Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Stokes-Starc Drama

We have just witnessed one of the real oddities of the game of cricket. 

In case you missed it:
  • Kiwi-Englishman Ben Stokes hit the ball straight back to the bowler, the reputably aggressive Mitchell Starc
  • Starc hurled it back at breakneck speed attempting to smash the wickets and remove Stokes baseball style
  • Stokes stuck his hand out to block the throw and was subsequently dismissed for 'obstructing the field'
© foxsports.com.au

And now the cricketing world has blown up, a plethora of debate erupted from one ball of madness.

Question: Is it moral?
This topic is entirely subjective and farms out cricketing hypocrites like anything. The subject of 'gentlemen's game' and 'doing the right thing' is a red herring, even the cleanest outfit in the world has dirty laundry. The team in question is of course our humble Black Caps, remember the incident where McCullum ran out Muralitharan even though the universe knew he wasn't after a single? Now here he is on his high horse crying foul.

The Irish-Englishman captain in question has also taken the tall and mighty ground claiming he would have "withdrawn the appeal". Rubbish. I don't agree with Australians often, but George Bailey was bang on in calling this "a big thing to say". The poms are some of the worst when it comes to sporting behavior and moral standards on the field, the likes of Swann and Anderson are disgraceful.

They, and just about every other cricketing nation, has absolutely no grounds to call the card of "Blasphemy!  We would never do that!".

Question: Who do we blame?
There wouldn't be a debate if there wasn't somebody to point fingers at.

Suspect #1: Mitchell Starc. A bowler trying to destroy the stumps while fielding a return ball is commonplace. It could be a genuine attempt to run out the player, a cheap tactic to intimidate the batsman, or a dirty attempt to actually hit the batsmen. Usually only the Australians venture into the bottom end of the scale, as seen even by Starc himself taking aim at Kieron Pollard. *However* in this case I believe Starc was taking a legitimate shot at the stumps when the batsman was outside his crease. He was not trying to hit Stokes, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. 
Verdict: Not Guilty. 

Suspect #2: Ben Stokes. It is illegal to obstruct the ball from a fielders attempt at the stumps, he knew it and anyone with a reasonable eye on the game also knows it. However a look at the replays very clearly shows that this was all about self-preservation. He was genuinely concerned he was about to wear a leather red cricket ball coming at 200kph on his face, and stuck his hand out based on pure instinct and reflex. He was *not* trying to cheat and prevent his own run out. 
Verdict: Not Guilty. 

Suspect #3: The Rules. 
There is surprisingly a piece in the laws of cricket that captures the crux of this problem, self-preservation. 

Law 37 describes the following three circumstances where this applies, but the law is not limited to these circumstances. If, after completing the act of playing the ball, the batsmen willfully strikes the ball with a hand not holding the bat, unless this is in order to avoid injury, or any other part of his person or with his bat

This is a clear cut case of Stokes valuing his head (literally).
Verdict: Not Guilty.

This leaves one remaining culprit...

Suspect #4: 
The Umpires.
It went upstairs to be looked at, so the on-field umpires did the right thing here and called on the appropriate authority. They took the heat off themselves and avoided a rash and hurried decision. The third umpire then had the benefit of slow motion replays, interpreted the laws in a subjective and opinionated manner, and then sent Stokes on his way. In his eyes there would have been reasonable doubt either way, and in my opinion neither Starc nor Stokes were guilty... hence how can I fault the third umpire for taking a stance he had to make?
Verdict: Not Guilty. 

... Then who is guilty?

The answer is, nobody. And that is what makes any sport interesting.

The uncertainties and the debate are the life of the game. There isn't any right or wrong answer and it can be argued to death in every way. If it was possible to apply a mechanical decision on everything how boring would that be?

Truth is, the best we can all do is take a stance, have an enjoyably loud argument about it, and then get on with the rest of this fascinating series.