Pakistan's short run: wrong call, but right protocol
In the 1987 World Cup, in a league match between India and Australia in Madras, Dean Jones hit Maninder Singh for what looked like a six over mid-off. Ravi Shastri, the fielder closest to the rope, though, signalled four to umpire Dickie Bird, who took his word. According to Jones, the hit had cleared the boundary by at least a metre, and their manager protested with the umpires during the innings break, who in turn consulted with the opposition captain Kapil Dev. Kapil allowed them to reverse the call; India's target was adjusted to 271, and they managed 269 in the end.
After Pakistan's tie with West Indies, which involved an erroneous short-run penalty against Pakistan, the common refrain among fans was, if they could correct a decision back when Chennai was Madras, why not do it today when you have so many replays from so many different angles? The clamour had a point, in that a short run or a boundary call are special cases. They don't affect the subsequent deliveries unlike an erroneous judgement on a no-ball or a wide. The same batsman remains on strike, and the same number of deliveries are required to be bowled in the over irrespective of the decision. Nor are short runs a subjective call, unlike wides.
However, there is so much going against such a retrospective correction that the right protocol seems to have been followed although the decision made by the umpire was wrong. Law 27.9 states: "An umpire may alter his decision provided that such alteration is made promptly. This apart, an umpire's decision, once made, is final." Moreover, the India-Australia precedent from 1987 doesn't stand any more. "There is no longer a provision for the TV umpire to change scores relating to boundaries retrospectively, and this principle applies to all runs scored off a ball," an ICC representative told ESPNcricinfo.
You can see the ICC's logic. The most important aspect of any umpiring decision or a correction thereof, at least on paper, has to be fairness and consistency. Which by extension means the correction of a wrong short-run call should imply both to the times when a short run was missed and to an erroneous short run called in, say, the 49th over of a tight chase while bearing in mind that the play doesn't stop for short-run calls and that the replays are provided in an ad-hoc manner by the host broadcaster and might take a few balls by which time the fielding captain would well be within his rights to protest. In this case, for example, the relevant replay was generated one delivery later.
"The ability to change the scores retrospectively was removed several years ago," the ICC said. "The ability for teams to lobby the referee and TV umpire for runs retrospectively raised some disconcerting possibilities. This is now simple: umpires use replays to make a call before the next ball is bowled, and that decision is final." It does become a pain should any party seek a correction after the next ball has been bowled in the closing stages of a tense chase.
The obvious counter to this would be a reference to Andy Flower, who presumably lobbied and famously got a run-out call against Ian Bell reversed in the Trent Bridge Test of 2011. That, though, was different. Firstly it involved a dismissal. Moreover, the cricket laws state that a fielding captain can withdraw an appeal until the next batsman has walked in.
This argument around this short run - it would be naïve to believe it had any bearing on the end result, because West Indies would have chased accordingly if they were going after 231 as opposed to 230 - intensifies because the ICC has felt obliged to defend its systems in the face of umpiring mistakes made in a much more high-profile Test series in England. While making the defence, ICC chief executive David Richardson made an interesting revelation that the governing body is trialling a system wherein the third umpire can be shown prompt replays of every ball in order to see if he can review every aspect of every decision made on the field before the next ball is bowled.
If that system had been in place, this short run wouldn't have been a controversy, but in a practical world we are far off from any such possibility. Given the current technology, it is just not possible. "To review these run-changing calls thoroughly," the ICC told ESPNcricinfo, "the TV umpire would need to not just review the calls that were made on field, but also the non-calls that could have changed the total if adjudicated correctly. This would need to be done fairly to both teams, and require review protocols to be established and followed each time. This option would slow the game considerably, and is currently not practical. Relying on ad-hoc replays from the broadcaster would create inconsistency."
Again, you can see the ICC's point. It is not possible to fairly and consistently check every decision unless the TV umpire is being provided with instant replays in time to make a call before the next ball is bowled. And if you are going to correct a call in the first innings, you should be able to retrospectively make corrections in tense situations in the second innings too.
Given that the technology is nowhere near adequate for such a practice to be in place, possibly the ICC can make an exception for calls on short runs? For how often do batsmen run short? Not even once a match on average. The uniqueness and rareness of the short-run decision might make for a special case, but when it comes to impact, a short run is even less consequential than a wide ball missed.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo