The evidence has been growing for some time and the flaws so starkly exposed at Kensington yesterday provided further proof that Test cricket’s latest technological innovation, the umpires’ referral system, is an experiment that needs urgent review, even scrapping altogether.
Four times the umpires, Aleem Dar and Russell Tiffin, gave decisions that prompted the game’s newest signal, a T made with both forearms, from players of either side convinced they were wrong.
Daryl Harper, a member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) elite panel of umpires sitting in front of a television screen in the Garfield Sobers Pavilion, was left as the final adjudicator on data from slow-motion replays and clever devices such as the wicket-to-wicket mat, stump microphones and the all-seeing Hawkeye.
The problem, as it was always going to be, was that Harper and all of his elite colleagues have to be guided by a picture that is two, not three, dimensional and by technology with which they are not familiar. While they may know all 47 laws and their notes inside out, they are not trained to interpret the complex information put before them.
While the mat indicates whether or not the ball is pitched outside leg-stump, thus negating any lbw decision, Hawkeye only traces the path of the delivery up to the moment of impact on the batsman’s pads or body. It does not carry on to its predicted path.
So Harper, and whoever is in that position, has even more on his mind than he would have on the ground where he makes his decision in an instant on the basis of his training and experience.
Yesterday, Harper appeared utterly befuddled when four lbw decisions by the men in the middle were referred for his advice.
He confirmed Dar’s verdict against Devon Smith and Tiffin’s against Shivnarine Chanderpaul, supported Dar’s in favour of Brendan Nash in one over from Graeme Swann and then obliged him to change his not out verdict against the same batsman in the next.
Each time, the wait for the final judgement was prolonged and, to a large Saturday crowd, puzzling and irritating.
There was an element of doubt in the dismissals of Smith and Nash, an opinion supported by the continuation of Hawkeye’s predicted path of the ball that was not available to Harper. The former suggested it would have missed leg-stump, the latter that it would have gone over the top of the bails.
The error on Chanderpaul was clear cut. The left-hander offered no shot to a delivery from Stuart Broad using a second new ball that was into its fifth over and still hard. It bounced off a hard surface from a good length and stuck him high on the pad.
The immediate impression, even from behind the bowler’s arm in the media centre, was that it would have cleared the stumps by several inches. The subsequent picture of Hawkeye’s predicted path, shown to the global television audience minutes after Tiffin raised his finger for the second time, verified the notion.
It was a critical moment. It reduced the West Indies to 281 for four as they went after their first goal of 401 to avoid the follow-on. Chanderpaul was 70 and involved in a comfortable partnership of 122 with Ramnaresh Sarwan who was batting with the certainty and hunger that have been Chanderpaul’s traits over the past two years.
It was the kind of decision the system was introduced to avoid. Now it simply perpetuated it.
So what next?
The ICC stressed from the start that the innovation was only experimental. Already it has changed the original arrangement from three unsuccessful referrals an innings for each team to two. If many players have their way they would do away with it.
Chris Gayle said from the start that he was not in favour. So did Sarwan although he admitted he was “lucky” to benefit from one referral early in his 106 in the first Test at Sabina Park. Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, is another not sold on the need for it.
Yesterday’s sequence was the most contentious in the brief trial period but there have been other mistakes made by the standing umpires that their colleague judging from television evidence hasn’t corrected.
Significantly, it was not an issue when the system wasn’t used in the third Test at the Antigua Recreation Ground because the necessary television equipment couldn’t be installed after the hurried move from the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Although it seemed a good idea at the time, it is now better to revert to the status quo and leave television replays to determine only line calls for run outs and stumpings.