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India vs England: Wake-up call for the ICC - Hard Look at Umpire's 'Soft Signal' Need of the Hour

In the lucrative modern game, there is intense internecine competition within the umpiring fraternity too. Most aim to be seen as proactive, decisive. While this obviously has helped raise standards, in some circumstances, as in the Yadav dismissal, could end up diminishing the role of the umpire.

India vs England: Wake-up call for the ICC - Hard Look at Umpire's 'Soft Signal' Need of the Hour

The ICC needs to take a hard look at the `soft signal’ that on-field umpires now have at their command. In Thursday’s T20 match between India and England, Surya Kumar Yadav’s controversial dismissal showed this proviso has potential for not only making the game look irksome and ludicrous, but even serious and unsavoury consequences.

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Yadav, it will be recalled, was given out caught deep on the onside fence off Sam Curran by a diving Dawid Malan. He had made 57 runs with panache and purpose, and had led India’s recovery after big guns Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and K L Rahul had fallen cheaply.

It was a marvelous effort by Malan to even get to the ball. However, so low was the `catch’ that the on-field umpire asked for adjudication by the TV umpire. Which is how it should be, but he did this only after he had raised his index finger in a soft signal to the TV umpire that he believed the ball had been taken cleanly.

This opened up a Pandora’s Box, raising questions the merit of this signal once TV umpire Virender Sharma swung into action.

Replays of Malan’s catch were played out umpteen times. Players and umpires on the field, and the audience on TV, watched with bated breath as TV umpire Sharma asked for every conceivable angle to determine whether the catch was legitimate or not.

This went on for a considerable length of time. The fact that so many replays were needed reveals that it wasn’t a plain vanilla decision. Fair enough. Technology has been instrumental in adding a new dimension to sport, adding to the delight of the fans so such delays are worthwhile.

However, one particular camera angle seemed to strongly suggest that the ball may have grazed the ground, with Malan’s fingers not entirely below it. This raised doubts about the legitimacy of the catch. But after countless attempts, Sharma decided to go with the on-field umpire’s decision since he had no conclusive evidence that the ball had indeed touched the ground.

This raises many issues. One, in case of doubt about a dismissal, cricket convention is that the batsman gets the benefit. Here, such benefit was denied to the batsman, which violates the convention. In fact, the benefit accrued to the on-field umpire!

In effect, what the TV umpire said was he wasn’t convinced whether the batsman was dismissed, nor entirely convinced he wasn’t. However, since the on-field umpire had given the soft signal, he had no choice but to go with him. But what if the on-field umpire has blundered.

There is another aspect to consider too. The on-field umpire was 60-65 yards away from the fielder. It is improbable that even those with perfect 20-20 vision he would have been able to see whether some part of the ball had been grounded when Malan took the catch. Should the on-field umpire even venture into any decision making – hard or soft –in such situation?

Third, and no less pertinent than the earlier two, this episode highlights the onus on on-field umpires nowadays where they have to go for the `soft signal’ even when they might not be in any position to judge whether a dismissal was correct.

Interestingly, most umpires are in favour of the `soft signal’ proviso. It keeps them involved in decision-making and adds to the human element in the game. While technology has made the game fairer, more palatable to players, it has also resulted in huge pressure on umpires who don’t want to be shown as ill-prepared or inept.

In the lucrative modern game, there is intense internecine competition within the umpiring fraternity too. Most aim to be seen as proactive, decisive. While this obviously has helped raise standards, in some circumstances, as in the Yadav dismissal, could end up diminishing the role of the umpire.

A major problem is that TV replays are seen in 2D, not 3D, and therefore may not be entirely foolproof even for the TV umpire. But herein is the crux of the issue. If the margin of making an error gets so enlarged that it may boomerang, why should the field umpire carry the cross.

Why not, as Virat Kohli mentioned after the game, the on-field umpire says, “I really don’t know’’, and lets technology as interpreted by the TV umpire, play out the decision till better technology arrives. It makes so much more sense that the on-field umpires on certain decisions refrain from taking a call, rather than make a soft signal that throws the situation out of whack?

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I think we were saved a major blow-up on Thursday on the `soft signal’ matter because it caught most people unprepared for the consequences, and frankly because the result didn’t hurt India, the aggrieved party.

But it should serve as a wake-up call for the ICC. I dread to think something like this happening in the T20 World Cup, and particularly if a team ends up on the losing side!



Team Rankings

RankTeamPointsRating
1 New Zealand 3198 118
2 Australia 3028 116
3 India 3085 114
4 England 4326 106
5 South Africa 2499 96
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RankTeamPointsRating
1 England 5405 123
2 India 6102 117
3 New Zealand 3716 116
4 Australia 4344 111
5 South Africa 3345 108
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RankTeamPointsRating
1 England 6877 275
2 Australia 6800 272
3 India 10186 268
4 Pakistan 7516 259
5 South Africa 5047 252
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