The third umpire referral system is on trial during the West Indies v England Test series and there can only be one verdict: guilty. It simply cannot be used in the long-term in its current format. Daryl Harper has seen to that.
The system has flaws and leaves room for confusion. Ignoring the fact that it contradicts the moral code of players not challenging the authority of umpires, the system is badly constructed.
Third umpires need irrefutable evidence that the original on-field judgement was incorrect, not an element of doubt that umpire Harper cited when he gave Ramnaresh Sarwan a reprieve at Sabina Park.
This is fine in theory, but the man behind the monitor does not have the tools available to him to make such a decision. Sarwan therefore should have therefore been given out, as per Tony Hill’s original call, just as umpire Harper was right to uphold the dismissals of Devon Smith and Ryan Hinds at Barbados.
However, it is revealing that surely neither Smith nor Hinds would have been given out if they were originally given not out – there was not enough evidence to prove that Graeme Swann’s deliveries would have hit the stumps, that is until Hawkeye confirmed as much by using the predictive element that the ICC has not sanctioned for use in the referral system.
It is not these borderline decisions that TV evidence seeks to police. It is the blatant ones, the missed inside edges and instances where the ball pitches outside leg stump for LBW appeals, the flick of the pad rather than glove for caught behinds. We have not seen many of those in this series, suggesting the problem of bad on-field umpiring is not as bad as many think.
The system is only as good as the people who use it and the final nail in the trial system’s coffin came not when umpire Harper failed to reprieve Shivnarine Chanderpaul when he was hit on the pad by one going over the top, but soon after when he gave Brendan Nash out.
It is worth remembering that Nash had originally been given not out by Aleem Dar. England referred it, as it certainly did look close, and perversely Harper saw enough reason to overturn the decision. In other words, he was 100% sure the ball would have hit the stumps. Hawkeye went on to prove otherwise.
We really do have a problem when the use of technology results in the reversing of a decision that was correct in the first place.
Umpires make mistakes due to human error; Daryl Harper has proved that that factor is not taken away by the extra time TV referrals allow for. If the ICC find umpiring mistakes so unpalatable, they must tighten the third umpire system by making sure its adjudicators know if they are making decisions based on doubt or irrefutable evidence and that they have all available technology to hand.
Written by Philip Oliver, an online sports writer who blogs about Test match cricket.