Lord's finds a new voice

Bairstow's walk, Carey's everything, and Stokes' three gears. One of the craziest days of cricket at Lord's.

What if I showed you this photo and I said this was not at all one of the most interesting moments of this day’s play?

It’s both true and baffling. Tongue has a foot off the pitch. And yet this photo tells you nothing of the day. One of the most exciting, controversial, crazy and baffling in memory. The day when Lord’s found a new voice.

Yet it started with Australia actually letting England knock the ball around. They didn’t go all in with the short ball, but they didn’t really commit to line and length either.

It looked like it all might change when Starc got the ball to reverse and almost broke Stokes’ foot and England’s heart. But he hit it and hobbled on.

Then Duckett was out to the short one, which is probably the least surprising thing. This looked like a very standard dismissal for this game.

But something slightly weirder went on. Have a look at where Alex Carey is here down the leg side.

And I can tell you that there were also two other fielders down the leg side, meaning that Australia had three behind square on the leg side, which should have been a no-ball.

Except that law doesn’t count wicketkeepers. As long as the keeper is in a position to take the ball as a keeper, they can stand on the offside or leg side and still be seen as a keeper.

And then in the legside limits section, it allows the keeper to stand in this position without it being considered another fielder there.

Alex Carey really knows his laws, and of course, this wasn’t the only time he proved that. You may have heard of the other one.

In the second one, it started so simple. Another bouncer, another duck from Bairstow and Carey takes the ball. Just normal everyday cricket.

Except Carey didn’t keep the ball. Or throw it to another fielder.

Instead, he threw the ball at the stumps, and Jonny Bairstow left the crease as the ball was in the air.

According to my basic timings, from when the ball was in his hand until he threw it was less than a second. It would be really super rare for an umpire to call over that early.

Why did Carey throw it so quickly, especially before Bairstow had left? That is because the Australians had seen him leaving the crease early over and over again. It’s something Bairstow has always done a lot. He loves a chat and a garden.  They saw he was doing even more than usual and they took advantage.

However, we have to check other things, like what were the umpires doing. The square-leg umpire starts to walk in, however, that has nothing to do with whether it was a dead ball or not.

Nor does it matter if he is watching, these kinds of dismissals rarely have umpires looking.

So what about the main umpire? Well, he does not move from his spot, however, he does reach to put away his counters or grab a hat.

So does that make the ball dead, no. The things that would make it dead would have been Carey throwing it to another fielder to pass him the ball, or the umpire calling over. Neither happened.

Jonny Bairstow cannot call over, and he cannot be out of his crease during a live ball without the chance of a run-out or stumping.

You will hear arguments about how he was not looking for an advantage. He wasn’t. But if I play a shot, and my foot drags forward, and I don’t notice, I am not taking any advantage, I am simply out of my crease, and if the team works it out when the ball is still live, you can be dismissed. They painted two lines there, your job is to stay within them as much as possible when the ball is live.

Then there is the cheating or spirit of cricket thing. Australia did not cheat, that is just the truth. I can see why it’s fun to sing otherwise, but the facts are the facts.

There are ways Carey could have cheated, or at least tried. Like pretending he missed the ball, or going through the motions of changing ends and then throwing. But mechanically, this was a simple stumping. The keeper took the ball and the batter left the crease and the keeper dislodged the bails.

Now, what about the spirit of cricket? Well, I don’t believe in it, largely because it’s nebulous and changed by location and location. But there are certainly players who would not have tried this run out, and others who would have, but then rescinded their appeal. I think that is fine. But forcing your morals on someone else usually looks stupid.

And others wouldn’t have. For instance, here is Murali celebrating Kumar Sangakkara’s hundred too early, and the keeper taking the bails off. Wait a minute, who is that keeper?

Oh, it’s Brendon McCullum, the current English coach. This happened in 2006, right after McCullum apologised. Well, by right after, I mean in 2016.

But this gets funnier because this was not the only time McCullum did this. In 2005 he ran out Chris Mpofu when he was celebrating his teammate’s first Test 50.

As far as I can tell there was no apology there at all.

Want more? I said before it was less than a second. But we measured how long it took Carey to throw the ball, and it was .87 of a second. 87 of course being the devil number in Australian cricket. Alex Carey was beelzebub behind the stumps.

Oh, and I have one more for you, and no it is not the person who compared my tweet on the laws of cricket to those who followed Nazis or Apartheid, or even the fact that Australians moaned over Mitchell Starc clearly running the ball on the ground and voiding - to use a Stuart Broad term - his catch.

It is Matt Renshaw. This is him at short leg, facing the square leg umpire.

And this is him appealing to the wrong umpire.

And this is him appealing to a ghost at square leg.

And this is him finally appealing to the square leg umpire.

One of the reasons this whole thing was incredible was what happened next, Lord’s got loud and angry. Lord’s does tutting, perhaps the odd aggressive clearing of its throat. But it is not like most cricket crowds. But this issue changed it. Ofcourse it was not quite a normal Lord’s crowd, these were the cheap seats, 25 quid a head (cheap for Lord’s, that is). And so the audience was more like a normal cricket crowd, and not Lord’s special. It was like day five when Sachin Tendulkar was going to bat here, a whole new crowd turned up. Today was a bit more like that.

This new crowd coupled with this dismissal meant the crowd at Lord’s were chanting, “Same old Aussies, always cheating”. That was not like anything I have seen in 15 years of coming to Lord’s.

The chant wasn’t the only funny thing anyone heard. Cricket’s greatest troll Stuart Broad saying to Alex Carey, “That’s all you’ll ever be remembered for” is perhaps the best work the Nighthawk of Nonsense has ever come up with.

Broad was also trolling the Aussies on the field by exaggerating staying in his crease.

I will be waiting to see some “Alex Carey is a shit bloke” T-Shirts when I get to Jonny Bairstow’s home ground next week.

Though Australia did troll Broad by having Pat Cummins take his shoe off to make sure there wasn’t an extra over before lunch. In 2015 Broad did the exact same thing. Australia playing the long game, in trying to shorten the session.

That was in part because Stokes had started to go off. He all but blew Cummins’ shoe off.

A lot of people suggested it was the stumping - and maybe it was - that set him off. But it was probably also his only real chance of getting them close. He was very quite literally throwing his bat at the ball.

But doing so in such a smart way. For instance, he wasn’t attacking at both ends. It was hard to tell what the exact issue was, the boundary might have been slightly smaller to one side, and there was wind as well. But it also could have been that the pitch had more consistent bounce at one end.

The narrative with Stokes is that he’s a big game player. But there is something else about his batting that rarely gets pointed out. His ability to pair back his game when the pitch or match situation is tough is unlike anyone I have ever seen.

Think about the bunting of the full toss in the last ball of the World Cup final in 2019. Milking the field in the 2022 final. Blocking Lyon for hours on end at Headingley.

When the pitch/match situation is weird, his ability to shed all the parts of his game that don’t matter and become a singular batting machine is incredible.

He only seems to have three gears. Dead batting for a draw, ODI middle overs accumulation, and T20 death hitting. Most of the batters on this list have five or six gears available to them, and they slowly ramp up or move down based on a normal innings.

Stokes is terrible in a normal innings, that is why his career mark is so low. But when the choices are minimised for him by the pitch or match, all the usual things that get him out often disappear. And so his three gears are suddenly perfect for a moment like today.

He clearly had luck, Steve Smith dropped probably the easiest chance of the three, the other two were much harder. But even so, Australia created three chances.

Which is weird, because you’d have to say they didn’t really handle Stokes all that well. They just hoped he would eventually hit the ball straight up in the air. They didn’t risk an early over of Head’s part-time spin. They didn’t try bowling wide of the stump when Stokes was hitting from the nursery end early enough. They didn’t bring the fields in for the Pavilion end where he wasn’t swinging. They didn’t try to get Broad out with length balls. They just waited.

After a lot of Stokes boundaries, their best chance was when Broad ran two on a ball and Stokes ran none.

But eventually, it was Stokes who made the mistake. He attacked from the wrong end. He went away from his strength, the ball went up in the air and this time it was caught.

This was one of the greatest Test innings ever, and yet, not even Ben Stokes’ best. Hell, depending on how you feel, you could also argue it was not his best innings at Lord’s.

England’s tail did things like Anderson charging into a bouncer face first and the Tongue shots. But the game was over with Stokes being dismissed.

England have been in both Tests, and the chances of them losing both playing this level of cricket at times is pretty low. They could still win a couple of Tests from here. Though three feels unlikely.

Although who is to say what they are saying in the dressing room, maybe they feel like they won this one too.

More importantly, is the fact that these have been of the most amazing Ashes Tests. We’ve already had a nail-biter and a Stokes’ classic. Enough controversy to keep all chins wagging. And Alex Carey just wrote 8% of his autobiography in an afternoon.

In many ways, this match started with a keeper doing an extraordinary thing and ended with a keeper doing another.

But this was the match when the serene ground roared. Lord’s 2023, one to keep.