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