Ishant front foot highlights big problem
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