Cricket took a turn down a new avenue today when England became the latest guinea pigs in the referral system. So now we have a situation in which in any given situation the umpire must give the batsman the benefit of the doubt and if a player requests that the decision be processed further upstairs, the third umpire must give the standing umpire the benefit of the doubt.
All of this is leaving me in a certain amount of doubt of the benefits of such a policy.
It hasn’t been seen yet in the Test in Jamaica because spinners have predominated, certainly while England were at the crease, but the time delay while the off-field arbiter makes up his mind to his greatest satisfaction is surely going to have a disastrous effect upon already miserly over-rates.
Not to mention the long-term effect it’s going to have on the elite umpires. Tony Hill was the man who came most intently under the microscope on the second day at Sabina Park, proving to have got two decisions wrong, one in the affirmative and one in the negative. It can surely be only a matter of time before some insensitive sports editor starts printing statistics of an individual umpire’s rights and wrongs; if the officials thought they had been under pressure up to now, the critical articles that so easily flow from the computers of the sport’s media will be backed up by uncomfortable facts in black and white.
Maybe we just have to wait for the whole situation to settle down. I only took up my position in front of the television shortly after lunch and in the course of the next hour and a half I had seen four referrals. Talk aboutextracting the excitement of immediacy from the game. Yet, once England had seen their appeal for Ramnaresh Sarwan’s lbw to Harmison overturned, they showed a marked reluctance to use up their remaining bonus ball, as it were, in the process perhaps pausing to think that some of their appeals were basically unnecessary.
If a reduction in appeals is the end product of all this uncertainty, that is something that will be to everyone’s benefit, players, officials and spectators alike.
ABOUT 75 minutes into England’s innings on Wednesday, Sulieman Benn was, perhaps unexpectedly, brought into the attack. On a Sabina Park square that only 11 years ago was causing the abandonment of a West Indies-England Test match on the first morning because of the dangerous and unpredictable bounce the West Indies bowlers were finding, he looped his first ball towards Kevin Pietersen and watched with delight as it pitched, bounced, spat and turned a foot past the batsman’s outside edge.
Four of the following five balls did something very similar, to the point that if the spirit of Shane Warne had been ripped from its owner while he went about his daily duties in Melbourne, secreted across a variety of international borders by a spinning craft that officially only exists in the annals of US government classified papers and then inserted by some dark alchemy into a lanky finger spinner from St James in Barbados, I could not have been more surprised.
Sometimes, the ball deviated from its path to the extent that Pietersen looked ridiculous even trying to make contact with it.
Chris Gayle certainly liked what he saw, and proceeded to fool the innocent Ian Bell into playing for dramatic turn and edging a straight one to first slip.
Alarming as it was, I’m sure I was not the only one who sat back with some satisfaction and looked forward 24 hours to the havoc that England’s alleged leading spinner would wreak on a supposedly brittle West Indies batting line-up.
The first ball from Monty was a flat, straightish one, which Sarwan pushed forward to, no hint of turn. Four of the following five balls were of similar substance. Hey, we thought, the Sikh of Tweak is playing with them. Any minute now, he’ll give one just a touch more air (only a touch, mind you, because Monty does not go to extremes) and it will rip mercilessly past Sarwan’s outside edge.
Hey presto, it did. But in 14 more overs, from either end, perhaps only a handful of deliveries did the same. It had you crying out for the variations of Pietersen and, belately, we got them. It wasn’t subtle as he threw two of his three balls so skyward that had he been a few degrees of latitude further north they would have come back down with snow on them, but contained in their delivery was a strong message for the Northamptonshire left-armer.
Give the bloody ball some air.
So, KP went for a couple of fours, but once he got the left-hander in Gayle down his end, he induced enough magic from the revolving ball to whistle past his edge and complete a maiden.
Of course, this is not the first time that Panesar’s lack of variety has been called into question and it was a depressing performance from a man not so long ago compared with the great Bishen Bedi, even though the Windies second-wicket pair batted with care and control.
But, World Religious Leaders on a Bike, this was dreadful.
Bizarrely by the end, Matt Prior was telling Nasser Hussain how well Monty had been bowling, suggesting he just needs a bit of luck. It had better come soon, or Monty won’t only not be the best left-arm spinner in England, he won’t be the best left-arm spinner in his family.