Was it obstruction or was it self-defence?
Was it deliberate or was it instinctive?
Preservation of one’s self is an instinctive response in any living creäture.
Was Ben Stokes any different?
There is no one way to decide it—it all depends on which side you’re rooting for.
The third umpire’s decision is final. And Joe Wilson adjudged the left-hander out.
And that’s how it should have stayed.
Sure, Stokes was the first English batsman to be dismissed in such a fashion in an ODI.
Sure, he was only the seventh batter in cricketing history to be kayoed so cruelly.
Sure, to be run-out is the unhappiest and unlikeliest way any cricketer expects or wishes to be dismissed and to be considered wilful in obstructing the natural course of a game is worse.
The opposing skippers have their viewpoints.
Steve Smith called for a referral after appealing and has no qualms about his decision. He will not be losing any sleep over it.
“If you’re out of your crease and put your hand up to stop the ball, it’s out.
It might have looked a bit worse because it went back to the bowler, but it’s exactly the same as me turning for a second run, putting my arm out and stopping the ball.
The ball wasn’t going to hit him, he was out of his crease, he put his arm out and got in the way of the ball. The ball was going very close to hitting the stumps.
If you read the rule book, we’re well within our rights to appeal and the umpires have given it out.
Not at all. I’ve got no dramas with that (his decision to appeal).
I thought it was the right decision at the time and I still think it’s the right decision.”
The English were united in deriding Smith’s characterisation of his act.
English skipper, Eoin Morgan, said:
“A guy throws the ball in your direction and all you can do is flinch.
You don’t have time to think. It was a natural reaction to avoid the ball. Mitchell Starc was about five yards away from Ben Stokes.
The decision was made. It would have been a lot different if we were fielding.”
(Would it, Morgan, would it, really? Easier said than done, Eoin, easier said than done.)
Michael Vaughan said :
“Anyone who has played the game knows that when the ball is thrown at you from close range like that you put your hand up to protect yourself. When you see it in real time he fears the ball is going to hit him. It was obvious. It was a poor decision.”
Alec Stewart added:
“He was taking evasive action; he’s looking the other way. Show me someone who can catch the ball looking the other way?
You would have thought between the three umpires that common sense would have prevailed.”
Shane Warne was not quite rooting for Smith and his side.
Law 37 (Obstructing the field) states quite categorically:
“1. Out Obstructing the field
Either batsman is out Obstructing the field if he wilfully attempts to obstruct or distract the fielding side by word or action. In particular, but not solely, it shall be regarded as obstruction and either batsman will be out Obstructing the field if while the ball is in play and after the striker has completed the act of playing the ball, as defined in Law 33.1, he wilfully strikes the ball with
(i) a hand not holding the bat, unless this is in order to avoid injury. See also Law 33.2 (Not out Handled the ball).
(ii) any other part of his person or with his bat. See also Law 34 (Hit the ball twice).
2. Accidental obstruction
It is for either umpire to decide whether any obstruction or distraction is wilful or not. He shall consult the other umpire if he has any doubt.”
Stokes himself is not chuffed about the manner of his exit.
Team-mate, Steve Finn, was quite vocal with his antipathy.
“I think everyone in the dressing room, when we saw it in real time, we all thought he was taking evasive action. When you watch it in slo-mo, the fielding team were entitled to appeal if you’re going by the letter of the game. The fact that it was in slow-motion didn’t help Ben’s cause.
How often does the bowler feign to throw the ball but doesn’t actually do it? But this time he did let the ball go and, by the time you realise the bowler has actually let the ball go, then first and foremost you’re worried for your safety rather than worrying about where your stumps are.
Everyone in the dressing room was disappointed but I don’t think the game was won or lost at that moment. In the dressing room, we weren’t overly happy.”
If there was any doubt in Smith’s mind about the mode of dismissal, he should have retracted his appeal and let the game continue. This would have been within the ambit of the Spirit of the Game. He need not have looked further than former India Test skipper MS Dhoni and his recent magnanimity in rescinding his appeal against Ian Bell’s dismissal for walking out for tea before the bails were whipped off by the on-field umpires. But I guess, no one, least of all Steven Smith, wishes to be termed a sucker in this ultra-competitive day and age.