It Looked So Out…

“You don’t often see a batsman walk… for an LBW” screams Michael Slater even as the Blackcaps whoop it up in the background. It was Ricky Ponting that decided to walk without really waiting for Umpire Nigel Llong’s decision off a delivery from Tim Southee during the first innings of the Hobart Test in 2011, which New Zealand went on to win by 7 runs.

Ponting was woefully out of form coming in to that series and chose to play an ugly across the line swipe for the delivery that jagged back in to trap him in front. Even before Southee could turn around and appeal for the LBW< Ponting was on his way.

Another instance of a batsman not really waiting for the umpire decision because he knew he was done for, was MS Dhoni during the 2007 Cricket World Cup first round match vs. Sri Lanka. Muralitharan bowling from around the wicket made the ball straighten and hurry on to the batsman. This time it was Aleem Dar that was preempted by the batsman. India lost the match and were kicked out of the tournament.

On Tuesday, a similar situation arose in the India v Sri Lanka match in the Asia Cup. After being hit for a monstrous six by Thisera Perera earlier in the over, off spinner R Ashwin tossed the ball wide and made the left hander over-extended himself and Dhoni, still the owner of quickest pair of hands behind the wicket in cricket, completed the stumping.

(Video Downloaded from Cricingif.com)

The umpire at square leg, Shozab Raza adjudged the batsman out – a rarity in these days of video replay assistance from the third umpire for almost every line calls. On first look, it seemed that the batsman was caught well short of the crease – after all he was dragged wide and out by Ashwin for proverbial miles. The delivery was so far from Perera that the straight umpire Anisur Rahman called it a wide. The fielding side seemed happy with the appeal and the decision, and it looked to be that so was Perera who walked off without any hesitation or remonstration. He looked so out. It was only when slow motion replays were shown later on that it became apparent that Perera may have regained his ground. If Umpire Raza had sought the assistance of the TV umpire, in all likelihood, Perera would have continued batting.

Should umpire Raza have sought the help of replays to make the decision? It’s a no win situation for him. When umpires seek assistance for front foot no balls, run outs and stumpings for decisions that seem obvious on slow motion replays, the observers of the game complain. Here, umpire Raza had chosen to back his initial instincts but has been shown up by slow motion replays to be wrong. From his vantage point, it must have appeared to be a clear cut decision that the batsman was well short of the crease, and so he had decided to back himself, and I tip my hat to him for that.

We – the fans and armchair experts – cannot have it both ways. We cannot and should not crucify an umpire who is willing to trust his senses to make a decision on the field, while at the same time mock and pillory them when they want the help of third umpire for what might be shown as an obvious decision. These umpires are amongst the best officiating the game of cricket and the sport – administration and the observers – should look to empower them more by having them make more decisions on the field. Of course, they are humans and will make mistakes but that’s part of the game. Remember, it is a game between two teams. The umpire has no horse in this race. He is an unbiased adjudicator.

At any rate, that decision did not really have a major bearing on the outcome of the game as it came towards the end of 19th over of the Sri Lankan innings. India coasted to their win by 5 wickets.

I leave you with another instance from history of a batsman being so out.

“Vic had made no attempt to scramble back. He knew the ball had beaten him and was prepared to pay the penalty, and although he had little chance of regaining his crease on this occasion I think he would have acted similarly if his back foot had been only an inch from safety. As he walked past me he smiled, patted the back of his bat and said, ‘It was too good for me.’”

That’s an extract – a beautiful one at that – from former Aussie spinner Arthur Mailey’s book “10 for 66 and All That” where he defeated the great Victor Trumper. On dismissing Trumper, Mailey said he “felt like a boy who had killed a dove”.

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