A series of dodgy umpiring decisions in the ongoing Boxing Day Test in Melbourne has not only given the Australian batsmen as many as four reprieves during their batting stints on Day 1 and Day 3 respectively, but it also bought to the fore the glaring inconsistencies in the contentious umpire’s call in the Decision Review System. With the Australian umpires standing for this Test series and all the marginal calls are going in the favour of the home, there are many who are missing the neutral umpires. And the spotlight was further intensified on the umpires when all-time great Sachin Tendulkar tweeted to ICC that DRS needs a relook.
What happened on Day 1?
Let’s start with the events that transpired on Day 1. Moments after the tea interval, Tim Paine was struck on the pad by debutant pacer Mohammed Siraj. The umpire’s verdict was not out, even though it looked fairly adjacent. A confident Indian team decided to take the review, and even as the ball indicated that it would hit the stumps, Paine survived because it was an umpire’s call.
The Australian captain got another lucky break on the opening day, when he navigated through, what looked like a straightforward run out. Replays suggested that when wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant had removed the bails, Paine’s bat was on the crease, which was enough for the batsmen to be adjudged out. Inexplicably, television umpire Paul Wilson ruled in Paine’s favour, causing an uproar and sending social media into tizzy. “Very surprised that Tim Paine survived that run out review! I had him on his bike and thought there was no part of his bat behind the line! Should have been out in my opinion,” Shane Warne tweeted.
Umpire’s call rescues Australia on Day 3
The umpire’s call would provide Australia with another two reprieves in the second session on Day 3. The first instance was when opener Joe Burns survived a close lbw appeal against a Jasprit Bumrah yorker. The umpire ruled in favour of the batsman, but India reviewed it. The ball is shown to be clipping leg-stump, but because it was the umpire’s call, Burns is ruled not out. A little later, Marnus Labuschagne is trapped in front by Siraj. The same ritual ensued. Replays indicated the ball clipping the bails by the barest margins. Yet again, the umpire’s call saves Labuschagne.
So, what exactly is the umpire’s call?
Umpire’s call is used when the DRS essentially gives the benefit of the doubt to the on-field decision in case of inconclusive technological evidence. When less that 50% of the ball is hitting the stumps, excluding the bails, as per the ball-tracking technology, it’s deemed an umpire’s call. Teams, however, don’t lose out on their reviews if it is used in the final decision.
Why is it contentious?
The concept is inherently flawed because if the ball is hitting the stumps, even marginally, in the ball-tracking segment of the DRS, it should be given out. For a batsman to be given out lbw under an umpire’s call, the ball-tracking segment has to show more than 50 per cent of the ball hitting the wicket-zone. The wicket-zone is the area between the off and leg stump. If less than 50 per cent of the ball is hitting the wicket-zone, the umpire’s call will be made and the on-field umpire’s decision will stand. Take the examples of the two umpire’s calls taken on Day 3 and the one involving Paine on Day 1. On all these occasions, the batsmen would have been declared out had the on-field umpire given it out.
Has anyone spoken out against the umpire’s call?
In the past, several past and current players have voiced their concerns. Sachin Tendulkar has urged the International Cricket Council (ICC) for reassessment. On Monday, he tweeted: “The reason players opt for a review is because they’re unhappy with the decision taken by the on-field umpire. The DRS system needs to be thoroughly looked into by the @ICC, especially for the ‘Umpires Call’.”
Why are home umpires officiating the ongoing India-Australia Test series?
The ICC had introduced neutral umpires in 1994 to end accusations of home-team bias. With the pandemic and the bio-secure rules in place and due to the logistical challenges on international travel, they have put this rule in the back-burner for now. As a result, matches are now being officiated by home umpires. Bruce Oxenford and Paul Reiffel and Paul Wilson (TV umpire), the three officials for the ongoing Boxing Day Test in Melbourne are all Australians. Following their howlers, the clamour for neutral umpires is gaining momentum.
Has anyone pressed for neutral umpires during the pandemic?
West Indies captain Jason Holder has been quite vocal on this issue. Following his team’s drubbing in the two-match Test series against New Zealand earlier this month, the all-rounder told AFP: “What I would say about the umpiring, or the situation of the umpires, is that if we can travel and do quarantine, I don’t see why an opposing (overseas) umpire can’t travel and do the quarantine. If players are making the sacrifice, and go on the road and continue cricket then I feel as though the umpires should also do the same.”
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