West Indies v England, 4th Test, Barbados, 3rd day February 28, 2009

Teething troubles undermine referrals


The umpiring was in the spotlight on the third day in Barbados © Getty Images
The West Indies coach, John Dyson, is normally a fairly mild-mannered person, but watching two of his key middle-order batsmen get dispatched by the referral system nearly tipped him over the edge. Shortly after Brendan Nash was given out lbw for 33, Dyson marched down the steps with Omar Khan, the team manager in tow, on the hunt for the match referee. If Alan Hurst was hoping for a quieter Test after the controversy in Antigua that knock on the door changed things.

It was bad enough that Shivnarine Chanderpaul had been given out despite the ball clearly heading over the stumps, but then Nash was also sent packing by a 50-50 call. With both decisions the system had failed to follow its brief. The aim of the trial isn't to adjudicate on marginal decisions, but to correct glaring errors. Here it gave a marginal one, and failed to correct a clear error.

"This is a trial system and some days you get good decisions and today we got two or three controversial decisions," Hurst said. "We have to learn from this."

Dyson for his part struck a more conciliatory tone than may have been expected as he marched down the steps. "One of the great things about cricket is it teaches you to accept all decisions and just get on with the game," he told Sky Sports. "I just went down the stairs to have a chat with Alan Hurst. We just wanted to clarify a few things."

"I think we're still getting to grips with the whole concept," he added. "When you play your whole life with the umpires being in sole charge, but now sometimes find yourself in situations where you can question the decisions, it is hard to deal with."

That brings us to Chanderpaul. Even as Russell Tiffin gave him out the ball, only four overs old, looked to have struck him high on the pad and the first couple of replays confirmed as such. The key view was side-on with the Hawk-Eye graphic (stopped at the moment of impact) which showed the ball was already at bail height and still rising. No one would have argued if the decision had been overturned and the eventual full Hawk-Eye replay - which the third umpire doesn't see - showed the ball missing by at least six inches.

No wonder Dyson looked frustrated. His batsman had been the victim of two poor decisions in one ball. The irony is that if referrals hadn't been in place everyone would have accepted Tiffin's verdict as a rough one, but something that happens in cricket. However, since the TV umpire supported the mistake that made it pretty inexcusable.

Ramnaresh Sarwan, who watched from the other end, understandably stayed clear of the debate but admitted he had reservations over the system. "I really and truly don't want to comment on it, the umpire's decisions are final," he said. "Like I've said before, I'm not a big fan of it. At the end of the day, people make mistakes and I am strong believer that things balance out in the end, over your career. It takes up a bit of time as well."

The man at the rough end of the criticism will be Daryl Harper who was also in the hot seat in Kingston. In that game he made what seemed a glaring error when he upheld an appeal against Daren Powell for caught behind, despite clear daylight between bat and ball. However, it is believed he was given an unsuitable picture by the host broadcaster which obscured the ball for a crucial moment. On these latest occasions picture quality shouldn't have been an issue, but what did come to the forefront was not allowing the third umpire use of Hawk-Eye.

It would have shown, for example, that Nash's lbw was barely clipping the stumps - the type that is correctly given not out because of the margin-of-error principle. Still, when Harper had viewed all the replays, and all the angles, and still none of them gave conclusive evidence that Nash was out the expectation was he would survive. Then Aleem Dar's finger went up and Dyson went off to the match referee, although from England's point of view it was business as usual.

"I'm a bit bemused that it has been referred to as mad because it didn't seem mad out in the middle," Swann said. "We didn't realise there was controversy until we walked off the pitch. As far as we are concerned we got given a couple of lbws. We felt aggrieved in Jamaica by a couple of decisions and West Indies feel aggrieved today. Obviously the system is not ideal if people feel aggrieved by it but personally I have no problems, especially if they go my way."

The problem, though, is a lack of consistency. This is a trial and teething problems have to be expected, but the fundamental basis of the system isn't that complicated. The third umpire can over rule obvious errors, yet the game is getting the worst of two bad worlds. First there are the delays, some bordering on five minutes, while evidence is watched, then incorrect decisions are still being given. At the moment no one is gaining.

"We were led to believe it was to eliminate the bad ones [umpiring mistakes]. But what we are seeing is all sorts of tactical decisions are coming in," Dyson added. "The players are finding it challenging to get used to the system. I think the jury is still out."

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • desmond on March 1, 2009, 16:36 GMT

    the referral system is only good as the people who are using it. you can't have umpires who are not trainned to use the system making vital decisions and making it look bad for the sport.that same umpire who made the mistakes in the first test made the same mistakes again.why is that umpire still in that position doing it again.

  • Amar on March 1, 2009, 15:59 GMT

    This is in response to Maelstormz' opinion on Hawk-Eye. Your suggestion of using Hawk-Eye more consistently is an interesting suggestion, however I don't quite agree. As far as the ball crashing into the middle of the middle-stump is concerned, umpires usually get it correct anyway. And where you have doubful decisions (half the ball hitting the stump) it is better to leave it to the human element, as the umpires are watching the pace, bounce and trajectory all the time and might have a good hunch. Also, the element of doubt and uncertainty in LBWs is so much a part of the flavor of cricket, as is the little unpredictably that it brings in. Sometimes batsmen have even been known to adjust their techniques, knowing the tendencies of certain umpires. It all adds to the experience! I think if you just remove the obviously bad decisions, it is good enough.

  • Michael on March 1, 2009, 11:39 GMT

    Tiffin and Harper have long been known as incompetent umpires in their on-field and third umpire capacities and should be removed from the panel. Hurst's explanation suggests tha Aleem Dar changed his mind in the Nash dismissal even though Harper was uncertain about whether the ball would hit the stumps.So, Dar reversed his initial decision of " not out" despite Harper being uncertain. What happened to the principle of doubt favouring the batsman? In simple terms, a total cock-up! The referral system makes sense as long as the third umpire has access to ALL the available technology. TV broadcasts and in-ground spectators should not have access to technology that is not available to umpires.At the moment we are finding out that umpires make far more mistakes than we thought. Also, if Hawk Eye has resulted in umpires being more likely to give LBW decisions they had previously refused, there needs to be consistency between umpires.

  • Donel on March 1, 2009, 11:35 GMT

    The mistakes made by Harper today have me thinking that perhaps the umpires are deliberately trying to sabotage the system because they are not in favour of it. I hope that is not the case since it is only there to improve on the quality of the game. England complained that there got the raw end of the deal in Jamaica with particular reference to the Sarwan lbw decision that was overturned and Hawkeye later showing that it would clip the top of the stamps. I feel that the Sarwan decision was a good one because if Hawkeye shows that it is only clipping how could the on field umpire with his bare eyes be absolutely certain that the ball would hit the stamp? There is noway he could have known that, there would be doubt and it is only fair that the batsman be given not out. Like Ryan Hinds lbw decision yesterday. That was another poor decison. Hawkeye shows the ball just grazing leg stamp but the on field umpire felt convicted that the ball would hit the stamp... no way he could be so sure

  • Amar on March 1, 2009, 11:23 GMT

    One more point about the techonlogy... I agree with GlobalCricketLover that Hotspot is absolutely necessary. Also, the super slow motion camera...these two are the only ones that can give conclusive evidence about caught behinds... As far as LBWs go, I think that the third umpire should only give feedback to the on-field umpire about the two very objective and conclusive aspects of lbw - where did the ball pitch? and did it strike in the line of the stumps? Height, projected trajectory, etc. should be left to the on-field umpire's original judgment. Simplify the system and it will be a winner!

  • steve on March 1, 2009, 11:19 GMT

    With games involving West Indies, why is it that in excess of 75% of poor umpiring incidents negatively impact the West Indies team? These statistics certainly cannot be coincidental. Could it be an elaborate conspiracy to ensure that the West Indies team never recovers from its decade long decline? I accept that mistakes happen, but its quite strange when one team seemingly suffers the brunt of them each and every time. The same way how bad umpiring or poor officiating can destroy a player's career, it is time that an official's performance affects his career as well. Maybe we can scrap the referals, and increase the pool of umpires; whereby, awarded contracts will be performance based.

  • Donel on March 1, 2009, 11:18 GMT

    Most of the problems now are with lbw decisions. the claim is that hawkeye is not too accurate but the umpires are not either. With hawkeye the inaccuracy would be consistent and I am pretty sure that with improvements much can be done to improve its accuracy. I suggest that we make full use of Hawkeye in lbw decisions. According to cricketing laws where there is doubt the decision should favour the batsman so if hawkeye suggest that the ball is plummeting middle stamp then the batsman should be given out. Where hawkeye shows that less than half of the ball is making contact with the stamps then the batsman should be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to stay. If hawkeye with its tech is suggesting that the ball is only grazing the stamps then I feel that there is no way the onfield umpire can know for certain that the ball is going to hit the stamps and a not out decision in favour of the batsman should be given. Also there should be more than one person in the 3rd ump chair.

  • Amar on March 1, 2009, 11:16 GMT

    Since I'm the 19th article in this thread, I know a lot has already been said...let me try to give my two pennies worth on the 'total picture' as far as referrals are concerned. First of all, I think the idea is a good one. How often have we seen batsmen given out LBW when the ball has actually hit the inside edge? Or a dubious caught behind? It's good that the ICC are finally doing something about it rather than the commentators just telling us every time that the batsman or bowler was 'unlucky.' Remember, it's not just the result of the match that may hinge on that one decision, but also, in some cases, players careers. Imagine, if on that last evening at ARG Darren Powell had been given out wrongly and England had won the test match. He would probably have been dropped for all times to come, whereas now his heroics and resolve have given him one more opportunity to prove himself (even though he is not a batsman). Continued in the next thread...sorry for the length!

  • Donel on March 1, 2009, 11:05 GMT

    the technology is great the only problem is that there is not enough of it. I personally feel that the computers should play most of the third umpires role while he basically monitors what is going on. The problem is that human umpires are inconsistent but with the technology that is virtually eliminated. Here is a scenario and why i think more tech is needed (snicko, hotspot, hawkeye, etc., etc.). In this innings Nash was giving not out by the onfield umpire and that decision was overturned by Harper (no matter what Hurst said) that was an obvious faux pas on his part. What if for that same delivery the onfield umpire had given Nash out and Nash had asked for referral? Nash would have still not been out but then Harper would have likely held his ground and go along with the onfield decision. Who would they have blamed now? Based on the evidence Harper would say that there was nothing conclusive for him to overturn the onfield umpires decision. If we using tech let's go all out.

  • D. on March 1, 2009, 10:21 GMT

    In all newspaper reports the gist is that Harper is at fault for the bloopers but in reality he CANNOT be held accountable solely! Alan Hurst in the post day interview clarified that Harper's role is to give his opinion (whether right or wrong which is a different subject!) on seeing the replays and relay that back. The FINAL DECISION then lies with the on-field umpires who consulted him. So in this case the two umpires Messrs Tiffin and Dar are also to be blamed. More so Tiffin for the blooper of the innings than Dar - Nash's was a 50/50.

    As to the Joburg incident, the problem there was that supposedly for the referral that Ponting wanted to ask, there was a technical issue and thus couldn't be done ! Nothing to do with time limits.

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