“Cricket,” George Bernard Shaw wrote, “is a game played by 11 fools and watched by 11,000 fools.”
Times have changed since Shaw wrote those words but he might have had something to say about those governing the sport as well now. The ways of the International Cricket Council are strange and one has always wondered why they haven’t pushed the case of technology as they should and can.
During the Royal Challengers Bangalore versus Mumbai Indians match on Thursday night, the umpires failed to call a no-ball bowled by Lasith Malinga on the last (but what should have been second last) ball of the game.
It was a clear no-ball, there was no doubt. But was the umpire even looking for it? A no-ball would not only have given Bangalore one extra run but also a free hit and a chance to win the game they eventually lost by six runs.
Virat Kohli criticised the “ridiculous” no-ball error and essentially called for better umpiring standards.
“We are playing at the IPL level and not playing club cricket. The umpires should have had their eyes open. That’s a ridiculous call at the last ball,” Kohli said after the error was spotted at the giant screen following the end of match.
“If it is a game of margins, I don’t know what is happening. They should have been more sharp and careful out there,” he added.
Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma agreed with Kohli, saying such mistakes were “not good for the game”.
“There’s a TV up there, they have to watch what’s happening... Eventually it’s not good for the game and whatever is not good for the game, I won’t stand for that,” said Sharma.
“Those decisions can cost you games and those games can cost you the tournament. We work really hard to win the tournament and those kind of mistakes are not acceptable.”
On-field umpire Sundaram Ravi, India’s only representative in ICC’s Elite panel, was responsible for the missed no-ball. And while everyone makes mistakes, it was surprising to see him not go to the TV umpire if he wasn’t sure of the no-ball call.
A wicket is invariably followed up by the TV umpire checking for a no-ball, sometimes when it is very obviously not a no-ball, so Ravi needs to answer why he didn’t even consider the possibility of doing that.
They will sometimes even call for a TV review in case of run-outs when replays show that the batsman was well past the stumps. Every stumping call is also almost invariably reviewed, so why the ambiguity with no-ball law?
The job of the umpire isn’t easy but they are paid very well and need to be able to spot something as basic as a no-ball. This state of affairs has been complicated for some years by the advent of the front foot no-ball law, which has reduced considerably the amount of time between the umpire’s no-ball call and the batsman having to play the delivery.
Very often umpire’s seem to not look at the front-foot line, knowing that they can fall back on DRS technology if they need to. They maybe prefer to get their other decisions right by looking at the batsmen. But what is the fail-safe if umpires fail to spot something very obvious?
Why can’t the TV umpire tell the on-field umpire that a mistake has been made regardless of whether the former has been called into action? Just give the TV umpire a feed that looks at the bowling crease at all times and allow him to advise the on-field umpires at all times, especially in the case of obvious errors.
It shouldn’t matter whether the on-field umpire or the TV umpire gets the decision right. The important thing clearly has to be getting it right. The umpires can all work all the more closely as a team because clearly eight eyes will be better than four. And an umpire sitting in an AC room with no heat and noise to deal with might be able to be more attentive.
Why must cricket live with errors when they can be prevented? There will be no increased cost for this either. That was one of the big hurdles in the implementation of DRS but there should be nothing of the sort in this case. There will be a time but the replays are almost real time and as long as the error is spotted before the next ball, the game will be fine.
As things stand, there is currently no use of technology to help the umpire with a no-ball. It has been discussed by the ICC cricket committee on multiple occasions but not implemented.
In this case, this was an IPL match but imagine if the same thing would happen in the final of the World Cup with the championship on the line. The ICC would never hear the end of it all because they failed to use technology that they already have at their disposal.
And if that isn’t a front foot no-ball, then nothing is.