England v India, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 16, 2014

Ishant front foot highlights big problem

Umpires are simply not watching for the no-ball closely enough and it is creating trouble for bowlers. When an umpire fails to call your foot faults, he is basically omitting to tell you all is not right

Play 06:27
How often should the third umpire check for no-balls?

In the tour game in Derby - it seems like an age ago for the hobbling Indian team now - Ishant Sharma bowled nine no-balls. Those sitting in the press box - dead square from where Ishant was delivering - spotted about as many no-balls not called.

In the 64th over today, he got a tickle down leg from Ian Bell, which MS Dhoni failed to catch. Had he caught this, it still wouldn't have brought Ishant a wicket, because he had overstepped marginally. A ball later, he produced the outside edge, which Dhoni accepted, but the umpire momentarily cut short his joy by asking for replays to check if this was a no-ball. It wasn't. By a long margin. As was the case with another wicket earlier.

Later in the day, Stuart Binny bowled a big no-ball, got an edge down the leg side, but the umpire missed it. Had this edge gone straight to Dhoni as opposed to the boundary, the umpires would have surely checked it with the third umpire.

All this sounds right on the surface, but hasn't Ishant been led into believing he is doing all right by an umpire who was only half alert to his no-balls? Had Binny taken a wicket next ball with a similar no-ball, wouldn't he have reason to feel aggrieved that he wasn't warned at his first indiscretion? When an umpire fails to call your foot faults, just because that ball has not produced a wicket, he is basically omitting to tell you all is not right. And he surely will go upstairs should you take a wicket. He will go upstairs even if you are not even close to overstepping.

On his debut, in Adelaide last December, Ben Stokes was denied his first wicket when the third umpire called it a no-ball but he had landed in the exact same spot a few times before without the umpire calling him. Had he been called earlier, he would have delivered from six inches further back.

The umpires have a big problem almost all over the world; hence there might be no point in naming Kumar Dharmasena as the main culprit here. Umpires are simply not watching the front foot closely enough. It can't be the case that they operated similarly earlier, and it is just now that the technology has exposed them. The technology has been around for years, but the umpires didn't miss the number of no-balls they do now. It just becomes all the more jarring when they go upstairs for wicket-taking deliveries even though half the foot might be behind the line.

There is a general trend of falling umpiring standards, which the ICC masks by releasing misleading stats on the percentage of decisions the umpires have been getting right. For the purposes of these calculation, moving your hand parallel to the ground and around waist high for a straightforward four is also counted as a correct decision.

Ishant, Varun Aaron and Binny - the three men involved in the no-ball dramas today - were not available for comment, but R Ashwin - a spinner, who is going to be involved in much fewer similar cases - took this quite sportingly. He basically said that while it might be unfair on the bowler who is going through this, you can't have the umpires check every ball. But this state of affairs has all the makings of becoming ugly when in a tight match a bowler lands in the same spot with two consecutive deliveries, and is called only for the second just because he got a wicket.

"This is one thing I have been conscious of," Ashwin said. "It is very nervous moment when the umpire checks the no-ball. It has taken away the real quick happiness of taking a wicket. Once you have celebrated and all that, it is like a pinch on your backside. But it's good, to use the technology to correct the errors. If we keep checking every tight one, we won't get 90 overs in in a day."

There is no external solution to this problem. Checking no-balls is a welcome addition, which has an offshoot that is not quite desirable. There is no way someone can sit outside and check no-balls before a spinner has collected a forward defensive and bowled the next ball. The umpires will have to get their act together. There is no reason for them to not look at the front foot as closely as they used to.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 17:02 GMT

    As EdwinD says, it is extremely difficult for the onfield umpire to watch the bowling crease and then switch his gaze to the other end quickly enough to see what happens there - so why not give the job of calling no balls to the third umpire? He has nothing else to do until called upon, so it would hardly be an arduous task for him to watch the crease for every delivery. A buzzer could be used to alert the batsman to the no ball in sufficient time for him to change his shot if he wishes to do so.

  • Dummy on August 17, 2014, 15:36 GMT

    Go boys have a good sleep and show the attitude in ipl only,their playing for money fame and spot in the team dis is reality...

  • Kshitij on August 17, 2014, 14:33 GMT

    I thing I understand is it is difficult to check the front-foot no-ball and then immediately be alert on leg-before appeals. So why dont the 3rd umpires(who are hardly bothered even in ODIs) be given the responsibility to check the no-balls - this will make then earn the money and also leave the umpire with more concentration on the leg-before appeals. Every time there is a no-ball the 3rd umpire can press a buzzer for the on field umpires to know(and signal for a front foot no-ball). And that technology(side-on + slow motion cameras) is already in place and used only on an average of 10-12 times in a test match.

  • M. on August 17, 2014, 11:42 GMT

    I'm amazed that the ICC stats actually reflect all umpiring actions, including no-brainers like noticing the ball has crossed the boundary. I always assumed that these stats related to actual decisions. Silly me!

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 10:54 GMT

    More often than not, it's the fast bowlers who over step. There's a 30-40 sec gap every time a fast bowler lands on the pitch. So, every time when the old field umpire thinks it was a close call, he should press a beeper which notifies only the 3rd umpire, the 3rd umpire should have the slow-mo replay facility and it would take him less than 10 secs to make that decision. When the bowler would be getting back to his mark, the umpire could show it the scorer that it was a no ball.

  • sourav on August 17, 2014, 7:02 GMT

    If an unnecessary technology like glowing bails can be created, can't a small device be put into the shoes of the bowlers which would beep if it crosses the crease, and instantly call a no-ball? It makes the umpires concentrate on the decisions, and farcical situations like these are avoided.

  • Edwin on August 17, 2014, 6:45 GMT

    Just wondering if any of those commenting, or the article writer have actually umpired at any stage?

    It is exceptionally difficult to look for a no-ball at the point of delivery, and then adjust your head position and eyeline to pick up whether the ball is pitching in line - especially when the ball is moving at 80mph+ - try it!!

  • sam on August 17, 2014, 6:31 GMT

    Bowlers @ this level should know better.Don't need ump or any1 to tell them you can't overstep,its a basic rule.Why not introduce free hit in tests?Only for 'wkt' off balls found to have been overstepped.

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 5:28 GMT

    Why not stand the second umpire square of the bowling crease (instead of square leg). He could the call the no balls instantly. Any stumpings or close run outs are going to be sent upstairs anyway!

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2014, 3:26 GMT

    If ICC is serious about using technology, catching foot faults is the simplest thing they can use technology for. The technology already exists and is used in tennis for catching line faults. You do not need DRS or anything and it will not cause any delays. The decision will be instantaneous and will relieve the umpire of this duty and make them concentrate more on the action on the batting side.

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