The throw came in from deep midwicket at a hyperbolic angle, but right on target. Anisa Mohammed, standing at the stumps at the bowler’s end, hardly had to move. She received the ball in her experienced palms, and her whole body swayed towards stumps as she removed the bails. Then came the sprint, and just a cursory appeal, because she had seen Poonam Yadav’s bat get stuck in the ground just before the crease. She knew she was out, she knew the West Indies had won.
Except the umpire didn’t agree.
Don’t take my word for it, watch it here (geo blocked for India, don’t get me started on that). And even though you and I can see a replay, which clearly shows the batter is out, the decision wasn’t referred to the third umpire.
Because there was no third umpire.
Two years ago, in the middle of the 2017 Women’s World Cup, we had seen another such incident. The batter was West Indian, the fielders Australian. The throw came in from the deep, and Alyssa Healy whipped off the bails. There was half an appeal as Chedean Nation sprinted past the crease, but the live stream replays showed there should have been more; Nation was almost out of her crease by more than a foot. But there was no recourse. In the first-ever women’s global event where every single ball was watchable, with 10 matches televised and armed with DRS, the games that were only live streamed didn’t have a third umpire.
Both incidents made the news for different reasons. The latter, because it came in a World Cup, but the run out itself had little bearing on the result; Australia dominated the West Indies, winning by eight wickets. But in the former, Poonam’s prone bat should have signified the end of India’s challenge. Instead, she was on strike for the last ball, with two needed to win. Her effort eventually failed, the ball finding the point fielder. But imagine the West Indian outrage if that ball had gotten through, and denied them a win in front of a strong crowd at North Sound, gathered to celebrate Antiguan Independence Day.
So much has changed for women’s cricket in the last two years alone. Then why, in 2019, was there no third umpire for a women’s international between two top-eight sides? Despite the availability of live stream replays?
It’s not as simple as that, as it never is. According the the ICC Playing Conditions, “The Home Board shall endeavor to broadcast all ODI Matches played in its country.” If matches are broadcast, then, “… the camera specification set out above is provided, a third umpire shall be appointed to the match.”
That camera specification demands four run out cameras in line with the bowling creases, and two bat-follow cameras behind the bowler’s arm at either end. With Cricket West Indies not televising India’s tour, they turned to live streaming instead. But the live stream setup did not meet the ICC’s requirements for third umpires: there was only one camera in line with the pitch, so every other over, the pictures showed the batter with her back to the camera. The angle that provided the frames proving Poonam’s dismissal came from a moving midwicket camera, not from static cameras dedicated for run outs. Since ICC’s Playing Conditions state that the third umpire must judge not only dismissals at the wicket like run outs and stumpings, but also contentious catches, boundaries, this demands moving cameras from multiple angles. It is for these same reasons that the ICC did not have a third umpire for live streamed games in the Women’s World Cup.
It is a situation that will be perplexing for the Indian team, having been spoiled by the BCCI in this regard. Every player in that team is accustomed to the BCCI’s minimum six static camera setup in domestic cricket. This ensures that even for games that aren’t televised or live streamed- the four fixed run-out cameras at square leg, and two static cameras behind the bowler always provide the chance to go upstairs. The BCCI’s Playing Conditions mirror the ICC’s, but have an additional segment allowing the Match Referee to act as the third umpire. “In all One Day Matches, where there is no provision for live or delayed telecast, but the match is covered by static cameras by BCCI, the Match Referee will act as third umpire.” Those officials then have jurisdiction over contentious dismissals at the wicket, like run outs, stumpings, and no balls, but no power to adjudge catches or boundaries.
Of course, BCCI has the resources to invest in such setups, which also allow them to evaluate umpire performance and track suspect actions. Not all boards have the financial capacity for such investments, even for international cricket. Industry sources estimate that such a set up would cost close to USD 700 per game. For an eight match series, like India’s tour of the West Indies, that means a rise of more than USD 5,000 in the budgets of Cricket West Indies. For a board that is not among the richest, this is not an insignificant expense.
And yet there are other costs that need to be counted. In the Men’s World Cup Qualifiers held last year, Scotland missed out on a place in the 2019 edition due to a poor umpiring decision followed by untimely rain. It meant they lost out on a participation fee of GBP 1 million, leading many to decry the absence of DRS in that qualifying tournament. How soon before the absence of a more basic requirement,a third umpire, leaves a women’s associate team with a similar story? Incidentally, many games in the recent men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier did not have a third umpire review option either.
Now that the ICC has set higher broadcast benchmarks for marquee women’s events, (the last T20 World Cup was fully televised) we are likely to see the full shebang at the top level ICC tournaments, including DRS. But for bilaterals hosted by cash-strapped boards, and lower-level tournaments, live streaming is still the game changing bet. It allows home board to ensure that fans of both teams can follow the game, at a fraction of the cost of a full-fledged television broadcast. For fans used to tracking scorecard updates, it was a massive jump. But now that live streaming has become the norm, the viewers demand more.
The primary motive behind the introduction of technology in umpiring, across sports, has been the elimination of the howler. Currently, the ICC Playing Conditions only cater to broadcast games, but not to games that might have more rudimentary (but effective) live stream camera setups. It is a grey area that is increasingly moving towards the mainstream. As the ICC continues to work towards improving umpiring standards for women’s cricket, perhaps that is another discussion worth having.