The decision to cut short an enterprising maiden international innings from India batsman Suryakumar Yadav has thrown open the debate about the validity of the on-field umpire's soft signal for outfield catches, with India captain Virat Kohli suggesting after the match that there's no realistic way for an on-field umpire to judge low catches from a distance.
Off the second ball of the 14th over of the fourth India-England T20I in Ahmedabad, Yadav, on 57, pulled England left-arm seamer Sam Curran into the deep where Dawid Malan initially appeared to have taken a low catch at deep-square leg. England's fielders celebrated as umpire KN Ananthapadmanabhan gave a soft signal of "out".
That decision sparked instant debate as third umpire Virender Sharma remained unconvinced about whether it was a clean catch, despite reviewing Malan's pouch multiple times for nearly four minutes. Sharma repeatedly described the evidence as "inconclusive", and subsequently, as per the rules, was forced to stick to Anathapadmanabhan's soft-signal ruling.
Kohli: Why not an 'I don't know' call for the umpires?
Speaking to broadcaster Star Sports at the post-match presentation, Kohli said that the soft signal during Yadav's innings cost India some runs during their innings, even if they were happy getting to a total of 180-plus. Kohli called that passage "strange" and said the rules around that part of the game need to be more clear than the "grey areas" that they currently are.
According to the ICC's playing conditions, the soft signal is a "visual communication by the bowler's end umpire to the third umpire (accompanied by additional information via two-way radio where necessary) of his/her initial on-field decision prior to initiating an Umpire Review".
It's the "soft signal" which is odd. Hard for off field umpire to overturn. 'Let's go upstairs cause I don't have a clue but I'm guessing (soft signal) it's out.'— Stuart Broad (@StuartBroad8) March 18, 2021
Malan's Twitter feed will be ugly- but he wouldn't have known the ball hit the ground diving forward at pace https://t.co/hCwlFQKpIf
"Look, there was that instance that happened during the Test series where I was next to Jinks [Ajinkya Rahane] when he clearly caught the ball, but then I wasn't sure and I asked Jinks, he wasn't sure," Kohli said. "And then we went up straightaway. If it's a half-and-half effort and the fielder's in doubt, I don't think the umpire from square leg would see that clearly and, you know, make a conclusive call. So the soft signal becomes that much more important and it's a tricky one. I don't know why there cannot be a sort of "I don't know" call for the umpire as well. Why does it have to be a conclusive one? Because then that [dictates] the whole decision completely. Similar to the argument we have about umpire's call as well."
"I think these are some things that can really, really change the whole course of the game, especially in a big game. We are on the other side [of the result], but there could be another team bearing the brunt of this. So you want these things ironed out as much as possible, keep this game simple, keep it linear, have one set of rules which are not grey areas which we don't understand sometimes, and sometimes we do. So it's not ideal, especially in a high-pressure game which has a lot of things riding on it, a lot at stake. It's important to have a lot of clarity on the field."
Atherton: Soft signal for boundary catches is nonsense
Former England captain Michael Atherton, who is one of the commentators for Sky, the UK broadcaster for the T20I series, was critical of the soft signal for outfield catches, calling it "nonsense".
"The third umpire had a long look at that and the key thing here - and it is a thing I have a slight problem with - is the on-field umpire's call is out and therefore the third umpire made exactly the right call: he said it is inconclusive, I've got to go with the on-field umpire's call which was out," Atherton said immediately after Yadav was ruled out. "But how you have a soft signal from the umpire standing in the middle for a boundary catch is beyond me. I don't how the on-field umpire can see that when the fielder makes a catch on the boundary."
India wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik, doing commentary for Sky, echoed Atherton's thoughts. "I'm absolutely with Athers on that," Karthik said. "I don't understand this: the [on-field] umpire is not sure whether it's taken or not [cleanly] hence he goes to the third umpire. And then why give a decision [soft signal] at all? Allow the third umpire to take the call. Another grey area of cricket along with the DRS umpire's call - these are things always up for debate."
According to Atherton the soft signal should be valid only for rulings on catches in the 30-yard circle, where the on-field umpires have a better view of events. "I can absolutely understand why an on-field umpire gets a good view of the catch inside the inner circle, but when it is out on the boundary, 50 metres away, there's no way that the standing umpire can see whether Dawid Malan has caught that. So the soft signal for boundary catches is nonsense. You [should] just send it upstairs and let the third umpire make his call. There's no way that the standing umpire can see that: he has not got X-ray eyes from 50 yards away."
The frequency of the controversial rulings on outfield catches due to soft signals has resulted in the topic being debated at the most recent meeting of the MCC's World Cricket Committee, on which sit some eminent former international captains including Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, and umpire Kumar Dharmasena who stood in the 2019 World Cup final.
"The committee felt that the soft-signal system worked well for catches within the 30-yard fielding circle, but that catches near the boundary often left the umpires unsighted," the MCC said at the time in a media release. "It was proposed that, for such catches, the on-field umpires could give an 'unsighted' instruction to the TV umpire, rather than the more explicit soft signal of 'out' or 'not out'."