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To refer or not to refer is the big question

When the Indian tour of Sri Lanka ended, there was a distinct gulf in how the two captains perceived the player referral system. Mahela Jayawardene, felt the system was a success, while Kumble, reports Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Oct 09, 2008 23:29 IST
Anand Vasu

When the Indian tour of Sri Lanka ended, there was a distinct gulf in how the two captains perceived the player referral system. Mahela Jayawardene, who used it better than Anil Kumble, felt the system was a success, while Kumble, whose team was at the receiving end of some lbw decisions that might not otherwise have been given, was less sure. At the end of the first day's play of the Bangalore Test, though, you can be pretty sure both teams would be wondering just why the system was not being used in this series.

Ricky Ponting had said as much, in the first official press conference he held. "We all understand that the umpires make mistakes and as players we make mistakes as well," said Ponting. "But if we can eradicate the obvious errors by using the referral system it can only be good for us."

In the first over itself, the review system might have been used, when Matthew Hayden was adjudged caught behind off Zaheer Khan. There was a sound and a deviation, and Asad Rauf, the standing umpire, upheld the decision. Television replays showed that the sound could have come from bat hitting pad, and the deviation was far from conclusive. Hayden would certainly have known if he had hit the ball, and if the decision had gone against him, would have appealed it, had the option been present. At the start of a big series, with no runs on the board, Australia would have been happy to have secured another lease on life for Hayden.

But later in the day another obvious error would go against India. Ponting, who had given the referral system his vote of confidence, would have not been reprieved as he was in the 70th over. He forced out a full ball from Kumble, who gobbled up a simple return catch. But Rudi Koertzen, who was standing at the bowler's end, thought Ponting had struck the ball into the pitch, and ruled in favour of the batsmen, after consulting with Rauf. Why the two umpires did not use the option of consulting Amish Saheba, the third umpire, is a question only they can answer. And when they see replays both Elite Panel umpires will know that the wrong decision had been made.

In both cases, an obvious error had been made, ones that could have been avoided. When the referral system made its debut in Sri Lanka, it helped eradicate these blunders, but what it also did was show just how many times umpires made mistakes that could easily be caught out by technology. At a time when broadcasting is making rapid strides, more and more pressure is being put on umpires by the constant scrutiny they are under. But, with umpiring standards not showing a perceptible improvement, despite the appointment of umpire coaches and the like, it's hard to see just how long cricket can hold out before it embraces technology fully.

"I think we might be using it later in the year or certainly early next year against the South Africans. I know India and Sri Lanka used it and everything coming out of that series seemed pretty positive," Ponting had said. "The one thing we don't want is the that really, really bad decision that will turn the course of a Test match."