The Indian team found itself at the receiving end in the recently concluded Boxing Day Test with Australia as regards the 'umpire's call' for leg-before-wicket decisions.
In all the instances, the on-field umpire had ruled the batsmen not out and the DRS technology had failed to overrule the decision, although the ball was clipping the stumps, as 'not enough of the ball' was hitting the stumps.
According to the current rules, if a 'not out' decision is given by the on-field umpire, to overrule it, the DRS (Decision Review System) must show more than 50 per cent of the ball hitting the wicket. And if the umpire raises his finger, to overrule it, the DRS must show that no part of the ball hit the wicket. Hence the initial decision made by the on-field umpire assumes significant importance.
The umpire's call has riled many cricketing greats of yore. Sachin Tendulkar, for one, feels that if the ball is clipping the bail and the umpire has given not out, that decision should be overturned. ''The umpire's call is too confusing and is unfair to bowlers also," he says.
Shane Warne is also of the opinion that "if the ball hits the stumps, it cannot be out and not out at the same time". Sunil Gavaskar too agrees but also mentions that "if everything clipping the stumps is given out for an lbw decision then matches would become very short".
The ball-tracking technology (Hawk-Eye) in DRS for leg-before decisions has a margin of error. It is the post-impact trajectory of the ball which the technology projects that is questionable. This again depends on the speed of the ball and the amount of spin on the ball. Ground conditions too would impact the trajectory. Hence, if a batsman were to be given out, if say, five per cent of the ball were to hit the stumps, then it would not be fair. That is the reason the umpire's call was introduced in the first place.
Agreed that limited overs cricket, especially T20s, favours the batsman more, rather than Test cricket. The reasons being the overs limit imposed on an individual bowler, the field restrictions and the white ball which does not swing much. But Test cricket is an even contest between the bat and the ball. None of the former restrictions hold true. And the red and the pink cricket balls in Test cricket offer significant assistance to the bowlers. Test cricket is also spread out over five days, which gives the bowlers plenty of time to get the batsmen out.
Even though the umpire's call offers a slight advantage to the batsman, the bowler has other arms in his arsenal to dismiss a batsman. A good bowler will always find ways to get a batsman out. And it’s not as though the bowler were completely being denied a chance of getting a batsman out leg before wicket. It just takes one good ball for a bowler to dismiss a batsman. The batsman, on the other hand, has to play innumerable good shots and display great powers of concentration in order to score a big innings.
If everything that clips the stumps is given out, then matches will be much shorter. A Test match would be over in three days, unless that is the aim. There will be few half-centuries and even fewer centuries. Then the balance would have shifted too much in the bowlers' favour.
This writer would advocate the use of the umpire's call, especially in Test cricket.
(The writer is a former R&D scientist and a music, sports and travel enthusiast)