Ben Stokes dropped catch brings soft signal rule in focus
The TV umpire overruled the “Out” soft signal (on-field umpires’ own call before technology adjudicates) and the incident renewed the debate whether soft signal can be an informed decision with very limited reaction time for the umpires on ground.
Despite advancement in technology and super slow-motion cameras, contentious catches and resulting controversy don’t go out of business. The Shubman Gill catch by Ben Stokes that was ruled not-out on Day 1 of the day-night Test on Wednesday, in the second over of India’s reply at Ahmedabad, certainly got the England captain Joe Root riled up.
The TV umpire overruled the “Out” soft signal (on-field umpires’ own call before technology adjudicates) and the incident renewed the debate whether soft signal can be an informed decision with very limited reaction time for the umpires on ground, on occasions blurry sighting too.
Stuart Broad, who went wicketless in the last Test match in Chennai, was getting the pink ball to do things and produced a genuine outside edge of Gill’s blade by squaring him up. England had finished a round of celebrations, buoyed by Stokes at slips claiming the catch. They were in no doubt after on-field umpire Anil Chaudhary agreed with his soft signal.
The joy lasted only till television replays suggested the England all-rounder didn’t have his fingers underneath the ball. With one replay, third umpire C Shamsuddin was convinced “the ball clearly bounced”. Gill stayed on. Next, the spotlight was on the fielder for claiming an unfair catch. Stokes grinned in bewilderment as if to say how poor the decision was. Root fumed, finger pointing at Chaudhary, nodding in disapproval.
It was somewhat like Michael Slater expressing anger in the 2001 Mumbai Test after Rahul Dravid’s catch claimed by him was disallowed by technology. Slater was more demonstrative, giving a piece of his mind to the batsman too. Two decades on, fielders continue to believe they have caught cleanly when it is proved otherwise. The mitigating factor here is the umpire’s initial signal.
The soft signal was brought in after it was found that two-dimensional TV cameras often provided inconclusive evidence and the catches almost always had to be ruled not out. With Stokes’ catch, the TV umpire ruled the technology was conclusive. The visitors were unconvinced, partly because of how the soft signal clause in the ICC rulebook is framed. “If the third umpire advises that the replay evidence is inconclusive, the on-field decision communicated at the start of the consultation process shall stand,” it reads.
The Marylebone Cricket Club which drafts laws before they are approved by ICC, in a recent meeting weighed in on the subject. “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,” MCC said in a statement. “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.”
The Stokes catch was in the slip cordon but the debate remains ever so relevant.
“There was conclusive overwhelming evidence that he hasn’t caught the ball,” Sunil Gavaskar commented during broadcast. “If anyone has any arguments, they can come and see me later.” Root and Stokes may be interested, even after watching numerous TV replays.
The England skipper was also not happy with the decision of the TV umpire to turn down a stumping appeal against Rohit Sharma off left-arm spinner Jack Leach, remonstrating with the umpire.