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“In this age of neutral umpires and technology, if the poor decisions crop up time and again, then their credibility comes under scrutiny, which is not good for the game”

In 1988, Imran Khan’s Pakistan was well set to bring an end to mighty West Indies’ more-than-a-decade-long dominance in Test cricket. Imran’s men started off the Test series as underdogs and quite astonishingly, they took a lead in the series and maintained that lead until the fourth day of the final Test. But on the final day, some poor umpiring denied Imran of creating history. West Indies went on to level the series despite reeling at 207 for 8, while chasing 262 runs in fouth innings.

Abdul Qadir said to ESPNcricinfo, “After Wasim had got rid of Ambrose and Richards, I had Marshall plumb lbw on the back foot to a flipper, but the umpire turned down the appeal”.  Qadir further added, “I thought Pakistan were a bit unlucky not to have got the benefit of that Dujon bat-and-pad catch. I thought that towards the end of the match, the umpire was no-balling me unnecessarily, allowing Benjamin to go for big shots”.

Javed Miandad in his autobiography wrote, “We would have wrapped up the game, but a couple of crucial umpiring decisions robbed us of victory. We would have been successful if it was not for the poor umpiring that spoilt our chances in the end”.

Imran was crestfallen after that defeat at Barbados, which he thought, Pakistan were robbed of a victory. At Lahore, almost six months ago, in that eventful semi-final clash against Australia during World Cup 1987, another dubious decision against Imran by the renowned Dickie Bird, disturbed a famous come back from Pakistan. Australia would not only stun the local crowd, but would stun the world by lifting the trophy for the first time and start the beginning of a new era in Australian cricket.

Fast forward to 1999 at Hobart, where Steve Waugh’s men were finding the going tough against Wasim Akram’s Pakistan. Australia were five down and at the crease, Justin Langer – a struggling customer and one-Test old Adam Gilchrist were facing the heat of the best attack in the world to chase down 369 – quite an impossible task from 126 for 5.

Read also: Christchurch and Centurion offer great joy, but MCG frustrates

Shortly after Pakistan had taken the new ball on Day 5, Justin Langer, on 76, appeared clearly to have snicked one to wicketkeeper Moin Khan off Wasim Akram but ‘home’ umpire Parker ruled that not out. Australia’s total then was 5 for 237. Wasim lost his temper and so the Pakistani players on the field lost their motivation. That wicket could have changed everything, but in turn, it helped Australia to script a world record 16-Test-victory on a trot. Whereas, Pakistan returned home demoralized, with Akram losing his captaincy once and for all.

There are many such crucial decisions in the history of Test cricket, which led to hamper the rhythm of a team and deny them from a victory. Above all, they simply dented the morale of the game and thus, killed the joy of watching a Test match.

Since Imran became the captain of Pakistan, he had been vocal about neutral umpires and the use of technology in cricket. It took a while for ICC to realise the importance of Imran’s words and at present, cricket witnesses neutral umpires in Test matches and utilization of modern technology at its best. Even though neutral umpires and technology have benefited teams to a great extent, but in the critical junctures of Test matches, the ghost of Barbados or Hobart tends to revisit.

That ghost revisited at Centurion on Day 3 of first Test between Pakistan and South Africa. South Africa needed 149 runs to win on a deck, which was a pretty tough one to counter. Yes, for a team like South Africa, chasing 149 would not be a big deal, but on such a spicy deck and against the mercurial bowling attack of Pakistan, it was expected to be a tricky chase. And in the morning session, the Pakistani pacers struck gold pretty early and the home team could have been two down pretty soon had the television umpire not disappointed.

In the fifth ball of ninth over of the day, Dean Elgar edged one towards slip, where Azhar Ali took a low catch. The on-field umpire wanted to be fully assured about the catch and went upstairs. But before going upstairs, the on-field umpire’s soft signal was out.

Now, an umpire gives a soft signal about what he is thinking and that becomes a very important part in decision-making. If the umpire’s soft signal is out, the first primitive decision is out. If the 3rd umpire doesn’t find conclusive evidence of ball hitting the ground or not, the benefit of doubt is given the umpire’s decision and is termed out. The same applies when a decision is referred. The ratio is 60:40 for umpires call. If the ball hits the leg, off or top of stumps, the ratio of contact and umpires decision comes into play.

Azhar Ali’s catch was low and even the video evidence showed, the ball touched Ali’s fingers and not the ground. But to the utter astonishment of on-field umpire, television commentators and Pakistani players, the television umpire – Joel Wilson – turned down the decision. Elgar was saved and Pakistan lost their morale.

A century partnership was scripted between Elgar and Hashim Amla and when it was breached, South Africa lost two more wickets quickly, but it was too late for Pakistan to strike back. South Africa have taken a lead.

0 for 1

119 for 2

136 for 2

137 for 4

Just imagine the situation if Elgar was dismissed. South Africa would have been 16 for 2 as Pakistan could have spiced things up and made the Test a lot more interesting. But a bad decision simply killed all the thrills of a contest, which offered so much.

Maybe, the talk would more about Pakistan’s poor batting display, Imam-ul-Haq and his uncle and Sarfraz Ahmed’s credibility as the captain, but somewhere, I feel, Pakistan still could have pulled off something special if that decision did not go against them.

Elgar was out and that’s what I feel and even the great Graeme Smith felt the same.

In this age of neutral umpires and technology, if the poor decisions crop up time and again, then their credibility comes under scrutiny, which is not good for the game.

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