Officials produce another fine mess
The 2007 World Cup final was a low point for the ICC's match officials. Four umpires and a match referee turned the sport's showpiece into a laughing stock by making the most fundamental of errors. They forced the Australia and Sri Lanka players back on to the field in near total darkness to "complete" Sri Lanka's innings after bad light had been called at the end of the 33rd over.
The players knew that 20 overs constituted a match and that Australia had won, that the remaining overs did not need to be bowled. Commentators knew it. Viewers watching on TV around the world knew it. Drunken spectators at the Kensington Oval knew it. It seemed the only people who didn't were the match officials. It was a case of the blind leading the sighted.
The shambolic ending at the MCG on Saturday night is not in the same league, but neither is it something to be ignored. It is another humiliation for the ICC at the sport's premier global event. It is another case of match officials not knowing the rules when players, commentators and spectators did. It is an embarrassment to the game, and there must be consequences.
So, what exactly happened? What we know is this: James Taylor was struck on the pad by Josh Hazlewood and given lbw by umpire Aleem Dar. Taylor and James Anderson took off for a leg bye while the umpire was deliberating. Dar raised his finger while the batsmen were running. Then Glenn Maxwell's throw hit the stumps at the striker's end with Anderson short of his ground.
Taylor asked for a review of the lbw. It was found to be missing leg, and he was reprieved. Australia asked the umpires about the run-out of Anderson. Taylor argued the point, saying a dead ball should be called. The umpires discussed it, square-leg umpire Kumar Dharmasena appeared to speak to someone on his radio, and it was decided that the run-out could be checked and given out.
In a statement after the game, the ICC said: "Article 3.6a of Appendix 6 of the Decision Review System Playing Conditions states that the ball should have been deemed dead when the batsman (James Taylor) was given out lbw. No further runs or dismissals were possible. The Playing Control Team spoke to the England team management and acknowledges that the game ended incorrectly and that an error was made."
It would be easy to do nothing but admit the error, then carry on. England were not going to win anyway, so what does it matter? It matters a great deal to Taylor, who was denied the chance to score his first hundred for his country, on his World Cup debut, and was left on 98 not out. It could yet matter to England if the qualification for the quarter-finals comes down to net run rate.
Most of all, it matters to anyone who wants to see the game played properly. The integrity of the umpiring process disappears when it becomes clear the umpires do not know the rules. You can accept as human error a bad call, such as the lbw clearly missing leg that Dar gave against Taylor. Such decisions are subjective, mistakes happen.
You can accept an umpire saying "I thought it was hitting leg stump". You could not accept an umpire saying "I didn't know the ball couldn't pitch outside leg". That is the equivalent of what happened with the run-out after Taylor's lbw was overturned. If umpires - or match referees - don't know the rules, are they really worthy of being on the Elite Panel?
The ICC must find out where the mistake originated and why it was not prevented. Did the on-field umpires agree that the run-out was legal? If they weren't sure, why did they rush in to a decision? Surely Taylor's suggestion of a dead ball gave them pause for thought, reason to have someone check the rulebook. Did they ask the third umpire, or the match referee?
Why did the match referee not step in and radio through a clarification to the umpires? What exactly is a match referee's role during a game, if not to ensure that such preventable mistakes are not made? He should not meddle with subjective umpiring decisions, but when there is obvious confusion as to what the rules are, he is surely the highest authority.
The match referee here was Jeff Crowe, the on-field umpires Dharmasena and Dar, the third umpire Billy Bowden and the fourth umpire Joel Wilson. Did none of them know the playing conditions and speak up? It is notable that Crowe was also the match referee in the 2007 World Cup final, Dar was one of the on-field umpires and Bowden the fourth umpire.
After the 2007 fiasco, the ICC punished all five match officials by banning them from the next ICC event, the World T20 later that year. The then ICC chief executive, Malcolm Speed, said it would have been easy to pretend nothing had happened, but "the reality is that the playing control team made a serious and fundamental error that caused the final of our flagship event to end in disarray and confusion".
So they have erred again, though this time on the flagship event's opening day. It might not be as contemptible as watching cricketers play in the dark, but seeing the umpires ignore a player telling them the correct rules is galling. It simply should not have happened.
Something needs to be done, and be seen to be done. Ignorance of the rules can be forgiven in a player, but not in a match official. Whoever was at fault should be stood down, if only for a game or two. The credibility of the World Cup demands it.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale