The Ashes 2023 series has had its fair share of controversies right from the first Test that was played at Edgbaston.

The laws of cricket were called in during the second Test with the now infamous Jonny Bairstow stumping at Lord’s. Now the latest one was during Day two of the fifth and final Test at the Oval and Steve Smith was at the centre of controversy.

During the 78th over of the match, Smith attempted a risky second run and seemed to fall short of his crease when England’s wicketkeeper Bairstow dislodged the bails. The on-field umpires referred the decision to the third umpire, Nitin Menon, who, after examining multiple replays, adjudged Smith not out. This decision divided fans and players alike, with many believing that Smith was indeed out.

The decision by Menon was supported by the MCC, who said that it was in adherence to Law 29.1. Smith scored 71 on the day, and Australia ended up taking a lead of 12 runs.

The controversy revolved around the interpretation of Law 29.1, which was Smith’s saviour on the day. So what does the rule state?

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What is Law 29.1?

According to the MCC rulebook, Law 29.1 states:

“The wicket is broken when at least one bail is completely removed from the top of the stumps, or one or more stumps is removed from the ground.”

Upon closer inspection of the replays with the Smith run out, it was revealed that while Bairstow had indeed dislodged the bails before collecting the ball, one half of the bail was still in its groove when Smith’s bat crossed the crease.

The MCC, the custodian of cricket laws, who supported Menon’s decision, cited the official interpretation of Law 29.1 from Tom Smith’s Cricket Umpiring and Scoring, which states:

“For the purposes of dismissal – a bail has been removed at the moment that both ends of it leave their grooves.”

Stuart Broad came in during the press conference, criticizing the call and confessed to being puzzled by the rules, suggesting the greyness surrounding the Smith incident was enough to declare a “not out”. He quoted the umpire: “Kumar said to me if it was zing bails it would have been given out, I don’t really understand the reasoning why.”

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“I honestly don’t know the rules,” Broad said. “I think there was enough grey area to give that not out. It looked like benefit of the doubt sort of stuff, first angle I saw I thought out, and then the side angle it looked like the bails probably dislodged.”

While the England team and fans may express their displeasure on the incident, it once again proved how critical the rules of the game was and it remains to be seen if this will be a significant moment in the game.