In the aftermath of a debatable decision to give Fakhar Zaman out caught in the New Zealand vs Pakistan T20I series, a valued member of our forums takes a look at the shortcomings in the rules of cricket.
By Taimoor Khan (2nd February, 2018)
Like all sports, cricket, for what it's worth, is imperfect at its core. It might perhaps be one of the most flawed sports ever played. Play called off due to rain, Duckworth Lewis method, bad light stopped play, and abandoned matches are just some of the phrases that strike fear into the hearts of cricket lovers and at the same time remind us of its intrinsically imperfect nature.
But some might say that it is this imperfection that adds beauty and excitement to the game. It is this element of uncertainty that has given rise to some moments that players and fans regard to be some of the best (and worst) moments of their lives. It has helped in notoriously special moments where unfair wide balls were given which got the batting team over the line on the last ball. It's resulted in countless batsmen being given out unfairly when their team needed them the most. It's resulted in many other moments that have left fans and players alike pulling their hair out. One might even argue that the governors and overseers of the game purposefully decided to implement some of these laws because they add a certain aspect of this aforementioned uncertainty.
LBW? Leg before wicket? How does it work exactly? Why does the ball have to pitch in line? Why does it have to cause an impact in line? Why does DRS not give it out if more than half of the ball doesn’t hit the wicket provided the umpire didn’t give it out to begin with? After all, if the same ball was bowled and the batsman wasn’t there, wouldn't it go on to knock the stumps over? How does any of this work or make sense? What are the exceptions to all these rules? The "Section X of Article Y" probably defines these laws in detail, but the harsh reality is that modern cricketing rules that govern the game are designed not to preserve the integrity of the game by ending up with objectively fair decisions, but rather to try their damned hardest to avoid overturning the umpires initial decision and try to arrive to decisions without the help of the proper technology available today. Rules about where the ball pitches and impacts the batsmen seem to be put just to provide a form of "saving grace" to the umpires just in case their decision turned out to be wrong.
The idea for this article originally came to me while watching the 3rd T20 between Pakistan and New Zealand. Watching the match made me question some of the fundamental technologies and rules used in the sport in the present day. On the final ball of the 13th over, Fakhar Zaman was controversially given caught out when Tom Bruce, standing in deep, caught the ball when Fakhar slapped it over point. The umpires went upstairs and gave the soft signal for out. The replays showed no conclusive evidence that Bruce didn’t catch it, but neither did it show that he DID catch it. Eventually, after several minutes of rewinding and playing going on, the 3rd umpire decided to give it out.
Let's for a moment think that Bruce had definitely caught the ball and it had not touched the ground at any point in time after being hit by Fakhar and landing in Bruce's hands.
The 2 main problems that arise with the way the whole scenario played out were:
1) "Hawkeye" being a DRS (decision review system) for LBW appeals has confused umpires into thinking they have the precision of a hawk when it comes to judging whether a catch is clean or not more than 30 yards away. Deciding to give the soft signal of "out" was bizarre since even on camera it was very hard to see if the ball hadn't touched the ground. If we are to persist with this soft-signal nonsense, why not just use the third soft signal, which is for "inconclusive" when the umpire doesn’t know at all if it's out or not?
2) If the evidence in inconclusive, the 3rd umpire will give the benefit of the doubt and go with the soft-signal of the on-field umpire. The final decision should be objectively made without any bias towards the soft-signal of the on-field umpire. If the 3rd umpire has the necessary technology and equipment, then he should be able to come to a definitive conclusion, which begs the question, why are soft-signals even a thing in cricket?
To answer that last question, I feel we have to look at the role of the umpires closely. The umpires are the ones with the most authority on the pitch. Without them, a professional game of cricket cannot go underway. But perhaps there is a fine line between bestowing power onto the umpires and treating them as the holy grail entirely. These soft-signals in my opinion are just one of the many examples where unnecessary authority is given to the umpires which often results in unfair final outcomes for the players affected.
Another incident in the 3rd T20 game between New Zealand and Pakistan was when Ish Sodhi was adjudged to have bowled a no-ball on the 2nd ball of the 6th over. Replays suggested that there was nothing wrong with the ball and it was completely legal, but instead of the laws of cricket being designed so that we come to the fair decision of the no-ball being overruled, nothing of the sort happened. The no-ball and free-hit cost them 4 runs in total. Not insanely costly, but you try to save every run you can in T20s.
There are enough factors at play in a cricket game that are just down to plain luck. Issues like rain, bad light and lost cricket balls are already painful enough as is. In my opinion, the role of on-field umpires needs to evolve as time progresses and as we progress technologically. Their role should just be to make sure play goes on and the players don’t take too much time to bowl a ball or set the fields or even start arguing with the opposition. Everything else such as calling no-balls and boundaries should be the third umpires job as he has access to live cameras and stump mics that, if used properly, are bound to be more accurate than on-field umpires. Since wickets already have cameras in them these days, they can be used by the 3rd umpire to judge LBW appeals. Down the line, hopefully all of this is automated and done by machines, but that’s a lot more controversial and way more down the line as of this point in time.
In short, I think cricket, like all other sports, has to do a better job to keep up with the latest technological innovations and breakthroughs. We can't be over reliant on technology but there comes a time when, through technology, we are able to automate several tasks and make our lives easier, all the while not sacrificing reliability, validity or accuracy. No one knows when is the right time to implement new technologies in sports, but the flag bearers of the game have to keep an open mind regarding such opportunities of change and be ready to adapt.