Referrals, a dilemma less ordinary

The referral system is being trailed in an attempt to ensure "the correct decision is reached" but it's been shown to have more flaws than the Empire State building, writes Ian Chappell.

india Updated: Mar 28, 2009 23:53 IST

So much for the adage, ‘the umpire is always right’; the referral system has put paid to that theory. The referral system is being trailed in an attempt to ensure "the correct decision is reached" but it's been shown to have more flaws than the Empire State building.

The fact that the maximum number of unsuccessful referrals was quickly reduced from three to two is an example of why it's better not to conduct trials at the highest level of the game. Doing it in a Test match led to an embarrassing situation in Durban.

Phillip Hughes attempted a sweep shot, took a single and the umpire signalled a leg bye. Graeme Smith promptly asked for an lbw referral and the replay showed Hughes had edged the ball. Consequently, Hughes couldn't be out lbw and South Africa had wasted a referral because of an umpiring error, leaving Smith with only one remaining challenge and Australia no wickets down.

If Smith had stated before the series that he preferred not to play under a system being trialled at Test level, he would've been justified in refusing to bowl the next ball until the (umpire induced) wasted referral had been reinstated. Unfortunately that's just one of many problems with the referral system.

There are far too many marginal lbw decisions being challenged. The standing umpire is in the best position to decide lbw decisions, not a camera perched on high, one hundred metres from the action. As New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said after first experiencing the referral system, "It should only be used to correct blatant mistakes."

Then there's the technology. The "mat" that's used to decide whether a ball pitches in line with the stumps can accidentally move out of alignment and therefore should only be an entertainment tool for television, not something that decides a batsman's fate.

In the South African series, "Hot Spot" was not available in the first Test because the television company didn't want to pay for the rights. They then had a change of heart and purchased "Hot Spot" for the final two Tests. That meant a series, which was already being played under a different set of laws from the one running concurrently in the Caribbean, was suddenly being conducted under laws that changed between the first and the final two Tests.

Not only does that make a mockery of Test statistics it also devalues the game.

As good as "Hot Spot" is it's not foolproof. For instance a suspected inside edge in Durban was hidden from view in the batsman's follow through. This just adds to the feeling of "justice for some but not for all" that the referral system creates.

If cricket is determined to have on-field decisions reversed by off-field evidence, then the third umpire must be made aware of the pitfalls in making such judgements from videotape.

If cricket must have a challenge system, it would be better to come from the video umpire noting a blatant error and reporting it to the arbiter on the field. This will eradicate challenges over marginal decisions and also provide a system which doesn't encourage captains and players to dispute the umpire's decision.

First Published: Mar 28, 2009 23:52 IST