Australia beat England by 64 runs to win the second One-Day International (ODI) at Lord's on Saturday and take a 2-0 lead in the five-match series, but it was England batsman Ben Stokes's controversial dismissal for 'obstructing the field' that remained the talking point of the match.
The left-handed all-rounder struck a straight drive which was stopped by bowler Mitchell Starc, who then hurled the ball back hard towards Stokes' end, following which the batsman, leaning back back and turning his head away, stopped it with a hand taken off the bat.
Australia appealed and on-field umpires Kumar Dharmasena of Sri Lanka and former England batsman Tim Robinson referred the issue to third umpire Joel Wilson.
The cricket law relevant to the dismissal talks about 'wilful obstruction' and does allow batsmen to protect themselves from injury. After lengthy deliberation and the consideration of slow-motion, but not real-time replays, with Stokes not having much time to make a conscious decision, West Indian official Wilson gave him out for 10. After he was given out, boos rang out around the Lord's.
England were then 141 for four in the 25th over, chasing 310 to win, with World Cup champions Australia already 1-0 up in the five-match series. Eoin Morgan, the England captain, who was also batting at the time talked to both Australia skipper Steven Smith -- presumably in the hope of getting the appeal withdrawn -- and the on-field umpires.
But the decision stood and as Stokes walked off at 'the home of cricket' there was the unusual sound of an umpire's verdict being booed by a crowd renowned for being one of the least partisan in England. However, former Australia fast bowler Merv Hughes, leading a tour group of supporters, signalled for the batsman to get off the field.
As in so much of cricket, the issue came down to the interpretation of the relevant rule, in this case, Law 37, Obstructing the field. The Durham man became only the sixth batsman in 3,681 ODIs to be given out obstructing the field at this level after India's Mohinder Amarnath and the Pakistani quartet of Rameez Raja, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez and Anwar Ali.
The decision was harsh on Stokes as he appeared to be acting more in self-defence than trying to prevent being run out.
The all-rounder had joined captain Eoin Morgan in the middle after James Taylor's promising innings of 43 ended when he nicked a Mitchell Marsh delivery to wicketkeeper Matthew Wade.
The Stokes decision, and another middle-order collapse that included a duck for Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali's cheap dismissal, left England in trouble but a riled Morgan responded in dazzling fashion with a flurry of huge hits before holing for 85 to end the match.
Pat Cummins had the England skipper caught by Glenn Maxwell as the paceman finished with figures of four for 56.
Morgan was clearly angry, with the performance of his outplayed team and with opposing captain Steven Smith for not withdrawing the Stokes appeal. "If the guy throws the ball in your direction from five yards then all you can do is flinch, you don't have time to think," said Morgan. "The decision was made and I certainly feel it would have been different if we were fielding."
After a rain-delayed start that reduced the match to 49 overs per side, Australia suffered an early blow when opener David Warner was struck on the thumb by a venemous Steven Finn ball in the opening over and was forced off. Warner suffered a fracture and will miss the remainder of the series.
Finn bowled Joe Burns through the gate for 22 before George Bailey and Smith set about building a solid platform. The pair put on 99 for the second wicket when Bailey went for 54, bowled by a Moeen delivery that turned sharply. Smith was out for 70 but his dismissal merely released Australia's big hitters and Maxwell, Marsh and Shane Watson smashed England's bowlers all round the ground as 96 runs came off the last 10 overs.
Marsh was particularly cavalier, belting seven fours and three sixes in a 31-ball 64 before being caught off the last delivery of the innings. Stokes was the pick of England's attack with three for 60.
(With inputs from AFP and Reuters)