Most of us watching the Delhi Daredevils take on the Deccan Chargers at Hyderabad, described the proceedings to be nothing short of being terribly bizarre. I, for one, had never witnessed something so awfully awkward, at least till this one – Delhi Daredevils spinner Yogesh Nagar got a wicket, the on-field umpire checked with the third-umpire if Yogesh had overstepped and he was spot on. Yogesh had indeed overstepped the line and hence it wasn't a legal delivery. The batsman got a reprieve. Of course, there's nothing out of the ordinary about this. But the same sequence was repeated after just a couple of deliveries—another wicket, another referral and another reprieve. Obviously the on-field umpire got it right on both occasions with regards to his suspicion that Yogesh may have overstepped. But that, for me, opened a can of worms.
While it's always good to ask for assistance from the third-umpire to get an accurate decision, I'm a little wary about this particular incident. How come only and only the
balls the spinner claimed wickets on were sent upstairs for a referral? It seems too good a coincidence that all of the regular/harmless deliveries were deemed legal. What are the odds of the umpire, who isn't a 100% certain about bowler's front-foot twice in 4 deliveries, of getting it right all the time otherwise? Wouldn't you suspect that he may have missed a few no-balls along the way? And it isn't the first time that an on-field umpire had asked for such help. I'm yet to see such a referral on a delivery which didn't yield a wicket. Some may argue that the reason of not referring harmless balls is to avoid unnecessary delays. But aren't strategic time-outs and UDRS referrals already doing the same? And is it fair to ignore obvious errors to ensure that the game remains fast paced?
While all possible efforts have been made to eradicate obvious errors in the game, this one aspect of umpiring seems to have slipped quietly under the radar. We have seen that the UDRS, if used judiciously, has indeed taken care of most of the howlers and if the ICC is to be believed, and there's no reason to not believe them, the accuracy has been over 99%. Whenever a decision is referred to the third-umpire, the first thing he checks is if the ball was a legal delivery i.e. if the bowler has overstepped or not. Now, that does eliminate the obvious error but that is only if the decision is a dubious one, for a batsman is not going to make a T sign unless he thinks that he isn't out. And there's no way for the batsman to know that the bowler may have overstepped when he has indeed nicked it to the wicket-keeper.
While to-use or not-use the UDRS seems to be a never ending debate, one still requires a state of the art technology to make the optimum use of the facility. To make the UDRS more accurate, one would need the Hotspot and snicko-meter everywhere, which we are told, is not possible for all the games. But what can be done to make the job of the on-field umpire easier is to take the responsibility of adjudging the no-ball for overstepping away from him. How about trusting technology to judge every single delivery for overstepping and informing the players if the ball isn't legal? Right now the umpire must look down at the bowler's foot to see if he's overstepping and then the very next moment, must look up and focus on the ball. Umpires have done that since cricket's inception, you may point out. Yes, but why not depend on technology now that it is available to ensure that decisions are foolproof. The game is evolving and so should we.
In my opinion, asking the umpire to look down one moment and up the next isn't helping him make more accurate decisions. He'd be better off looking at the business end of the pitch, 22 feet away where the batsman is standing. Some may argue about the slight delay in declaring it an illegal delivery, and consequently batsman being deprived of making full use of the bowler's folly, but as a batsman I can tell you that only one in a thousand times would you hear the call before the ball is bowled and think of changing the stroke. In any case, the dice is heavily loaded in batsman's favour, so why cry over a missed opportunity when the no-ball is always followed by a free-hit.