Editorial: Second look is first priority for test cricket

There is a reason to rue the absence of the umpire decision review system. Photo / Getty Images
There is a reason to rue the absence of the umpire decision review system. Photo / Getty Images

The test cricket series between New Zealand and Pakistan is having to make do without the umpire decision review system. Even after the first of the contests, there is reason to rue its absence.

The Pakistanis thought they had Brendon McCullum caught down the leg side during his first innings at Hamilton, but their appeal was turned down. During New Zealand's calamitous second innings, the same batsman was given out caught behind, although television replays showed no contact between bat and ball.

In both cases, appeals against the umpiring decisions would almost certainly have ensured the correct decision was reached. That, in itself, confirms why the system must become a part of world cricket.

Ample proof was also provided in the recent Ashes series. By and large, a system that allowed England and Australia to appeal against umpires' decisions with a maximum of two unsuccessful appeals an innings delivered the right outcomes.

So, too, did umpires' willingness to check the validity of wicket-taking balls.

The aim of eliminating horrendously bad decisions from the game was achieved - and more. If there was gaming of the system, as in the case of Ian Bell, the benefits far outweighed any downsides. England captain Andrew Strauss proved particularly judicious at knowing when to use the system and when to keep his powder dry.

Unfortunately, India, the power-broker of the modern game, was far less canny in its one attempt at using the system, in a series in Sri Lanka in 2008. All but one of its referral attempts in three tests failed. The Sri Lankans won 11 of their referrals. But rather than learn from this, the Indians have chosen to oppose the system, thereby placing it in limbo.

The International Cricket Council wants it used worldwide, but will not finance it. Broadcasters will not come to the party because sponsors will not open their wallets unless India supports it.

The situation is clearly untenable. The benefits of the likes of Virtual Eye and Hotspot are undeniable. There can be no going back. Talk of umpires losing out to the march of technology is redolent of much of the antediluvian nonsense that has long been part and parcel of the game. Umpires look most absurd when they make an outlandish blunder and there is no recourse for the unfortunate team.

Nor is there any need to veer much from the system used for the Ashes series. It would be wrong if umpires, rather than players, were the ones entitled to make referrals. A batsman generally knows if he has hit the ball; an umpire can easily miss a nick thanks to crowd noise, other distractions or a lapse in concentration. A failure to see the need to go upstairs would result in more bad blunders.

In many ways, it is unfortunate that India was not on the wrong end of a series of such mistakes in its recent test series in South Africa. If Sachin Tendulkar had been given out caught behind off, say, his shirt on 99, its resistance to the referral system would surely start to melt away.

Such decisions will afflict the Indians at some stage. They will come to see that the game is better for technology. In the meantime, unfortunately, we must watch tests where a team's fortune remains hostage to human error.

- NZ Herald

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