Skipper Virat Kohli’s dubious and controversial dismissal in the Perth Test on Sunday might dominate talk shows, television studios and cricket discussions for some time to come. But the real culprit that broke the back of India’s resistance was really the system.
In fact the question that MCC, the custodian of rules of the game, or ICC, who wake up from their slumber every now and then, need to answer is simply this: Why is there no soft signal for run-out or stumping decisions?
If soft signal is not required for those two forms of dismissals, why must there be one for a doubtful catch? After all, both umpires are not sure if the catch was cleanly taken and their referring it to the third umpire was only due to that.
However if the third umpire too was not sure after watching a few replays, why should he go with the field umpire’s gut feeling which, in the first place, was not reckoned to be good enough for him to declare the batsman out.
In such cases, why not leave it purely to the third umpire — like they do in run out and stumping cases — rather than having it thrown back to the on-field umpire’s shaky, unreliable, doubtful and unsure gut feeling?
Currently, the process is at fault: Unsure umpires throwing it to the third umpire, who, when not sure, bouncing it right back to the umpires’ unsure selves! This almost sounds like some school mathematical formula: doubt X doubt = SURE!
Traditionalists could argue that the objective of technology and its application is not to change the fabric of the game and hence field umpire’s original call should be respected until there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
However the field umpires (both of them) could not arrive at a conclusive decision else they would have given Kohli out and left it to him to contest the decision through DRS. Instead they referred it to the third umpire, asking him to come to their rescue.
In such a scenario, why should their dubious soft signal be the guiding force for the third umpire to alter the course of the Test? Every way you look at it, this smacks of being a ridiculous law and hence needs to be changed in double quick time.
To make the heartburn worse for India’s supporters, former Australian captain Michael Clarke, serving as a television cricket expert, gave a master class on why the catch was not clean and hence Kohli was not out!
He believed that even if the slip catcher, Peter Handscomb, had got his fingers beneath the ball before it bounced, the velocity of the ball had parted his fingers and touched the ground (he came up with the ball in the ‘Vee” formed by his middle and ring fingers). Hence, he stressed, the catch was not clean. Of course he went into an explanation of the effects of spongy grass and the hand having “to give” in the process of taking the catch and the spongy grass acting as the cushion, etc. But the operative part of the explanation was the ‘grassing’ of the catch by Handscomb.
Lest cricket fans fret over traditions of the game being trampled often, let it be pointed out that the benefit-of-doubt concept in the game has been evolving. The underlining principle was always in giving the benefit of doubt to the batsman.
Earlier, there were occasions when umpires were swayed by the brilliance of a wicket-keeper’s stumping or the direct throw by an athletic fielder and erred in not giving batsmen the benefit of their doubt. These decisions were later shown to be erroneous by television replays and slow-motion cameras. Thus the concept of TV or third umpire came into play. Consequently, errors in run-out and stumping are almost totally wiped out unless the incompetence or bias of the TV umpire comes into play!
The concept of giving umpires the benefit of doubt came with LBW decisions. Even here, it was changed to ensure that there was a greater area offered (from middle of off and leg stump to outside of off & leg stumps) for the predicted impact. Thus when LBW decisions were reviewed by DRS, the benefit of doubt went with the on-field umpire’s call. This also made his call vital.
Kohli, until he snicked the ball, was batting with unwavering focus, concentration and conviction. He had already made a masterly century and was the guiding force in at least four partnerships. As long as he was out there in the middle, the Aussies were always under the pump.
The snick offered by Kohli off the bowling of Pat Cummins, by all accounts, including reviews, fell short of the slip fielder. Still, because of the indeterminate quality of the frozen replay, there was no conclusive evidence that the catch was clean. And when in doubt, the third umpire went with the on-field umpires’ ‘doubtful yet declared out soft signal’.
This poor decision came at the worst possible moment for India and Kohli was justifiably livid. It, however, provided yet another case for such decisions being treated on par with run outs and stumped.
In short, the benefit of doubt should belong where the framers of the Laws of Cricket wanted it to be: With the batsman. It is time the spirit of the game, as originally envisaged, was upheld. The ball is in your court MCC!