Did Yusuf Pathan get a fair trial?
The interpretation of Law 37, which deals with obstructing the field, by third umpire Vineet Kulkarni probably dealt the killer blow to Kolkata Knight Riders' IPL season. Yusuf Pathan had made his first fifty in three seasons for Knight Riders when he was ruled to have obstructed the field by kicking the ball away and was given out with his side needing 23 off 13. This was a huge decision. Allan Donald, the Pune Warriors coach, said it won his side the game. It was arguably also the moment that extinguished the defending champions' slim hope of making the playoffs.
This was an unusual situation, in that it required the umpire to interpret two laws - Law 37, in Yusuf's case, and before that, Law 42.5, on deliberate distraction or obstruction of the batsman, in Wayne Parnell's case. Assuming that umpire Kulkarni considered the provisions of both laws, he ruled in Parnell's favour on the first occasion and against Yusuf on the second.
Yusuf had pushed a yorker down the pitch and was trying to take a single. In an attempt to get to the ball, Parnell ran across, almost into Yusuf's path. As he approached the batsman, Parnell stuck both his hands out and in the process, touched Yusuf. Was that an attempt to deliberately obstruct Yusuf? Or was it just a reflex action in response to a possible collision? It did affect Yusuf, in that it slowed him down. Did it distract him enough for him to inadvertently kick the ball away?
In Parnell's favour, his eyes were throughout on the ball, and not on the batsman, as he ran across. What the umpire had to decide was whether the outstretching of the hands constituted a deliberate obstruction. We have to assume he decided it wasn't, or else, a dead ball would have been called and Yusuf's case would not have been taken up.
In Yusuf's favour, his eyes did not seem to be on the ball when he kicked it away, something one would usually do when one intends to kick an object. His team-mate Ryan ten Doeschate pointed out the same. "We get into trouble if we comment on any umpiring decision. They seem to make the decision and that is where they draw a line under it," ten Doeschate said. "We are very disappointed by the decision in the change room. The one thing you need to look at is where Yusuf's eyes are. And he is not looking at the ball, which makes it very hard for him to know where the ball exactly is. So if the umpire is saying he has kicked the ball, he has to know where the ball is. All I can say is, we are pretty disappointed with the way he got out."
What could have gone against Yusuf is the manner in which he kicked the ball. You run with straight feet and if the ball happened to roll in his path, it would have meant a straight, involuntary kick. But Yusuf 's foot was angled at the point of impact, like a footballer's is. Now that, standalone, suggests intention. But was it instead an involuntary follow-up to his slowing down, which was a result of Parnell's hand movements? The umpire did not think there was a link.
It is the umpire's call whether obstruction, by batsman or fielder, is deliberate. After assuming that he absolved Parnell on that account, he was within his rights to rule against Yusuf. He probably placed more emphasis on the angle of Yusuf's kick than his eyes not being on the ball, though one cannot conclude that was reasonable proof beyond doubt.
Donald said the umpire got it right. "When you see it from the side, it looked a bit innocuous," Donald said. "When I looked at it on the replay, it was clearly an attempt to nudge the ball away. I think the intent of Yusuf Pathan was to actually kick the ball away and I think that rule is a big lesson for any cricketer when you think that you can either get in the way of the thrower or maybe just get a boot on it, whether it is intentional or not. When I watched it, it was a good decision by the third umpire. It was spot-on, and ultimately, that won us the game, but not clear thinking on his [Yusuf's] part, I reckon."
This is what Parnell tweeted. "Just to clear the air regarding Pathan incident. I didn't give him out, the third umpire did. I play the game hard but I play it fair." One can only assume umpire Kulkarni gave Parnell and Yusuf a fair trial.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo