Ashes 2023 – Ben Stokes on Jonny Bairstow dismissal – ‘I wouldn’t want to win a game in that manner’

Ben Stokes says he would have withdrawn the appeal if his side had dismissed a player in the manner that Alex Carey stumped Jonny Bairstow on the final day of a thrilling Test at Lord’s. Australia won a see-sawing Test by 43 runs, surviving a Stokes scare along the way, but a pivotal moment came when Bairstow was dismissed shortly before lunch.

England were settled, having only lost Ben Duckett in the morning session when Bairstow ducked a Cameron Green bouncer, the last ball of the 52nd over. He walked out of the crease, without having checked with either umpire whether the over had been called, as Carey collected the ball and without pause, under-armed a throw to the stumps. He hit and though Chris Gaffaney at square leg called for a TV review, Bairstow was well out of his crease at impact.

After the game, Stokes pointed to the grey area between the time the ball went to Carey and both the umpires motioning as if to end the over, though not calling it.

“When is it justified that the umpires have called over?” he said on BBC’s TMS. “Is the on-field umpires making movement, is that signifying over? I’m not sure. Jonny was in his crease then out of his crease. I am not disputing the fact it is out because it is out.

“If the shoe was on the other foot I would have put more pressure on the umpires and asked whether they had called over and had a deep think about the whole spirit of the game and would I want to do something like that. For Australia it was the match-winning moment. Would I want to win a game in that manner? The answer for me is no.”

Asked whether he would have withdrawn the appeal, Stokes said, “Yeah.”

Pat Cummins, the Australian captain, said the attempt was pre-meditated, as Carey had noticed Bairstow walk out of his crease and up the pitch several times during the over.

“I think Carey saw it happen a few balls previously, three or four balls previously, and there’s no pause, catch it, straightaway and throw at the stumps,” Cummins told Sky TV during the post-match presentation, comments that prompted more boos from the remaining crowd. “I thought it was totally fair play. That’s how the rule is. Some people might disagree. That’s how I saw it.”

Cummins also suggested in his post-match press conference that Bairstow had attempted the same move when keeping himself.

“You see Jonny do it all the time,” Cummins said. “He did it on day one to Davey Warner. He did it in 2019 to Steve [Smith]. It’s a really common thing for keepers to do if they see about a batter keep leaving their crease. So Kez [Carey], full credit to him. He saw the opportunity. I think Jonny did it a few balls beforehand. Rolled it at the stumps. Jonny left his crease. You leave the rest to the umpires.”

Brendon McCullum, England’s coach, was not happy with the dismissal either, arguing that it goes against the spirit of the game. McCullum is no stranger to such dismissals, straddling the line between the laws of the game and its spirit. He was, famously, the wicketkeeper who whipped off the bails as Muttiah Muralidaran completed a run and wandered off to celebrate Kumar Sangakkara’s hundred in a Test in Christchurch in December 2006.

A year before that he had done something similar in a Test against Zimbabwe, when running out Chris Mpofu to end a comfortable victory in Bulawayo. McCullum publicly apologised to Sangakkara and Muralidaran while addressing the MCC’s Spirit of Cricket lecture in 2016, saying that while he recognised the dismissal was within the laws of the game, it was against the spirt and he regretted effecting it.

Reacting to Bairstow’s dismissal, he again called for players to protect the spirit of the game. “I think firstly, it was probably more of a thing in terms of spirit of the game that developed as you become a little bit mature and you’ve been around the game for a long period of time, and you realise that the game itself is something you need to protect, and the spirit is such an important part of that,” he said on BBC’s Test Match Special.

“You’ve got to make decisions in the moment. They’re not easy to make and sometimes they can have pretty big effects on not just games but also on people’s characters as well.

“It’s a tough one. To the letter of the law it was out. From our point of view, Jonny felt he was certainly not trying to take a run and he felt that as far as the umpires were concerned, they had effectively called over so therefore they thought the ball was dead.

“It’s one of those really difficult ones to swallow. And when you look at a small margin at the end of the day, and you think of a player like Jonny Bairstow so many times in chases, has stood up. It’s incredibly disappointing, but in the end, lots of people will have their opinion on it. They’ll sit on both sides of the fence and then probably the most disappointing aspect is probably going to be the most talked about part of what was a great Test match, and that’s pretty disappointing to have two teams who have played in front of full houses and millions around the world and it would have been great if it was for the cricket.”

Asked if the incident could impact relations between the two teams, McCullum said: “I can’t imagine we’ll be having a beer anytime soon, if that’s what you’re asking. From our point of view, we’ve got three Test matches to try and land some blows and try and win the Ashes and that’s where our focus will be.”

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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