Sunday, July 25, 2010

Of Disputed Catches and Technology

Pakistan secured its first test-match victory in fifteen years against Australia by crawling home on the fourth day at Headingly. Beginning the day, needing 40 runs with seven wickets in hand, it converted a routine chase into an agonising one that required tail-ender Umar Gul to hit the winning runs – caused by a combination of poor shot-making by the batsmen, good catching by the Australian fielders, and fine bowling, perhaps for the first time in the series, by Australia’s front-line seamers.

A narrow victory however, could have well turned into defeat had Kamral Akmal been given out with five runs still required, when an attempt at gully by Michael Hussey was adjudged to have been grassed, by the third umpire. Referring catches to the third umpire, I believe, has been one of the greatest malaises of technology; catches held low to the ground never look conclusive on television and invariably the benefit of doubt goes to the batsman. In this instance, Hussey looked to have had his palms underneath the ball, yet as T.V. replays indicated a hint of doubt, Akmal was pronounced not-out.

Unquestionably, technology has been excellent for cricket – its seminal role in adjudicating run-outs, has been path-breaking to say the least. And it may well have a greater role to play in the future in helping settle a variety of contentious calls. With the increasing prominence of hawk-eye and hot-spot, the Umpire Decision Review System, currently being used with the consent of the competing teams, could soon become a norm.

However, it is important that the I.C.C., delineates clearly where and when technology ought to be used. The aspect of referring catches to the third umpire has been a prickly issue ever since the Indian tour of Australia in 2007-08 (more renowned for the spat between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds) – when in spite of a supposed agreement between the captains, Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble, to go by the word of the fielder, the Indian batsmen stood their ground to dispute such catches. Whether the Australians were claiming catches that were in reality grounded was made harder to tell by T.V. replays which made them look even more dubious. As past cricketers will endorse, often catches when the fielder would have had his palms definitely underneath the ball are made to look suspicious by slow-motion replays.

In 2006, following an incident in Antigua – when M.S. Dhoni, ultimately walked off for a catch claimed at the boundary by Darren Ganga after replays were inconclusive as to whether Ganga had made contact with the boundary rope – the I.C.C. clarified that the benefit of doubt in such instances must go to the fielder. Yet, the aspect concerning to whom the benefit must be accorded when doubts arise as regards the grounding of a catch remains unclear. It is imperative that the ICC clarifies this matter, with immediate effect, by declaring that the benefit of doubt, with respect to catches disputed on the grounds of it having been grassed, be titled in favour of the fielder. Additionally, greater freedom must also be afforded to the on-field umpires who are often in a better position to judge the grounding of a catch, for technology rarely seems to provide a definitive answer.

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