There was a dramatic shift in the way the game was played in Adelaide. I am not referring to England’s supremacy over a floundering Australia who had their first innings defeat inflicted upon them since 1993. I am in fact talking about the Umpire Referral System (URS) in which players can ask a third umpire to take another look at a decision. In particular two referrals on the last morning show how the game is changing.
Jimmy Anderson removed Brad Haddin with a classic seamers dismissal. Ryan Harris came to the wicket and shouldered arms to a straight ball that hits him straight in front of the stumps. He is stone dead out and the umpire gives it immediately. Harris and North (his partner for one ball) thinks he is out too. However, given the situation they refer it. It is out, but it is only just out. It clips the top of middle-and-off. An absolute stone dead LBW has been turned into an ‘only just’. Suddenly even simple LBWs are looking complicated.
Two balls later and Swann is bowling to Marcus North. It pitches in-line and straightens hitting North in-front of the stumps. Swann appeals and it is turned down. England refer and on reply the ball is seen to miss the edge of the bat and hits North in front. North sees it on the big screen and doesn’t even wait for the umpire to raise his finger. Simple then, the right decision has been made in the end … except when it is seen at full speed the ball is very near the edge of the bat. North is at full stretch going forward and so the impact point is at least eight feet from the stumps. Given the very close edge and the fact he went a long way forward the umpire would have had some doubts about giving North out. The ‘not out’ decision was correct – he gave the batsman the benefit of the doubt as umpires have always done. Of course the ‘out’ decision for the referral was also correct. This is not a contradiction, we are deciding the batsman’s fate based on two separate judgements: full speed from 22 yards OR in high definition slow motion with technological aids. When judging an umpire’s performance we should remember that.
My point is that cricket is changing because of the referral system. LBWs that seem obviously out are not always so clear cut. Other situations where the batsman has always received the benefit of the doubt may no longer hold. In the end Marcus North was out and so the correct choice was made. The interactive reply was also very exciting with the players and crowd watching and cheering. Pure drama. Referrals are a game changer; we have to make sure cricket changes into something we want to watch and cherish.