David Richardson, the ICC chief executive, has revealed a trial is underway during the current Ashes series to enhance the role of the third umpire by feeding him direct pictures that would avert controversial incidents like Stuart Broad getting away with a thick edge in the first Investec Test last week. Broad stood his ground having edged a ball from Ashton Agar, after the on-field umpire Aleem Dar failed to spot the deflection off the bat. Having spent all their reviews, Michael Clarke's Australia were left high and dry.
Speaking on the BBC's Test Match Special, Richardson admitted it was frustrating that, in the age of technology, Broad managed to escape. "It is, of course," Richardson said. "For that reason, up to the third Test, we have a trial going on, independent of what is happening on the field, to allow the third umpire to have a bank of televisions where he can actually choose and get access to the technology much quicker than he would if he simply relies on the director or producer sending him the pictures up to him. If we progress along these lines ... there is an opportunity for the third umpire to have the say and to overrule where he thinks an obvious mistake has been made."
Richardson stressed it was a long-term process but the ICC remained optimistic. "I don't think people should think it is going to be introduced for the next series," Richardson said. "It is at a very basic phase and we need to progress a lot further before we get it on board in a match."
Speaking on the unusual move by the ICC to reveal the assessment of the three umpires (Aleem Dar, Kumar Dharmasena and Marais Erasmus) and the various decisions they made during the Trent Bridge Test, Richardson reiterated that it was necessary bring the numbers out into open to erase certain doubts. However, he indicated that the ICC would not make it a norm to make the umpires assessment public.
"We will take on a case-by-case basis," Richardson said. "In this case we had put everything in perspective because it was an unusual Test match. There were so many decisions to be made, almost 75% more than normal." The ICC release had stated that the on-field umpires made a total of seven errors, three of which were uncorrected.
Not included in that list was a controversial ruling in favour of Australia debutant Ashton Agar, who was given not out when England appealed for a tight stumping. Richardson reasoned why it was not considered a mistake. "We have got a team of three who look at it," he said. "First of all the match referee. Then if there is a bit of doubt then it goes to Vince van der Bijl, our umpires' manager and then it goes to Geoff Allardice [the ICC's manager of cricket]. They all felt there was just that element of doubt: was his foot in the air, maybe there was a spike on the ground? So there was just not enough for the third umpire to give actually give the decision against the batsman."
Asked if there was scope for benefit of doubt in favour of the player Richardson said primarily the ICC was looking for definitive proof to make a decision, "as far as it is possible". He cited the example of the England of Joe Root, who was adjudged lbw at Lord's on Thursday morning. "Anyone other than maybe an English supporter would acknowledge that it was fractionally pad first. In which case the correct decision, unfortunately, is out," Richardson said.
Richardson followed that by revealing an aspect of how the umpires' assessment worked. "Let us say the on-field umpire had got it wrong, and he thought it was bat first," Richardson said. "Then we will mark that technically incorrect because we say, look, there must have been some doubt in your mind so you have actually made a good cricket decision. So we don't mark him in his personal records as having made a mistake. But technically it was an incorrect decision and we get it changed."
On Wednesday, the MCC's World Cricket Committee, restated its backing for the DRS while pointing out that to make the system much more streamlined, the ICC needed to take control of it. But Richardson was defensive about such a step.
"People say ICC should take complete control of technology," he said. "Today we have two Hot Spot cameras, some ball tracking cameras and a couple of slow-motions cameras. But next year there will be something else … there will be real-time Snickometer. Then next year there is something else. So in a way we don't want to hamper development. But it is going progress and it is going to become even more difficult to resist taking full advantage of the technology that gets developed. Our strategy has been: let us introduce technology but not on the basis they are just ball counters and coat hangers."
Richardson said that introducing various technologies into the game was never to make the role of the umpires obsolete. "We want them to be part of the game, the on-field umpires in particular, and that is why one of the reasons why we like the idea of them making the decision and then the players, if they really disagree, asking for it to be reviewed," Richardson said.