Jonny Bairstow and his fake fielding is making a buzz

The fifth and final of the Ashes Tests is currently ongoing at The Oval. Australia have succeeded to retain the urn after winning their Manchester Test, but they are falling short during the current encounter. They had been bowled out at only 225 runs compared to the England team’s 294 score. On the second day, something unique happened that stole the limelight.

It occurred when Steve Smith began to take a run at the non-striker’s end. Though he was going to reach the crease without a problem, England’s wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow pretended as if he had caught the ball in his gloves. This obviously concerned Smith of a possible run-out. Bairstow was just feigning his attempt of hitting the bails as though the ball had landed in his hands; this happened when the throw reached the bowler’s side.

Consequently, Steve Smith dived just in time to save his run and avoid the impending dismissal, only to discover that it was a fake action by Bairstow. Although the players and the Australian team did not speak a lot regarding the incident, Bairstow had pretty much violated ICC’s recently established rule that refers to such fake fielding attempts.

Jonny Bairstow caused Steve Smith to panic and dive in time in order to be saved from a runout. There is just one cause of concern, the ball was not even in Bairstow’s hands.

What do umpires need to consider?

ICC’s existing rule entitles the umpires to award the opposing team with five runs in response to any player who breaches the ‘fake fielding’. However, Marais Erasmus and Kumar Dharmasena, the on-field officials, did not act according to this rule that clearly states that they should allocate five runs to the Australian team. This has confused several people as England did not get penalized for its violation after a deliberate fake fielding. Only the umpires have the authority to enforce a penalty if any player pretends to field like this.

Marnus Labuschagne had been the first player to breach this rule during Australia’s One-Day domestic tournament and the team got penalized by the umpires. Furthermore, Kumar Sangakkara had also deceived Ahmed Shehzad in an ODI match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

After the latter attempt, manager of MCC’s Laws of Cricket Fraser Stewart clarified this rule saying that it is the umpires’ call to decide whether the fielder had faked his fielding on purpose. He told ESPNCricinfo that Sangakkara’s situation is not very clear-cut as he is deliberately trying to bluff the batsman, but it is not clear how this will benefit him – not that gaining the benefit requires proof.

The manager also said that it felt more like a prank than an attempt to create confusion that can prevent the run from being scored. Under the Law’s letter, no one can dispute the imposed penalty. However, the umpire can also choose to resolve it mutually with the player by informing him about the new rule. Fraser Stewart also added that just like any other law similar to this one, it will be left to the umpires to declare the fielding as “deliberate” or as a “deception” however applicable.

Now if this explanation is applied to Jonny Bairstow’s fielding attempt, then it seems that the wicketkeeper had not gained any advantage when he tried deceiving Steve Smith. Again, it is down to the umpires’ word and their analysis of the situation. They must also bear in mind that Smith needed to dive and save his wicket because of Bairstow’s fake fielding and he could have encountered an injury in the process.

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