One of cricket's most adhered-to yet unwritten axioms could well slip by the wayside as the player referral or umpire review system beds down in Test cricket. Traditionally, ever since England took on Australia in the first Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1877, the benefit of doubt has always gone to the batsman.
On the second day of the Galle Test, the second in which the umpire review system is being trialled, a couple of bizarre decisions were arrived at. The two contentious decisions were both lbws, one that was plainly not out being given out, and another that should have been given out going in the batsman's favour.
The lbw is always the most subjective of all decisions and even with all the technology around, several pundits believe it is one decision best left in the on-field umpire's hands.
The first contentious decision was Ishant Sharma’s dismissal. Ishant, who stands tall at 6' 4”, was stretched fully forward to Ajantha Mendis when the googly made contact with pad.
The side-on ruler showed that the ball still had over two metres to travel, while the ball tracker showed that the point of impact was on the outside half of the pad. There was little doubt that the ball would have gone on to miss the leg stump, and yet the television umpire ruled against the batsman, who had called for the review.
The matter was further complicated by the fact that Gamini Silva was standing in as third-umpire, after Rudi Koertzen was indisposed with a stomach complaint. Could a mis-communication between the third umpire and the on-field umpire have resulted in the wrong decision being made?
The second questionable call came when Malinda Warnapura was on 60, at the stroke of tea. Anil Kumble, bowling from round the stumps, had pushed Warnapura onto the back foot, and struck the back pad with a ball pitching just outside the off and rushing straight on.
Having given Ishant out on so little evidence, you would have thought the umpire would certainly uphold Kumble’s shout as it was far more clear-cut. Again Silva surprised, ruling the batsman not out.
But Silva’s inconsistencies were not confined to the times when the ‘T’ sign was made by the players on the field. Regular line calls, one stumping (Kumble) and one run out (Samaraweera), shared identical circumstances in that the batsman was on the line when the bails were disturbed, yet different conclusions were reached.
Obviously the review system is in its infancy and will need fine-tuning, but even as it exists at present, if it is not consistent, more teams — like England did for the ongoing series against South Africa — are going to be reluctant to come on board.