Handling Obstruction

Ben Stokes made an unfortunate piece of cricket history at the weekend when he was given out obstructing the field in a One Day International. If that was not enough he has caused a major debate in cricket circles around the globe as to whether the third umpires decision was correct and whether Australia should have withdrawn their appeal.

Stokes joined an exclusive club becoming just the seventh player in the history of international cricket to be given out under law 37 of the game, obstructing the field, when third umpire Joel Wilson judged he wilfully got in the way of Mitchell Starc’s attempted run out with his outstretched glove.

This is where one feels a decision should have been made on the pitch by the two umpires on the ground and should not have been referred to the third umpire.

The reason is quite simple. When a replay of Stokes’ reaction as the ball is hurled at the stumps by Starc is seen in real time, virtually everyone who has witnessed it is of the same opinion, his actions were natural and were more of a person trying to evade the ball than even contemplating trying to stop the ball hitting his stumps. If you watch the way he pulls his body away from the line of the ball – and the camera angle used is not the best – it is quite clear that Stokes felt that the ball was coming at him.

When one slows it down with a slow motion replay it looks completely different. Suddenly his evasive action, his body falling away sees his arm left outstretched and gives a completely different image.

Frequently with dismissals today we see the line of the ball had it not hit a batsman’s pad. That being the case surely we could have had an image of where the ball would have gone had Stokes remained standing upright and not turned away? That would have helped clarify how close the ball was to him, but in truth this was not a decision that should have been referred.

The umpire on the ground should have made the call as to whether under Law 37 Stokes “wilfully attempts to obstruct or distract the fielding side by word or action.” Subjection 37.2 states if that the umpire must determine if it was wilful or not. “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.”

The interesting question though is what did Australia appeal for? Was it ‘obstructing the field’ or was it ‘handling the ball?’ Had it been the latter it would appear that Stokes would not have been given out. As Law 33.2a states, ” the striker will not be out Handled the ball if the strike with a hand not holding the bat is in order to avoid injury.”

Should the umpire have asked Australia under what mode of dismissal they were appealing for?

Steve Smith, as the captain of Australia has copped criticism for not withdrawing his appeal, with many feeling that he did not act in the spirit of the game.

The appeal from Mitchell Starc is not surprising in the heat of the moment. Once there is an appeal the umpire must give a decision which is what happened, albeit via the third umpire. This took some time, time in which Smith could have made a call in his own mind or even asked the batsman if he deliberately stopped the ball hitting the stumps. He chose not to, and what has been disappointing is the vague way he has defended that decision.

“The way I saw it was he was out of his ground and he wilfully put his hand out which is the rule that I have been told, and he got given out by the third umpire.” Surely the Australian Captain does not need to be told the Laws of the game?

Smith goes on to say “It got taken out of my hands and went up to the third umpire and he deemed to see the same as what we saw.” He could still have as many have argued in the spirit of the game withdrawn his appeal, yet it would appear that he is not as clued up on the rules as he should be, implying that once the third umpire makes a decision then that is final.

No doubt the debate will rage on as to whether the Third umpire was right and whether Smith should have withdrawn his appeal. Stokes has said he was not deliberately trying to stop the ball hitting the stumps and we have to believe him.

However it would be interesting to know what exactly Starc and wicketkeeper Matt Wade were appealing for, and whether they were more au fait with the laws than their captain appears to be and were appealing for a handled ball, or obstructing the field. Also it appears that the Umpire never bothered to ask what they were appealing for. Now it is unlikely we will never know.


Handling Obstruction
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