Umpiring standards and the absence of technology to aid match officials in knockout matches in Indian domestic cricket were back in focus after Cheteshwar Pujara was adjudged not out despite having nicked a seaming away delivery from Abhimanyu Mithun in the Ranji Trophy semi-final between Karnataka and Saurashtra on Friday.
The incident took place shortly after the lunch break on the second day, and came during a probing spell of fast bowling from Mithun and Ronit More. Saurashtra were 64 for 2, trailing by 211 runs, when Mithun went wide of the crease on the last ball of the 23rd over. The line and movement of the delivery opened Pujara up, and there was a noise as the ball seemed to have kissed his right thumb on the way to settling into the gloves of wicketkeeper S Sharath.
Mithun and the entire Karnataka team leapt and screamed in joyous relief thinking they had got rid of the most dangerous opposition batsman. To their visible shock and dismay, umpire Saiyed Khalid disagreed. Pujara stood his ground marking his guard even as Karnataka captain Manish Pandey pleaded with the umpire.
Pujara had made just one run at that stage off 18 deliveries. The Karnataka players carried on remonstrating with the officials, and some of them even seemed to tell Pujara he should walk.
More said as frustrating as the incident was, Karnataka pacemen did not lose the focus and stuck to their plan. "Pujara is the main batsman for their team, and they are more dependent on him," More said after the day's play. "Mithun and I spoke about it and we were just talking about keeping it on the fourth stump and then seeing what happens from there. There were some close calls but we couldn't get a wicket at that time. Not disappointed, but that's how the game works. Sometimes you get wickets, sometimes you don't. You just have to keep bowling there."
Incidentally, Pujara turned 31 on the day. However, he couldn't make the unexpected gift count and Mithun had his man eventually. Mithun bowled a half-tracker and Pujara attempted a pull shot. However, the ball did not bounce as much as he expected and Pujara top-edged the ball for Mithun to pouch an easy return catch, sending Pujara back for 45.
While the missed caught-behind didn't cost Karnataka too much in terms of runs, the decision called into question the umpiring in domestic cricket and the lack of technological help for them, especially in crucial games. In the last 15 minutes of the day, there was another questionable decision from the same end, when More's appeal for a caught behind against Prerak Mankad was upheld. More had bowled it in the channel and Mankad had a poke at it, but there was a clear gap between bat and ball. The batsman stood at the crease in disbelief when the umpire's finger was raised but had to go on his way eventually. At that stage, Saurashtra were 223 for 6, which would turn into 227 for 7 two overs later at stumps.
This has followed from the quarter-final between Karnataka and Rajasthan, where too there were a number of contentious decisions.