By the Bug’s senior cricket writer
One of my life’s great regrets is that I never became a world famous Test cricket umpire, travelling the world and sticking my finger up here, there and everywhere.
I reckon I would have umpired using the Dicky Bird method: never, ever, give a batsman out LBW unless the ball would have hit all three stumps. Or like David Shepherd; too nice and too old to be roused at too much.
I loved umpiring at the all the levels of cricket I played at and because I spent most of my career as an opening bat, I was generally available for umpiring duties by the end of the first over.
The last time I umpired was for my youngest son’s school cricket side, where about the first ball he received crashed into his pads and my best guess was that it might have missed leg stump.
Note the “might”. I umpired in the era when the basic rule was that batsmen were given the benefit of the doubt.
A few balls later also would have clearly missed the leg stump but unfortunately for my son it would have missed the off stump as well and he was on his way.
Rather immodestly, I reckon I was pretty good at judging whether a ball would have hit, say leg, and if I was absolutely confident the ball was going to crash into the leg peg, up my finger went.
And that’s with having no fucking idea how that ball might have swung away in the metre or maybe two after it struck the pad.
Which brings me onto the subject of the DRS – direct referral system – that does two things reasonably well; it overrules the howlers that can ruin a Test batsman’s career in a flash – like a little nick (oh, okay, sometimes a big snick and clear deviation onto the pads) but missed by a visually and hearing impaired older umpire in a stadium at full roar. But it also can’t help miring itself in controversy.
Let’s look at three controversial DRS decisions in the current Australia-India Test series.
First, Joe Burns. This guy is so out of form that I had my old kit ready in the hope of a long-overdue call-up, an expectation based on the fact I could hardly do worse.
Even before Paul Reiffel gave Burns out LBW, I had jumped to my feet in front of the tele and shouted not out! Dressed in the umpire’s gear I always wear for watching Test cricket (you can guess my outfit for the shorter forms of the game), I also used my hand to signal down legside for the bowler’s benefit.
The hapless Burns went upstairs and was then sent on his way – umpire’s call it was – after the vision showed the ball would have kissed the leg stump (shown above) if the ball had not lost its shine or the stump had for some reason been given a second coat of varnish.
Watching the delivery in real time, I think any decent umpire should have given the batsman that old-fashioned benefit of the doubt. And what if the Indian side had referred a not-out decision? Is Hawk-Eye or whatever the system is called that Australia uses that bloody accurate?
Next, poor Ajinkya Madhukar Rahane’s runout in the second Test. All I can go by is what I’ve heard and read: that the third umpire has to see vision of at least one bail fully off the groove in the stump – ie both ends – before the batsman’s blade has made it safely past the popping crease.
I think Rahane was robbed. No footage I saw showed both ends of one bail completely off the stumps. Logic says that within the next nano-second that it took for his bat to get to safety the bail would have been fully clear. But where was the benefit of the doubt for the batsmen? And rules, are they not, the rules?
Next we have Tim “there’s only three or four aspects of Test captaincy that I’m not really good at” Paine’s anger at being caught behind for one in his second dig of the Melbourne Test. He and the Oz media were outraged that hot spot didn’t show a feather.
Two things. As one commentator who admittedly might have had brownish skin said: hot spot is not designed to pick up such tender kisses between bat and ball. And secondly, it’s becoming more common for umpires to ignore the lack of a hot spot and still stick their finger up if Snicko shows a spike as, or just after, the ball passes the bat. It’s a sound travelling slower than light thing, apparently.
Another nodding head on Cricket Info reckoned it should be not out if there’s no hot spot. He was adamant them’s the rules. I don’t know if that’s true or not but if he’s right, then Paine was indeed robbed. He could have gone on the save or win the Test.
It’s true that every now and then, another sound might have happened at the exact same time which is rotten bad luck for the batter. And for that reason, I was grateful in some ways that I wasn’t called up for either of these tests because I would hate to have seen my career comeback ruined in my early 70s by a bone that creaked noisily at the most inappropriate of times.
So there we have it. If DRS is here to stay – and it should be – then the person up in the booth has to follow the rules to the letter. Apart from that, my only real beef is ball-tracking.
Considering the popping crease is 4ft in front of the stumps, until I see some finite work on the accuracy of the two systems currently in use and how each reads a ball’s trajectory sometimes a full two metres after it strikes the pad, I’d ditch the umpire’s call and make it not out if half the ball is outside the stumps.
I still think even a flawed DRS would have worked perfectly well in my playing day.
I could have successfully appealed a number of poor umpiring decisions and still have been available to umpire after the opening over was completed.