England v Australia, 2nd npower Test, Lord's, 4th day July 19, 2009

Umpires frustrate Australia

The umpire referral system, due to be implemented in October, cannot come fast enough. After four days of controversy at Lord's, in which Rudi Koertzen and Billy Doctrove have lurched from one crisis to another, players and spectators were left to ponder just how "challenges" might have averted a series of situations that left two nations frustrated and a match disrupted.

The Ashes will be the penultimate Test series to be played under the old system, and more is the pity. Access to television replays would have gone far to sparing the blushes of the umpires and the ire of Australians after Simon Katich, Phillip Hughes and Michael Hussey were ruled out to decisions that ranged from dubious to incorrect on Sunday.

Katich's dismissal to an Andrew Flintoff no-ball might have been difficult for the batting team to detect and challenge, but the controversy surrounding Hughes' departure could have been avoided. Hughes' was ruled out to an Andrew Strauss catch in which fingers, ball and turf were in close proximity to one another. A challenge would have sent the adjudication process the way of the third umpire, who presumably would have found the replays to be inconclusive - as per the universal opinion of non-partisan commentators and scribes - and offered the benefit of the doubt to the batsman.

As it transpired, Koertzen and Doctrove stood accused of double standards, having declined to refer Hughes' dismissal to Nigel Llong, the third umpire, a day after sending Nathan Hauritz's claimed catch at mid-on upstairs. Replays of Hauritz's effort were similarly inconclusive, and Ravi Bopara was allowed to continue his innings.

Tim Nielsen, the Australian coach, refused to be dragged into an umpiring controversy, but admitted concern that Koertzen and Doctrove had not referred Strauss's catch to Llong. "I would have liked to see it go to the third umpire from a consistency point of view, there's no doubt about that," he said. "In the end, we've all seen the replays. People will make their decisions. At the moment the scorebook says that Phillip Hughes is sitting up with me. There's nothing much we can do about it now. Let's play on and look forward to tomorrow.

"We couldn't afford to get angry. We were in the middle of a game. We had to be conscious of the guy who was going in next. Once the decision was made, that batsman's impact on the game was finished. So we had to be aware of the environment we created for the next guy and the guys after him and the guy after him. You can't afford to be angry. You've just got to get on with it and make sure the next bloke has the chance to play as well as he can."

Graeme Swann, for his part, said England were not upset that Hughes, under orders from Ricky Ponting at the non-strikers' end, had stood his ground after Strauss claimed the catch. The incident prompted Koertzen to consult with Doctrove at square-leg for the third time in the match, the previous two of which have resulted in referrals to Llong.

"I think it's just accepted these days that the batsmen have a right to stand and ask if it carried," Swann said. "The umpire saw it and said it carried, and I was at third slip and thought it carried. As far as we were concerned, there was no problem with that catch. It went straight in. Fifty years ago, it would have been down to the word of the fielder, but these days, with all the technology, I don't think you can blame anyone for standing around."

Swann was himself party to a contentious decision when Doctrove ruled Hussey to have edged one of his deliveries to first slip. Replays showed that Hussey's bat had struck the ground, not the ball. Had the batsman the right of appeal, the ensuing controversy would almost certainly have been avoided.

"I was surprised," Swann said of the dismissal. "As far as I was concerned it pitched, it turned, there was a big nick and it went straight to slip. If it didn't nick his edge I feel sorry for Michael because he's a mate of mine and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. But there were no qualms from anyone in the middle. As far as we were concerned it was a regulation nick to slip. These things sometimes happen."

Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo

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