Steve Smith's run of consecutive ODI half-centuries was brought to a strange end on Tuesday against England after an unconventional umpiring display. Australia claimed a 221-run win in a rain-adjusted third ODI, sweeping the series in the process.
It had been a pleasing return to form for Smith, whose performances in the first to matches of the series had proved crucial in two victories for the home side. While his relatively low score in the MCG dead rubber wasn't much of a story in itself, the way he lost his wicket certainly was.
Smith was caught behind off the bowling of Olly Stone - but there was clearly some doubt among the English players as to whether or not the ball had glanced off his bat. Wicketkeeper Jos Buttler raised his arms for a moment before giving the signal to refer the appeal to the third umpire.
However umpire Paul 'Blocka' Wilson showed he's nothing if not a stickler for the rules, remaining unmoved until Butler let outa lone cry of 'Howzat!' - the only English player to do so. It was only then that Wilson raised his finger and Smith was sent packing.
Replays showed it would have been a dubious wicket at best, with neither to hot spot nor the snicko revealing any evidence Smith was actually out. A bemused Smith made his way back to the MCG pavilion as Stone celebrated his third wicket.
Former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist was gobsmacked by the bizarre nature of the wicket during his turn on commentary for Fox Sports.
So good to see even the umpires at elite level stick to the basics & follow the laws of the game to the book. Want a wicket? You better appeal for it. You better say the word #AusvEng https://t.co/ZqhmUQ6CoT
— Bharat Sundaresan (@beastieboy07) November 22, 2022
“Buttler is reviewing this, straight away he thought he heard something,” Gilchrist observed.
“Extraordinary scenes. There have been a few low-key moments in a low-key game but that just tops it. Buttler thought he heard something straight away, even though it was almost a muffled, muted appeal.
“Maybe he had to wait for an actual appeal first before any action could be taken.”
Australia smash record MCG total against England with limited fans
With Australia taking an unassailable 2-0 series lead into Tuesday's match, spectators stayed away from the largest stadium in the country for the third and final ODI against England.
The previous lowest attendance for an ODI at the MCG involving Australia came in 1979 during the World Series era when 12,077 turned up to watch the hosts against England.
Openers David Warner and Travis Head walked out to bat in front of a crowd estimated to be less than 1000. More fans came into the stadium during the course of Australia's innings as Warner and Head put on a 269-run partnership, powering Australia to 5-355.
The top level of the MCG was closed for the entire match in a sign of the predicted low crowd. Head said it was hard to miss all the empty seats in the 100,000-seat capacity stadium during his career-best knock of 152.
"I noticed it but when the ball is coming in at you, you don't really notice if there's 10,000 or 100,000 really," Head told reporters.
"I guess we weren't surprised, with where the series was at ...Tuesday afternoon and weather hasn't been great so pretty tough conditions to come out and watch cricket."
Only three ODIs have previously been held at the MCG in November, with an average attendance for those matches just 17,993. When ODIs at the MCG are played in December, January and February, the average crowd number rises above 40,000.
It is a dramatic drop-off from the recent Twenty20 World Cup, with 80,462 people turning out to watch England win the final against Pakistan at the MCG just nine days ago. India and Pakistan took centre stage at the MCG in the group stage of the T20 World Cup with a bumper crowd of 90,293 in attendance.
"No doubt it would have been tough for England coming off the highs that they have and try to play in this series with not many people showing up," Head said.
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