India in Sri Lanka / Features

Review of umpiring decisions

Bugs in the system

A few questions emerged on the day when for the first time a player challenged the umpire's decision

Dileep Premachandran in Colombo

July 24, 2008

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Two of Harbhajan Singh's deliveries prompted reviews, but none went India's way © AFP
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The look of confusion on Anil Kumble's face epitomised India's predicament. With the embers going out on the second day's play - a day when Sri Lanka had piled on more than 300 runs for the loss of just two wickets - Harbhajan Singh appealed vociferously for a leg-before against Tillakaratne Dilshan. The fact he was bowling round the wicket would surely have registered in Kumble's mind, but the fervour with which Harbhajan appealed made him wonder whether he should take a chance, even though India had only two reviews left.

The seconds ticked by as Kumble went up to the umpire, exchanged a few words and then asked for the review. The dressing room would have got the bad news first, with the very first replay showing that the ball had pitched a couple of inches outside the line of leg stump. Dilshan finished the day unbeaten, and India were left with just one wild card and another six wickets to get.

An hour later, Mahela Jayawardene sympathised with his counterpart's situation. "That's something we've discussed at length in our team meetings," he said. "The 50-50 ones are going to be really tough. If the wicketkeeper and the bowler are not 100% [sure], I don't think we should go for it," Jayawardene said. "The umpire would give it not-out if there was some doubt. The wicketkeeper would be the ideal guy to get some information from for a decision like that, but with the 50-50 ones you need to be very careful because you only have three referrals. You're better off keeping one or two [in hand]."

Harbhajan had been in the thick of the action when history was created 23.4 overs into the morning session on Thursday. Again, he had been bowling round the wicket, but this time to a left-hander, Malinda Warnapura. With the pitch not affording extravagant turn, a delivery that pitched just on or around the line of leg stump was always likely to be drifting out of harm's way. But such was India's plight, with Warnapura and Jayawardene stroking the ball fluently, that they felt they had no option but to seek a second opinion.

Virtual Eye, which tracked the ball up to the point of impact with the pad, showed the ball hadn't straightened enough to hit the stumps. Warnapura, then on 86, went on to make a century, and the partnership swelled to 155 before Rahul Dravid's smart catch at slip briefly eased the frown lines on Harbhajan's face.

The really contentious decision was still to come though. Ishant Sharma had seen off Jayawardene and Dilshan had made just 1 when Zaheer Khan slanted one across his bat. There was a big plume of dust as the ball passed over the top edge of the bat, and a sound as well. As the Indians appealed, Mark Benson thought for a moment and then raised his finger. The celebrations had already begun by the time the Indians suddenly realised that Dilshan had no intention of leaving the crease.

As Benson signalled for the replay, all eyes turned to the TV screens. Replay followed replay, yet no one could be absolutely sure whether there had been the thinnest of edges, or if the sound heard was merely bat striking ground. The technology that's often used by broadcasters in such situations, the Snickometer, wasn't employed because doubts remain about its efficacy, while Hotspot, used by Channel Nine during the last Ashes series, has yet to be officially tested for accuracy.

 
 
The one positive that could be immediately gleaned came from the nature of the appeals. There were far fewer nonsensical ones, and the distasteful recent habit of fielders crowding the umpire and pressuring him into mistakes was nowhere to be seen
 

With Rudi Koertzen, the third umpire, as undecided as anyone watching, Benson, who had no access to the replays, had little option but to change the decision. In doing so, he opened up an entirely new can of worms. On the first morning of the Test, Dave Richardson, the ICC general manager, had spoken to the media, and emphasised the fact that the final decision would be made by the umpire on the field.

But how could anyone call it Benson's decision when it was Koertzen that actually got to watch the replays and then pass on his perception of what happened? How much is the on-field umpire allowed to ask his colleague anyway? The reversal was Benson's, but in reality, he was doing little more than the job the red and green lights do when the third umpire decides on a run-out or stumping.

The other thorny issue is that of technology. If the game is to embrace it, why not go the whole hog and use all the tools at your disposal? The fact that Snickometer and Hotspot can't be used in these cases is an admission that the technology isn't entirely reliable. Even in the case of Hawk-Eye or Virtual Eye, we know that the predictive element is dependent on the individual who operates it.

Whose responsibility is it to ensure the best technology is used? Does the broadcaster need to invest in it, or should the ICC take up the mantle to ensure the stated aim of minimising avoidable errors is achieved? A sub-committee featuring the likes of Anil Kumble, Sunil Gavaskar and Kumar Sangakkara will debate these issues at the end of the series before broad guidelines are laid down for future contests.

The one positive that could be immediately gleaned came from the nature of the appeals. There were far fewer nonsensical ones, and the distasteful recent habit of fielders crowding the umpire and pressuring him into mistakes was nowhere to be seen. Maybe some good will come out of it after all.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

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Posted by iamsrilankan on (July 29, 2008, 0:11 GMT)

There is a consensus that as a fielding team you have to select which decisions you want to appeal against (The Indians discovered this the hard way). The same applies to the batting team as well and perhaps more so!

Batsmen nicking the ball, umpire not giving out and fielding team appealing the decision is different to the ump giving it out, and the batsmen saying 'no I didn't hit it' (or hoping the rest of the world didn't see it). It would be rather silly for batsmen to stand their ground (once given out), if they knew they nicked it (under the referral system). If you thought not walking when you know you nicked it would make you look dishonest, appealing a decision when you were truly out has to be worse (doesn't mean there won't be people who won't try)

Posted by Sarda on (July 28, 2008, 18:19 GMT)

Few years ago, could you accept the fact that for run-outs, stumping & at times for catches, umpires should use technology? Whether to use the technology or not should not even be discussed, instead we should talk about how best we can use it. Yes we all know it's not full-proof neither the umpire. Whatever technology we have can help making better decisions for LBWs (nicked / pitched outside the leg stump), catches (touched the bat / gloove) etc. as it has already improved decision making ability for run-out, stumping etc. We will learn more with time, technology will improve in due course. For now, let's decide how best the available technology can be used in cricket as it has been successfully used on other sports and also in cricket.

Posted by Sheela on (July 28, 2008, 3:37 GMT)

Referrals seems to be in order. No point in blaming referral system. Indian bowlers did not look like capable of taking wickets unless batsmen make mistakes. Compare this with Sri Lankan who had two wicket taking bowlers. Talking about the quantum of Indian bowlers without taking into account their wicket taking abilities seems not to be intelligent.

Posted by Arunjay on (July 27, 2008, 15:03 GMT)

Lack of excessive appealing The review system is indeed a huge step in the right direction. The biggest improvement for me was the lack of excessive appealing by the fielding team. On day 3 of the first test, Saurav Ganguly was given "not out" when in fact the TV replays showed that he probably was out LBW. The Sri Lankan team didn't review the decision because they themselves weren't sure, which means if the bowler and wicket keeper aren't sure, then how can you expect the umpire to be? Now without the review system, the fielding team would have all gone up appealing and the umpire would have to take the blame for the decision. The pressure has now shifted to the fielding captain, and rightly so. It is a good way for him to keep his teammates in check and avoid excessive appealing.

Posted by Udendra on (July 27, 2008, 14:39 GMT)

It seems as if the review system is playing mind games with umpires, batsmen and fielders+bowler. A batsmen who'd normally be gentleman enough to walk if he's sure he's out is seen abstaining from it thinking the fielding side wouldn't call for a review. But if the review rules the batsmen out then his image is sure to be tarnished. No more gentleman! The fielding side will always think twice before calling for review, since only 3 unsuccessful attempts are allowed. Umpires are the most effected by this. Their skill and judgement ability is greatly tested. If an umpire's decision is proved to be wrong by the review then it will make the umpire look hopeless echoeing to him: you were wrong! The downside is they'd have much a lesser job to do, because although they knew the decision, instead of ruling OUT or NOT OUT might as well keep the finger in the pocket and let the fielders/review sytem do it for them. Hmm...What are they paid for then is a good question to be asked.

Posted by Afta on (July 26, 2008, 15:55 GMT)

Cricket calls for fairplay and honesty but tell me how many batsmen have walked even when they knew that they had nicked the ball or how many times a batsmen have employed pad play. It's so frustrating for the bowler. Obviously Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar must have known that they nicked it, but still the situation was too grave for them to have walked. It was the umpire's job to make the decision, and quite rightly so. How come India's referrals were negated and most Srilankan referrals were upheld? Surely the umpires were not biased. Since India lost so badly, all Indians got to complain about something! Referrals or no referrals, the truth of the matter is Sri Lanka played professional, mature and brilliant cricket. 'Referrals' is very fair to both teams and should be the order of the day.

Posted by friend987in on (July 26, 2008, 12:10 GMT)

Its good to see teams like zimbabwe, bangladesh, UAE n Sri Lanka playing competitive cricket. There should be more tournaments amongst these small teams to support and bring them up.

Posted by popcorn on (July 26, 2008, 11:46 GMT)

Go back to honouring the Authority of the On Field Umpire taking the decision.Right or Wrog.The Beauty of the game is in the glorious uncetrainties.Until all this talk of Technoolgoy came into cricket, the verdict of the Umpireswas respected, for ALL TYPES of dismissals. India started this shit questioning Steve Bucknor,and now India has lost the first Test against Sri Lanka humiliatingly. Technology can NEVER account for the Turning Ball or the Wind Factor,or the Friction between the ball and the pitch.

Posted by ramsay18477 on (July 26, 2008, 11:46 GMT)

The review system should be an appeals' system, like the judiciary appeals' system, against the on-field umpire's decision. Until now, the 3rd umpire was referred only for an out decision by the on-field umpire on the appeal made by the fielding side. In this, the on-field umpire did not make any decision and the 3rd umpire had to directly decide first-hand whether the batsman was out or not. But, in the referrals system, a decision is already made by the on-field umpire and then it is appealed against by either the fielding side or the batsman. So, the third umpire should ideally look to find merit in the appeal, be it by the fielding side or the batsman, and if found correct, overturn the umpires' decision or if he cannot find the appeal correct or if he is unable to decide, then the on-field umpires' decision should stand. This would lead to more fair decisions & less time wastage.

Posted by Kirk-at-Lords on (July 25, 2008, 18:58 GMT)

An interesting twist in the tail occurred on Day 2 of the Colombo Test. Zaheer Khan had a margial no-ball called, but there can be no referral because, as the commentators put it, "the batsman might have changed his shot selection upon seeing the no-ball signal." That tilts things back toward the bat over the ball rather heavily! A simple solution: Let the 3d umpire make all no-ball decisions beased on the perfect camera angle along the crease line. He can radio the result to the 1st umpire who can make the signal AFTER any shot has been played. This would virtually eliminate incorrect no-ball calls, put the decision in the hands of an umpire with a really good view, and release the 1st umpire to focus attention solely on what is happening 20 meters away at the other end. Everyone involved would benefit and likely approve, I think.

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Dileep PremachandranClose
Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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