Cricket may be one of the most popular sports on the planet, but it’s not always just fun and games.
A war of words has broken out between the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia over a cricket game in an ongoing bilateral cricket series between the two nations. The British and Australian press, too, have gotten involved and are taking potshots at each other.
The Australian cricket team is currently in England to take part in the Ashes – the bilateral cricket series between England and Australia. The Ashes, which is said to have started over 140 years ago and is believed to be one of the oldest sporting rivalries in the world, has not been without controversy and banter. But seldom do prime ministers get involved.
According to the rules of cricket, the batter must remain behind a white line, known as the crease, while the ball is live. If they are caught outside the crease and an opposition fielder dislodges the wickets, they are out.
On Sunday, English cricketer Jonny Bairstow was batting against Australia at Lord’s cricket ground in London. Bairstow erroneously believed that the ball was not in play when he casually wandered out of his crease.
Alex Carey, Australia’s wicketkeeper, acted fast and took the opportunity to dismiss Bairstow. This mode of dismissal is known as a “stumping.” Australia eventually won the match, going up 2-0 in the series.
The stumping, while legal within the rules of the game, has drawn sharp criticism in England as being unsportsmanlike.
Everyone from English fans to former players and newspapers has weighed in.
England cricket team captain Ben Stokes said Australia’s actions were not in line with the “spirit of cricket.” Australian captain Pat Cummins said it was a fair dismissal and within the rules of the game.
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak backed up his captain.
“The prime minister agrees with Ben Stokes. He said he simply wouldn’t want to win a game in the manner Australia did,” a spokesperson for Sunak’s office told reporters on Monday.
Some in England called for a formal apology, with many referring to Australians as “cheats.” But the Aussies hit back. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that while he wishes his British counterpart well, he stood with his team.
“He (Sunak) must not have had the same lessons I got in primary school… stay in your crease,” he said.
In a reference to English fan chants of “Same old Aussies, always cheating,” Albanese said, “Same old Aussies, always winning.”
Australian newspapers tore into Sunak along with other prominent voices who spoke out, such as TV personality Piers Morgan. Some carried visuals of Stokes, Sunak, Morgan and former England captain Geoff Boycott as babies wearing pacifiers.
One headline read “Crybabies,” while another said, “The wobbly upper lip” – a reference to the British phrase “stiff upper lip,” which refers to the supposed ability of the English to take defeat on the chin.
The Ashes is far from over, with three more matches to go in the five-match series. With two losses in two games, Stokes’s England will be keen to shake off the “crybaby” tag with a few wins under their belt.
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