South Africa v England, 4th Test, Johannesburg, 2nd day January 15, 2010

Harper howlers undermine UDRS

Not for the first time Daryl Harper has been caught at the centre of controversy over the Umpire Decision Review System

Not for the first time Daryl Harper has been caught at the centre of controversy over the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) and this time it sounds as though his failure to turn up the volume on his television set is to blame. It beggars belief.

When Graeme Smith, on 15, flashed a cut at Ryan Sidebottom England went up as one for the top edge, but Tony Hill, the on-field umpire, turned down the appeal and Andrew Strauss quickly asked for a review. There was no noticeable deflection on the replays so the noise from the stump microphone would have to be the decisive evidence. Except Harper couldn't hear anything, so he simply upheld Hill's decision.

It soon became clear that an edge was clearly audible on subsequent replays. How did Harper fail to hear the nick, which commentators said was as clear as they come from the stump microphone? Before the series an agreement was reached that the third umpire would set his volume level to four out of 10, but there is nothing to prevent him turning it up to assess a decision, should the need arise. Initially it was suggested the feed provided to Harper hadn't included the audio, but it later emerged that he had merely committed a bungle of the highest order, and this coming from an umpire who has a history of embarrassing errors.

It led Andy Flower, the England coach, to make an official complaint to Roshan Mahanama, the ICC match referee, who has also had a curious part to play in the whole affair after first telling Flower, incorrectly, that he had a different TV feed. It was only after England made further investigations and found out this wasn't true that Mahanama admitted Harper had failed to adjust his volume.

Harper was also the TV umpire during the England series in West Indies early last year, when he was unable to rule on a caught-behind appeal against Darren Powell. It transpired that, on that occasion, he was let down by the hardware because his TV screen wasn't wide enough to include the whole picture and the ball was lopped off. The ICC have put measures in place to ensure such situations don't arise again.

But later in the series, at Barbados, Harper failed to overturn an lbw against Shivnarine Chanderpaul that was clearly heading over the stumps, although at that stage of the UDRS trial, the predicative element of Hawkeye wasn't available to the TV umpire. All the same, regardless of the possible defences for Harper in those situations, a system is only as good as the people operating it - and faith in Harper's decision-making is currently at rock-bottom.

On the whole, the review system has emerged from this series with its reputation boosted after an iffy start in Centurion, during which the main issue was the length of time taken to ask for reviews. At Cape Town it was especially impressive as it overturned three glaring errors; a caught-behind against Ashwell Prince, an lbw against Kevin Pietersen when he inside-edged the ball and, most crucially, a first-ball slip catch at the start of Paul Collingwood's match-saving rearguard, when the ball deflected off his back leg. Ironically, the Prince and Pietersen errors were both made by Harper, the standing umpire, but that is what the system was designed for and it worked.

However, this latest controversy again highlights the problem of UDRS's inconsistent implementation around the world. In this series there is neither HotSpot nor Snickometer technology, and either of those would have offered a definitive answer to the question of Smith's edge. The lack of HotSpot is due to there being only four cameras in the entire world and they are all in Australia where, despite Mark Benson's walkout at Adelaide following an overturned decision against Chanderpaul, it has proved effective.

If the ICC wants to implement the review system successfully it has got to go the whole hog with the available technology. The current piecemeal compromise isn't acceptable. HotSpot isn't cheap, but the ICC isn't so short of money that it can skimp on the provision of enough cameras to deploy around the world as required. This isn't to say ICC should be left with the entire cost of the system, but HotSpot is looking like an important piece of equipment that should be made available.

Of course, as the Chanderpaul incident showed, it won't eliminate controversy 100%, but the ICC has admitted that such a situation will never be achieved and they are aiming for a success rate of around 98% of correct decisions. There has been enough evidence in this series to prove that the system does work, but only with people more competent than Harper in the hot seat

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on January 17, 2010, 23:42 GMT

    StJohn: The England team's demands for the review system to be cancelled on the basis of the Smith issue are absolutely ludicrous and yes, nationality aside, is nothing other than whingeing. Think about it ... if the review system hadn't been in place, then Smith would have been given ... ummm ... let's see ... NOT OUT! What would they have gained by it not being there? Zippo!

    Furthermore, the audio feed on its own is never enough to finally adjudicate on an edge ... yesterday in Hobart the Pakistanis asked for a review when Ponting was given not out. There had been a definite noise, which even showed up on "Snicko", but the other evidence pointed away from an edge, so the review was dismissed. A noise can be caused by any number of events, so it should be the least important weapon in the technological armoury. Yes, it's a shame that Harper didn't hear it, but it's whingeing of the highest order now to demand that the whole system be scrapped.

  • Ray on January 17, 2010, 23:05 GMT

    You are right lamd, quite rediculous. Same thing happened yesterday in Hobart. Ponting flashed at a wide one, there was a noise but no deviation. Given not out by the standing umpire, on review yes there was a noise but was it bat on ball? Not sure, still not out, the noise could have been anything. No controversy in Hobart should not have been one at the Wanderers either.

  • Noel on January 17, 2010, 12:46 GMT

    Don McGrath, what you suggest IS what obtains in the current system. (In my note, when I spoke of reviews, I meant unsuccessful ones.) Each team has two unsuccessful reviews per inning but any number of successful ones. The problem really is what to do with howlers AFTER the two unsuccessful reviews have been used up. A team has no recourse after that hence my suggestion to increase the fielding team's amount to five (unsuccessful) and let EACH BATSMAN have has many as he wants. As long as he is successful, he can bat on. He can, of course, have only ONE unsuccessful review for then he is out.

  • Roy on January 17, 2010, 5:29 GMT

    The howlers that've been reversed in this series vindicate the review system totally - Prince, Collingwood, Pietersen. The critisism of the system lacks consistency of thought. The ECB are against the system because, they say, they are against players questioning the umps decsion. One would expect their response to be "come on boys, the ump didn't give him, the tv ump never gave him (and he couldn't on the basis of a noise only), Smith didn't walk as all gentlemen like Geoff Boycott used to, so let's get stuck in now and try and get more than 180 in the 2nd knock". Instead THEY now say the system is flawed & have asked the ICC to reverse the lost referral! The basis of the system is sound i.e. let the ump decide & if anyone is unhappy he can appeal & if the available evidence shows he's wrong, the decision can be overturned - as in a court of law. If Snicko and Hotspot aren't available, that's tuff. We've already seen that we don't get those aweful animated appeals for bat pads etc

  • Donald on January 17, 2010, 3:05 GMT


    I think a better system than having x number of revues per batting or fielding side is that each team has a limited number of unsuccessful revues available, but until they run out of unsuccessful revues, they can have as many successful revues as they like. That gives both teams the chance to review every decision they genuinely believe is wrong, but should stop them from trying to review every decision that goes agianst them.

  • StJohn on January 16, 2010, 23:20 GMT

    The bottom line is that it's very poor sportsmanship by Smith: he should have walked. But as for all the comments about "whinging Poms" - sounds like you're the whingers to me, Belltower most of all - still chirping on about the Ashes. The point isn't about the nationality of the team making the complaint. It is about the complete stupidity of having a review system and then that system doesn't work: it's absurd to have a system that is supposed to utilise technology to enhance the quality of on-field umpiring decisions but then the 3rd umpire doesn't use that technology. Get it? As for the comments that the non-dismissal is not relevant to the match: how do you know? Sure 180 is a poor total, but with Smith out for 15 England might have restricted SA to a smaller lead. And if you want to bring past luck into it, if Smith had been given out to Panesar in the 4th inns at Edgbaston in 2008 as he should have been, then England might have won that series 2-1 instead of losing it 2-1.

  • shahid on January 16, 2010, 22:19 GMT

    ME and many more are able to write a software which can read all the parameters from sound and picture and give you a summery. No Tv umpire wil be needed to make a decision but just some one who can read the summery and convey it to ground umpires- We can even work out yhe possiblities of conveying the decision direct to ground umpires iphones without having to use a tv umpire. Software can give to pitch of the ball Line of the ball Impact point Hight while leaving the wickets edge sound yes - no hotsot yes - no noball yes no etc.

  • Paul on January 16, 2010, 22:00 GMT

    Surprised why a cricinfo editor would enter into the flap that the ridiculous England team management are generating. The English team are embarrassing themselves at the moment.

    The poms are getting a flap over one decision that didn't go there way. Blame sub-par performance on the technology. Yes get rid of the system. Then Smith is NOT OUT. Also, feint edged don't always show up on hotspot. So get over it.

  • D on January 16, 2010, 20:29 GMT

    This controversy is a bit ridiculous. Even if the umpire had turned the volume to 10/10, how could he have given it out if there was no visible deflection? A sound at the same time as the bat passed the ball could have been anything.

  • allanki on January 16, 2010, 20:23 GMT

    This is not the first howler from Mr. Harper. I can recall several of them starting from Tendulkar's 'Shoulder before wicket' way back in 1999. But this particual howler as a Third umpire is inexcusable and he made several of them in 2009. He is as bad as Asoka Desilva except that he gets ICC all the way, while Mr. Dsilva was out of panel for sometime.. If you look at statistics, I am 100% sure that he will come out on top on the number of howlers made by Umpires in last 10 years in Intenational Cricket.Still he gets away. AUS has given some wonderful umpires like Simon Taufel and even Darell Hair was not bad except the Murali episoure and the Oval saga where Pakistan had to forfeit the match in 2006. High time to get rid of Mr. Harper from ICC panel, send him back to some domestic umpiring in Australia. ICC has to start accepting facts about Umpires howlers and make some corrections, whether URDS is there or not, some umpires continue to give many poor decisions and they need TO G

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