Was Jonny Bairstow out or not out? Here's what the rules say as controversial dismissal triggers massive Ashes uproar
Jonny Bairstow's wicket has caused a lot of ire in the English camp but by the letter of the law, it was a perfectly legitimate form of dismissal.
The second Ashes Test match between England and Australia came to another thrilling conclusion on Sunday, with another Day 5 finish in what has been a tightly contested Ashes so far. As much as the fifth day at Lord’s will be memorable for the innings by Ben Stokes and the composure kept by Australia in converting a winning position, it will also be significant for the moments of controversy which have inspired fierce debate in all cricket circles. The stumping of Jonny Bairstow by Alex Carey was a turning point in the match, as it forced Stokes to start taking risks once he was batting with the tail. That run-out meant Australia were only one big wicket away from sealing the match, with England’s last recognized batter in the order dismissed.
The style of dismissal has caused a lot of ire in the English camp, as Carey threw the ball at the stumps after Bairstow had assumed the over was complete — but by the letter of the law, it was a perfectly legitimate form of dismissal, with Carey taking advantage of Bairstow's carelessness and lack of awareness in that situation to scalp his wicket.
Rule No. 1: The ball is declared dead only when…
As per the MCC's dead ball law, law 188.8.131.52 states "The ball becomes dead when it is finally settled in the hands of the wicket-keeper or of the bowler." However, the Australian argument would be that the ball never settled in Carey's hands, as he immediately threw it back at the stumps, clearly intending to try and catch the English wicketkeeper out.
The England team's response would have been that Bairstow assumed the ball was dead once Carey had it in his hands, and was therefore duped by the Australian keeper in a manner which was unlawful. However, law 20.2 states: "Whether the ball is finally settled or not is a matter for the umpire alone to decide," meaning Bairstow wandering out of his crease left him vulnerable to that exact situation panning out.
Here's what more MCC laws suggest
Law 20.1.2 also states "The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batters at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play." Since the Australians did regard the ball as in play, sensing the opportunity for the run-out, the umpire couldn't claim the play having ceased, therefore couldn’t claim the ball as dead, or call over.
The wicket being on the last ball of the over also received protest from England, but the rule for calling over is dependent on the calling of a dead ball on the sixth ball of the over. As per law 20.3: "Neither the call of Over (see Law 17.4), nor the call of Time (see Law 12.2) is to be made until the ball is dead"
All the laws make it clear that the Australians and Carey, having no doubt had noticed Bairstow making the same error before, were completely lawful in choosing to dismiss him for his lack of attentiveness to the game situation. Whether it was within the spirit of the game or an ethical form of dismissal comes secondary to the fact that it was a heads-up play by the Australian wicket-keeper, and accurately handled by the on-field and TV umpires.