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Bairstow dismissal: English have tough time accepting they are not lords any more

By Rohith Chivukula* 

One of the greatest rivalries in cricket history, the Ashes have always been an incendiary affair between the Australians and the English. This year's edition of the men's Ashes series has not disappointed either, with no love lost between either side. However, it was one particular incident during the second test of the series, held at Lord's, that made the headlines. On the fifth day, Jonny Bairstow ducked a Cameron Green bouncer, which was the last ball of the over, and moved on from the moment to have a chat with his skipper Ben Stokes. Unfortunately for him, the ball had not been declared dead yet. Rather it was his innings that came to an end, as wicketkeeper Alex Carey immediately took advantage of the situation to hit the stumps and catch Bairstow walking.
Admittedly, this was not a method of dismissal that one would see very often. The English team took offence to this, citing unwritten rules 'in the spirit of the game' that the Australians failed to follow to maintain the prestige of the game. After the game, Ben Stokes came out saying he would've withdrawn the appeal for the wicket if it were his side that had done it, to which the Australian captain Pat Cummins thought it would suffice to reply with an "Ok." Stuart Broad also spoke out, saying, " What amazed me and what I could not believe was that not one senior player among Australia questioned what they had done."
In September of 2014, the County Cricket Championship Division One game between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire would have been just another county test match, if not for the peculiar nature of the dismissal of one of the Nottinghamshire batsmen. Samit Patel, who was on strike, decided to leave the ball that he faced and relax. Just as he raised his right foot, which until then bound him to the crease, the Yorkshire wicketkeeper, who was waiting for an error in judgement from the batsman, quickly whipped the bails off to dismiss him. The commentators were quick to label Patel "slack," and praised the keeper's "brilliant work", saying it was "very, very smart of him" to "get a wicket out of nothing."
In the post-match interview, Jonny Bairstow, the Yorkshire wicketkeeper, was asked what his thoughts on his actions were. "It's within the rules of the game," he replied. Nine years later, in the first test of the 2023 Ashes series, the English wicketkeeper tried to get Australian batsman Travis Head out in a manner similar to the much-discussed Bairstow dismissal. When confronted about it and asked if he would repeat the action, Bairstow, who was, of course, the custodian for the English wicket, told Head, "Bloody oath, I would". Jonny Bairstow is a twelve-year veteran of the game. Why he would act surprised and betrayed when he was dismissed is well beyond me. His teammates Stokes and Broad, who have publicly come out with statements condemning the dismissal, are infamous for their share of 'dirty deeds' in the gentleman's game too.
It is important to note that the incidents and 'dirty deeds' mentioned have not violated any rules, and are completely legal. The problem, however, lies in the fact that the spirit of the game seems to possess the English every time an unorthodox dismissal happens against them, but never when they benefit from it. Calling the Bairstow dismissal controversial is meaningless, especially if it is within the laws that govern the sport. On the off-chance that some of the members of the England cricket team are unsure about the rules and would like to double-check them, what better a place to do so than the very ground they were playing on! The Marleybone Cricket Club, based at Lord's, is home to the official Laws of Cricket, a comprehensive code of all guidelines relating to the sport of cricket.
Like all other sports, cricket too is heavily influenced by narratives. The Australians are sticking by their decision, and rightly so. After all, they did nothing wrong. In 2020, members of the Australian cricket team were asked if they felt 'Mankading' was okay. The majority, including Alex Carey, said they felt it was unethical and that they wouldn't do it. In 2019, an article was published explaining that the Mankad 'doesn't sit right with the Aussies.' Now, how different that form of dismissal is from the Bairstow incident I really can't tell, but I am sure they would be playing different tunes if they were on the receiving side of the dismissal. That goes to say, nothing comes close to the tantrums of the English, who seem to want to control the narratives of who the good and the bad guys are. English players and press, in particular, Piers Morgan, who is giving his incessant anti-immigrant and right-wing sermons a reprieve, are constantly whining about the ethics of the game, and how the Australians are guilty of poor conduct, implying that the English maintained themselves well.
Shortly after the test, the Marleybone Cricket Club put out a statement apologising to the Australian players for the poor conduct of its members and announced the suspension of three of them, allegedly for hurling abuse at Usman Khawaja in the aftermath of the Bairstow dismissal as he was passing through the long room after lunch. Khawaja, who played no part in the stumping, was reportedly singled out for the abuse. None of this seems to concern the British press.
Cricket was a colonial gift to the territories of the British Empire. That might explain the air of entitlement that the English have whenever something goes against them, and the narratives that they are successfully able to generate favouring themselves. Take, for instance, the very naming of the 'Mankad.' The first recorded instance of such a runout was by an English bowler, playing for Sheffield cricket club, named Thomas Barker, who repeated the trick four more times. Will the mode of dismissal similar to the Bairstow stumping be named a 'Carey' now? In the case of the dismissal of Samit Patel, had the roles been reversed, would the narratives stay the same? I think not. Ravichandran Ashwin and Deepti Sharma always seem to be catching strays from the English press whenever something occurs in a different part of the world, but never Stuart Broad or Ben Stokes.
Unwritten rules of the game should remain a figment of one's imagination. The test at Lord's seems to have brought out the bitter hypocrisy in the English cricket team that has exorcised the real spirit of the game. For a country that only recently held an ostentatious coronation ceremony for their new king, the English seem to have a tough time accepting that they are not, in fact, lords over the game, nor have they ever been.
---
*BTech student

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