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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Explained: Why Suryakumar could’ve been ‘not out’ if proposed rule on replacing soft signal with ‘unsighted’ was in force

The debate is about whether the on-field umpires should have a say in catches taken outside the 30-yard circle, which are unclear to the naked eye, before it is referred to the television umpire.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk , with input from Explained Desk | Kolkata |
March 19, 2021 7:36:22 pm
India's Suryakumar Yadav bats during the fourth Twenty20 cricket match between India and England at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo)

Two dismissals during the fourth T20 between India and England were down to soft signals from the on-field umpires and both Suryakumar Yadav and Washington Sundar might have felt a little unlucky. The debate is about whether the on-field umpires should have a say in catches taken outside the 30-yard circle, which are unclear to the naked eye, before it is referred to the television umpire.

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What were the incidents?

In the second ball of the 13th over, during India’s innings, Suryakumar Yadav pulled a Sam Curran delivery and the top edge went to deep square leg where Dawid Malan took the catch diving forward. Unsure about whether the catch was taken properly, on-field umpire KN Ananthapadmanabhan referred it to TV umpire Virender Sharma. From certain angles it looked like Malan’s palms had split after hitting the ground and the ball kissed the floor. But the soft signal from Ananthapadmanabhan was out and without conclusive evidence to overturn it, the TV umpire had to adhere to the soft signal. Yadav’s excellent innings was cut short.

Then, in the fourth ball of the 19th over, Washington played a ramp shot to a Jofra Archer delivery and Adil Rashid took the catch at deep third man. Whether Rashid had stepped on the rope was subject to interpretation. But once again, the soft signal from Ananthapadmanabhan was out and without any footage from the reverse angle, Sharma didn’t overturn it.

What is a soft signal?

It is the signal that the on-field umpires give while asking the TV umpire to check the legitimacy of a catch. The bowler’s end umpire gives the soft signal in consultation with his colleague at square leg. As per the existing rule, the TV umpire doesn’t have the authority to overturn the on-field umpire’s signal unless he has conclusive evidence to do it.

What did Kohli say about the dismissals?

At the post-match presentation, Virat Kohli spoke about one of the grey areas in the rulebook/playing conditions that creates ambiguity. “There was an instance in the Test series when Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane) caught the ball and (he) wasn’t sure. When there’s a half-and-half effort, the soft signal becomes more important. I don’t know why there can’t be a sort of ‘I don’t know’ call for the umpires. You want these things ironed out to keep the game linear. But we want clarity on the field,” said the India captain.

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But Malan would have known about the catch’s legitimacy, isn’t it?

Not really. A fielder diving forward at pace could miss if any part of the ball is touching the ground. Usually in such cases, fielders go with their gut. England fast bowler Stuart Broad said as much, as he mentioned the oddity of the soft signal. “It’s the “soft signal” which is odd. Hard for off field umpire to overturn. ‘Let’s go upstairs cause I don’t have a clue but I’m guessing (soft signal) it’s out.’ Malan’s Twitter feed will be ugly- but he wouldn’t have known the ball hit the ground diving forward at pace,” Broad posted on Twitter.

The same applies for Rashid, who was airborne and not facing the boundary rope while taking Washington’s catch. It was virtually impossible for him to know if any part of his boot made a soft touch with the rope.

India’s Suryakumar Yadav, left, raises his bat to celebrate scoring fifty runs as teammate Rishabh Pant looks on during the fourth Twenty20 cricket match between India and England at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo)

What does the existing rule say?

The existing rule speaks about “visual communication by the bowler’s end umpire to the third umpire” before initiating an umpire review. Then again, the bowler’s end umpire giving a soft signal on a catch taken at deep backward square leg for example means he will be about 70 yards away.

What are the lawmakers thinking?

The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the custodian of the Laws of Cricket, has proposed a change in its World Cricket Committee meeting last month. The committee has endorsed an “unsighted” signal for boundary catches rather than an “explicit” out or not out soft signal. “The committee felt that the soft-signal system worked well for catches within the 30-yard fielding circle, but that catches near the boundary often left the umpires unsighted. It was proposed that, for such catches, the on-field umpires could give an ‘unsighted’ instruction to the TV umpire, rather than the more explicit soft-signal of Out or Not out,” an MCC statement had said after the meeting.

What next?

The soft signal issue doesn’t fall under the Laws of Cricket. It’s rather a part of the International Cricket Council (ICC) playing conditions. As per the ICC structure, its Cricket Committee discusses and proposes any changes to the playing conditions which then goes to the Chief Executives Committee and the Board for ratification. In case of a Law change, the MCC gives the ICC an update on potential Law changes “in advance and conduits”. When the Laws are changed by the MCC, the ICC decides if they are applicable to international cricket and adjusts its playing conditions accordingly.

Has anyone called for a change?

Former England captain Mike Atherton has suggested that soft signal should be made valid only for the catches inside the 30-yard circle. “I can absolutely understand why an on-field umpire gets a good view of the catch inside the inner circle. But when it is out on the boundary, 50 metres away, there’s no way that the standing umpire can see whether Dawid Malan has caught that. So the soft signal for boundary catches is nonsense,” Atherton said on Sky Sports.

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