Referral system in the spotlight after several contentious calls at Trent Bridge.
If ever confirmation was needed the umpire’s decision is no longer final, at least at international level, the first Test between England and Australia at Trent Bridge provided the proof.
An enthralling match, which England won by 14 runs, was beset by controversies over the use of the Decision Review System (DRS).
It ended when England challenged the original verdict of experienced umpire Aleem Dar to give Brad Haddin not out after an appeal for caught behind off man-of-the-match James Anderson.
But Hot Spot technology indicated Haddin had got a thin nick to opposing wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Ashes-holders England’s joy was unconfined, as was that of the bulk of a 17,000 capacity crowd when, after receiving word from South African third umpire Marais Erasmus, Pakistani official Dar crossed his arms to signal a change of decision and raised his finger to give Haddin out.
DRS was brought in by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to eliminate the ‘howler’ or spectacularly incorrect decision, although such is powerhouse India’s dislike of the set-up, it isn’t used in bilateral fixtures involving the Asian giants.
Yet on the third day of this match, England’s Stuart Broad got a thick edge off spinner Ashton Agar that went to Australia captain Michael Clarke at slip.
Australia claimed the catch but Dar gave Broad not out.
However, as Australia had used up both their two permitted reviews in the innings on incorrect challenges, the tourists couldn’t overturn Dar’s call.
Meanwhile the rules governing DRS meant Erasmus was powerless to intervene without a referral or a request for guidance from his on-field colleagues.
Broad, who had then made 37, went on to score 65 and share a key seventh-wicket second innings partnership of 138 with Ian Bell (109) that helped give England’s bowlers enough runs to defend on Sunday.
England undoubtedly exercised better judgement in using DRS than Australia and home captain Alastair Cook said knowing when to seek a review was now part of the game.
“I think it’s pretty fair as there is a bit of skill in using DRS and you have to have a little human element,” explained Cook.
“Tactically we have found that we have been quite poor with DRS in the past and in this game we’ve been a bit better.
“You have to be careful as a captain. Bowlers in the heat of battle think it is definitely out and you can waste them.
“It’s so important that decisions are right because they impact the game, and I think both sides feel that.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it because I’d much rather be sitting here with this result right now because of that last wicket than if we’re sitting here and lost and it had been given not out.
“That would be wrong for the game.”
Meanwhile Clarke denied the match had hinged on the Broad incident.
“I don’t think the Test was decided on one DRS call at all,” he said.
“At the end of the day this is what we’ve got for this series and I’m going to concentrate on getting my referrals better.”
This Test also highlighted how, with England and Australia between them providing eight members of the ICC’s 12-strong panel of elite umpires, that leaves only four men – Dar, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Dharmasena, also standing on the field at Trent Bridge, Erasmus and New Zealand’s Tony Hill – who are currently in line to officiate in Ashes clashes.
For most of Test cricket’s 136-year history the host country has provided both on-field umpires.
But perceptions of bias led the ICC to move to ‘neutral’ umpires, with the third umpire’s remit increasing in line with technology.
However, with England and Australia due to meet in nine more Tests between now and January, the ICC appear to have little room for manoeuvre should one or more of the available quartet of elite panel umpires suffer a loss of form.