New Umpire Referral Rule in cricket : The umpire’s immunity limits

Appeal rights and accurate adjudication in cricket:


The regular recurrence of umpiring errors that were vividly shown on video replays during the 1998 -1999 cricket season in Australia was a frustrating experience for both the participants and the followers of the game. This frustration is compounded when the adjudication errors are seen to distort the natural outcome of the contest. In that drama filled one-day match between England and Sri Lanka in Adelaide (1999), Arjuna Ranatunga’s verbal duel with Umpire Ross Emerson overshadowed two significant umpiring mistakes that enabled the reprieved two batsmen to score centuries.

The first error was the rejection of an appeal by Umpire Tony McQuillan against the English batsman Graeme Hick who was seen on video replay to be caught behind the wicket by keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana off the bowling of Mahela Jayawardena. Hick, who was on 11 runs, used the reprieve to add another 115 runs to his personal score. He remained unbeaten on 126.

The second error was when Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardena was found short of his ground with his score on 33 runs. The field Umpire Ross Emerson failed to refer the English appeal to the Third Umpire for video arbitration. Jayawardena added a further 87 runs to his score before being dismissed for 120 runs. He was named the player of the match.

These incidents raise significant questions. Why do cricket rules allow wrong umpiring decisions to stand? Why have fuller use not been made of video replays that can correct the umpiring errors? The answers to these questions lie in the outmoded approach to adjudication in cricket.

The prevailing rules require a heavy reliance to be placed in the good faith of the umpires so much so that even when an umpire is wrong his decision has to be treated as right.

The rule that the umpire’s decision is final has become so entrenched as a dominant paradigm in the philosophy of cricket that any attempt to modify this rule with a view to achieving fairness and accuracy in umpiring decisions, is viewed as heresy. Yet, the considerations of fairness that are paramount to the integrity of a sport, require such an approach to be adopted.

There are historically justifiable reasons for the rule that the umpire’s decision is final. In the past there was no effective mechanism or technology to examine an umpire’s decision. The availability of modern technology today for review of a decision makes the unqualified adherence to the traditional principle morally unsustainable. To treat a wrong as a right without attempting to use the available resources to correct the wrong, is an unjust proposition. But this is exactly what the current adjudicating rules of cricket deliver.

The extraordinary immunity that the rules of cricket have conferred on the umpires is at variance with natural justice rules that underpin many democratic institutions. The right to challenge and have a decision reviewed is a basic rule in a democratic society. Even the judges in courts of law do not have absolute immunity.

Dissatisfied litigants have the right to appeal against the decision of a judge to a higher court or a full bench. The appellate procedure in the legal system is a mechanism that enables a judicial decision to be reviewed and corrected, if it is unsustainable. This appellate method serves as a good precedent for the transplanting of the concept of review to cricket through a paradigm shift in approach to adjudication.

Right of appeal against decisions of field umpires

Dissatisfied players should have the right of appeal against the decision of a field umpire to the Third Umpire. The Third Umpire’s powers should be extended to enable him to perform an appellate role like an Appeal Court Judge, in respect of doubtful catches in front of and behind the wicket including catches by the wicketkeeper, run outs and stumpings ( when appeals for these dismissals are not referred to the Third Umpire by a field umpire). This proposed two-tier appeal process incorporates the principle of correction that is lacking in the existing system of video arbitration, which is used purely as an aid by the field umpire.

Any objection that a two-tier appeal process would unduly protract or destabilise the game can be met by limiting the number of appeals against the field umpires’ decisions to five per side per each innings. Such a restriction would contain a possible excessive number of appeals by forcing the players to use this right of appeal sparingly. Nevertheless this would give an aggrieved side a chance to have some of the significant field umpiring errors corrected by the Third Umpire, e.g., such as the decisions that allowed Hick and Jayawardena to remain at the crease.

It must be acknowledged that the creation of the office of the Third Umpire has not necessarily resulted in the total elimination of umpiring errors.

While admitting that umpiring errors are also made by the system of video arbitration, it is nevertheless a superior system of adjudication because far fewer umpiring mistakes are made now than in the past.

The uncertainties of cricket have always added to the excitement and attraction of this sport. But where adjudication is concerned, nothing but certainty in the accuracy of umpiring decisions would win player and public confidence in the integrity of the game.

(This article was written soon after the conclusion of the controversial one day cricket match between Sri Lanka and England played in Adelaide, Australia in early 1999)

Courtesy : Daily News


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