The India-England Test series is just a couple of weeks away, and the team announcements have begun. The Indian team under Virat Kohli are expected to win this series, considering that the English Test team struggled against the Kiwis recently.
The practice of using video replays to check for a possible no ball after a batsman has been dismissed has become a blight on Test cricket.
If it hasn’t done so already, the use of video replays to check this aspect of dismissals will soon lead to more muted celebrations among both fielders and spectators.
Most cricket spectators would cite the atmosphere inside a stadium as one of the major reasons for returning year after year to watch cricket. Those people who saw the following moments live at the ground will undoubtedly still recall the crowd’s immediate reaction:
– MCG Boxing Day Test of 1981, Australia versus West Indies: Dennis Lillee bowls Viv Richards on the final ball of the day’s play to leave the mighty West Indies at 4 for 10.
– MCG Boxing Day Test of 1982, Australia versus England: With Australia only needing three runs to win the match and The Ashes, Jeff Thomson is caught in the slips by Geoff Miller to hand victory to England.
– SCG Test of January 2009, Australia versus South Africa: In the final session of the fifth day, South Africa has held on gamely to try and force a draw. However, with less than a dozen balls remaining to be bowled, Mitch Johnson wins the match for Australia by bowling Graeme Smith with an almost unplayable delivery.
For each of the above moments, the reaction of both players and spectators was spontaneous and unqualified – either elation or despair. Obviously some of the impact would have been lost if all eyes at the ground had first turned to the umpire to see if he was going to ask for video assistance to determine where the bowler’s front foot had landed.
Unfortunately, the current regulations will detract from some of the big moments in future matches.
As more and more batsmen are reprieved by umpires second-guessing themselves on no ball decisions, players and spectators will learn to temper their reactions to dismissals. After all, nobody will want to look like a fool by prematurely celebrating a dismissal.
This is not what cricket needs if it is to attract and retain spectators. The umpire’s original decision (that the delivery was legitimate) should not be reviewed, thereby maximising the immediate reaction to a dismissal.
I disagree with the argument that cricket is duty bound to use the available technology to police the no ball law.
Instead, I argue that there are some laws in all ball sports that do not need to be scrutinised as closely as other laws. In other words, there are laws where occasional minor transgressions make no difference to the fabric of the game. The following list provides examples of such laws from a variety of sports:
Soccer: The winger crosses the ball towards the goal, but had the ball rolled a few centimetres over the sideline before it was crossed?
Australian Rules: Did the player in possession run a step beyond 15 metres before bouncing the ball?
Cricket: Did one of the outfielders move a few steps to his left or right as the bowler was running in to bowl the ball?
One-Day Cricket: When the ball was bowled, was the foot of one of the infielders slightly outside of the fielding restriction circle?
Rugby Union: Was a long backline pass directed forward by a matter of one or two degrees?
Netball: Did the player in possession touch the court slightly outside of the permitted zone for that player?
The scenarios listed above require match officials to make an immediate decision according to the laws of the relevant game. They do this to the best of their ability, and the game is allowed to continue.
Although errors are bound to occur occasionally, the overall integrity of the games is maintained because players know that the laws are being policed.
Consequently, the use of video replays to assist match officials with these decisions would make no discernible difference to the players’ actions. Instead, video replays would only serve to interrupt the flow of the games and reduce the atmosphere generated by a crowd of excited spectators.
Returning to cricket and the no-ball law, the event of interest to all spectators is how the batsman deals with a delivery, not where the bowler’s front foot lands. The positioning of the bowler’s foot is a only a precursor to the main event, and therefore occasional umpiring errors are unimportant when compared to, say, errors made on caught-behind or stumping decisions.
It should be noted that, at the point of delivery, the bowler is about 17 metres away from the batsman. As such, the batsman cannot blame his dismissal on the bowler overstepping the line by a few centimetres (even eight centimetres over a distance of 17 metres equates to less than half of one per cent).
Should the practice of using video replays to check no-ball decisions be scrapped, cricket regulators will inevitably receive criticism when future replays of dismissals show the bowler overstepping the line.
The best way to counter such criticism is to state up front that it is unnecessary to police every law of the game with the same vigour. Therefore, in the interests of the game as a spectacle, the original decision will be allowed to stand.
I am certain that this rationale will be accepted by the vast majority of cricket players and fans.