striking the right balance between upholding the rules and embodying the spirit of cricket remains a challenge, but it is crucial to avoid diluting the essence of the game by overemphasizing subjective interpretations of sportsmanship.