Steve Smith avoids his Gary Pratt moment – but ruling sparks fierce debate

Australia's Steve Smith (left) dives into his crease as Jonny Bairstow attempts to run him out - Ashes 2023: Steve Smith avoids his Gary Pratt moment – but ruling sparks fierce debate

The umpire’s decision which ruled Steve Smith not out left viewers scratching their heads – Getty Images/Philip Brown

Steve Smith received a run-out reprieve by the barest of margins on the second evening at the Oval.

With the score 193 for seven, and Australia 90 behind, Smith pushed into the leg-side and set off for a second with his partner, captain Pat Cummins.

England’s substitute fielder, George Ealham, hared in from the boundary and threw the ball in on the bounce to Jonny Bairstow, who broke the stumps.

Initially, Smith thought he was out, and set off for the boundary as England’s fielders congratulated Ealham, whose involvement drew comparisons with another famous Ashes sub fielder. In 2005, England’s Gary Pratt pulled off a decisive run-out of Australia captain Ricky Ponting in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge. “The lesson is, don’t take on the sub fielder you know nothing about,” Ponting joked on Sky Sports commentary.

Ealham, as it happens, is the 21-year-old son of former England all-rounder Mark, and a young player on Sussex’s books. His brother, Tommy, had been England’s sub fielder on the first day of the match.

Upon further inspection, TV Umpire Nitin Menon spotted that Bairstow’s forearm could have knocked the off-bail out of its groove. After minutes of replays, he concluded that Smith was not out.

While debate raged on TV and radio coverage, Marylebone Cricket Club, the proprietors of Lord’s and custodians of the laws of the game, appeared to support Menon’s decision when tweeting, Law 29.1 states: “The wicket is broken when at least one bail is completely removed from the top of the stumps, or one or more stumps is removed from the ground.”

Tom Smith’s Cricket Umpiring and Scoring, MCC’s Official Interpretation of the Laws of Cricket, adds: “For the purposes of dismissal – a bail has been removed at the moment that both ends of it leave their grooves.”

Smith had scolded himself for his poor running, but settled, and soon reached his second half-century of the series, continuing his love affair with the Oval, where he has made three Test centuries. Upon reaching eight, he overtook the greatest batsman of all time, Don Bradman, as the visiting batsman to have scored the most Test runs on the ground.

Smith admitted that, on first viewing, he thought he was out, and that he will be taking no further risks on Ealham’s arm.

‌“I saw the initial replay and the bail come up and then when I looked the second time it looked like Jonny might have knocked bail before ball came in,” he said. “It looked pretty close. If the ball had hit at initial stage I thought I was well out of my ground but on the next angle it looked pretty close and the umpire gave me not out.

‌“No [I did not know who I was taking on]. He’s quick! I know now he’s very quick. The next one we hit out there we kind of pushed and he was haring round the boundary, coming it at pace. Had I known that previously, I might have just stayed there for the single.

‌Broad said England were content with the decision-making process. “I don’t know the rules to be honest. I think there was enough grey area to give that not out. It looked like benefit of the doubt sort of stuff, first angle I saw I thought out, and then the side angle it looked like the bails probably dislodged.

“Kumar [Dharmasena, the on-field umpire] said to me if it was zinger bails it would been given out, I don’t really understand the reasoning why.”

Smith was eventually dismissed for 71, skying Chris Woakes to Bairstow, who took a decent catch running backwards, meaning Menon’s decision cost England 28 runs.

Verdict: Not out. An extremely marginal call, and hard on Bairstow, but Menon followed process well under huge pressure.

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