Rishi Sunak has weighed into the row over Jonny Bairstow’s controversial dismissal at Lord’s on Sunday, saying Australia did not act in the spirit of the game.
Downing Street said it was the prime minister’s belief that the Australian team had contravened the spirit of cricket by stumping Bairstow out when the England batsman appeared to believe the ball was not in play during a heated final day of the second Ashes test.
The dismissal proved pivotal in helping Australia win the match, taking them to a 2-0 series lead with three Tests left to play. But it also sparked an angry response from England’s players and supporters, and a confrontation between Lord’s members and Australian players at the lunch break.
Ben Stokes, the England captain, said after the match he would not have wanted to have won the game in such a way, and on Monday No 10 said the prime minister agreed. Sunak’s spokesperson said: “The PM agrees with Ben Stokes. He said he simply wouldn’t want to win a game in the manner Australia did.”
Asked specifically if he thought the Australians had contravened the spirit of cricket, the spokesperson said: “Yes.”
This is not the first time the Ashes has caused a diplomatic incident. In 1933 the Australian prime minister, Joseph Lyons, was forced to intervene in a row between the two countries over the “bodyline” tactics of the English bowlers, when they deliberately aimed at the Australian batsmen’s bodies.
Downing Street said, however, that Sunak would not raise the issue with his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese. “I think the public would want the prime minister to focus on the core issues of the UK-US-Australia relationship,” the spokesperson said. “Whilst there’s always going to be a friendly rivalry, I think they will be focused on more core issues.”
Stokes said on Sunday evening that he thought the dismissal of Bairstow with England on 193 for 5 was the “match-winning moment”. England eventually made 327 – 43 runs short of their target.
But if the stumping sealed the Australian victory, it also prompted two of the more remarkable moments in recent Ashes history. The first was Stokes’ own breathtaking innings, with the England captain repeatedly clattering the Australian bowlers to the boundary for a total of 155 runs. The second was an unprecedented confrontation between the Australian cricket team and supporters in the Long Room, an area reserved for Lord’s members and their guests.
Members of the Australian team engaged in heated debate with supporters as they walked off for the lunch break, with security having to prevent any physical altercation taking place. The Australians said several players were “verbally abused” or “physically contacted” as they returned to the dressing room, with video footage showing staff standing between the players and supporters as they appeared to confront each other.
The Marylebone Cricket Club, which owns Lord’s, has suspended three of its members over the incident and issued an apology to the Australian team.
Downing Street said on Monday that the prime minister agreed with the MCC’s actions. The spokesperson said: “He thinks it was right the MCC have taken swift action to suspend any member that was accused of poor behaviour.”
Referring to the decision by the Australian player Nathan Lyon earlier in the game to bat despite a calf injury, the spokesperson said: “[Sunak] was there when Nathan Lyon hobbled out to bat on Saturday. He was in considerable pain and he was given a standing ovation by members there and I think he felt that was much more in keeping with the spirit of the game.”
A spokesperson for the Australian team said they would not be commenting.