Controversial leg-before-wicket reversal raises issues about modern cricket technology. And about whether some modern cricket-players are whingers.14 January 2022
By Paul Martin at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town.
India’s impending Test series defeat against South Africa here was preceded by an astonishing Indian display of how to be bad losers.
At 60 runs for one wicket, dismissing the gritty South African opening batsman and captain Dean Elgar was a huge imperative for a hardpressed Indian Test side. It was trying to capture another nine wickets before the South Africans could reach their winning target of 212 runs.
[With the three-Test series level at 1-1, the outcome of this match determines the series — and also puts the winning team in a positive position in only the second run of a two-year-long World Test Championship that, in 2023, will end in a prestigious final for the top two teams (India is currently ranked Number One). In the recent inaugural final, India was surprisingly toppled by New Zealand.]
So when a ball from India’s world-renowned spin-bowler Ravichandran Ashwin struck Elgar on the pad as he pressed forward, the Indians were confident they had got him out leg before wicket. The umpire Marais Erasmus agreed. But the technology that examines all such decisions should the ‘victim’ demand a review, did not. It showed the ball would have passed just over the wicket.
The Indians were not just disappointed, they were furious. The Indian players criticised not just the technology but even the objectivity of the system — implying it was being manipulated in favour of the home team.
These quotes were heard over the microphone that is placed juts behind the stumps [it’s put there not to pick up conversations as such, but so the umpires wearing headphones and the off-field third umpire can hear if a ball passing thee batsman has just tipped the bat or the pad or the body]:
“Whole country playing against eleven guys,” a senior batsman KL Rahul declared.
Mayank Agarwal, who himself had claimed in the first Test that the technology had failed to detect an edge onto his pads, also made a scathing comment. “Not good. You’re making the sport look bad now, making the sport look bad,” said the Indian opening batsman..
India’s captain Virat Kohli commented sarcastically: “Certainly conducting a fair game here, DRS.”
DRS is the technical review system.
But actually the Indians, if you’ll excuse the pun, do not have a leg to stand on. The technology provided by Hawkeye is applied around the world, and has proved far more accurate than reliance on the unaided vision and hearing of the two on-field umpires. That’s not to say it’s infallible.
A bizarre conspiracy theory was dredged up by the bowler Ashwin. “Find better ways to win, SuperSport,” he said. But it’s technically impossible for the home side or the home broadcaster, Supersport, to bias the outcome by providing false video pictures to Hawkeye or to any other part of the DRS technology.
There is, though, a separate question-mark in the case of leg-before-wicket decisions. It’s the predicted flight of the ball after it has struck the pad or the boot or the upper leg.
It’s not clear whether the technology can work out whether the ball will actually reach a maximum height and then would have dipped before it would have gone the remaining distance to the stumps. If the technology just draws a continuing straight line between the spot on which the ball bounces to predict its trajectory to the wickets, then it could lead to mistakes, and dip is more likely to have been achieved if the batsman is struck on the front pad,, that is, relatively far from the wicket.
Spin or slow bowlers, can deliver balls that sometimes dip, while fast bowlers will usually bowl balls that do indeed just continue on their same trajectory.
But to suggest the system operates unfairly against one team or another is nonsense.
It’s entirely possible Kohli will face disciplinary action — not just for his comments on field, but also for kicking the turf angrily after the not-out decision, then walking right up to the stump-microphone and saying: “Focus on your team as well while they shine the ball, eh? Not just the opposition. Trying to catch people all the time.” Whatever that may mean.
One can understand a team expressing some disappointment and even some sarcasm when it’s delivered seconds after an incident, even though the comments were erroneous. What is not forgivable is for the captain and coach not to express any remorse or apology in front of the media some hours later.
When asked toi comment on the incident, South African fast bowler Lungi Ngidi remarked at his post-session press conference, “That tells us they are feeling a little bit of pressure.”
It may also show desperation as India needed someone or something to blame for two rather poor batting performances. That had left South Africa with a relatively easy target — just 212 runs on a pitch where batting is not massively difficult.
So, stop whinging, India.
And there’s another issue too. I was the only cricket writer watching from the side, not from directly behind the bowler’s arm and from a great height. I sat in the Oaks, a grassy slope that is much closer to the action. The live video pictures also are shown usually from front-on, so not revealing the extent of a forward stride.
I can confirm that Elgar, though a relatively short man at 5 foot 8 inches tall, did put in a big stride forward before he was struck on his front pad. When a very young umpire, I used to officiate at cricket matches here at Newlands, and in the days before the DRS technology, no umpire would have given a decision of ‘out’ in that circumstance. Even though technology has changed, the umpire still needs to give the batsman the benefit of the doubt.
In Elgar’s case there was too much doubt, not just about the bounce but also because it could have missed the leg stump [that is the one nearest the pads].
New technology has shown that spin bowlers were probably unfairly disadvantaged in the ‘old days’, as batsmen would thrust their pads forward and rely on umpires to give them the ‘benefit of the doubt’. But in fact I believe the pendulum has swung too much the other way.
Though he is a top-class international umpire, Erasmus is not infallible. He had already had another decision reversed earlier in the day, for example. In this case, he should have ruled ‘not-out’ rather than raise the dreaded finger, and then the fielding team would have to call for a review [if the fielding side gets three wrong in one innings, it cannot ask for any more reviews, by the way.].
That not-out initial ruling benefits the batsman, as when the ball is predicted to be hitting but only with less than half of a ball, the batsman would have been ruled not-out. So in the case of Elgar, even if the computer had predicted the ball would have knocked the very top of the stump, or removed a bail, the batsman would have been ruled not-out anyway.
So India, stop complaining, stop making false excuses, and as the poet said: “Play up, play up and play the game.”