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Cricket and Law

A Sri Lankan lawyer is on the threshold of gaining world prominence if the International Cricket Council (ICC) allows a revolutionary move for each team to appeal against three decisions per innings in an international match.

The ICC is presently contemplating taking such a move which is expected to come up for discussion at the next full meeting of the ICC's cricket committee, made up of former Test players, next May or June.

If successful, captains would be able to challenge contentious bat-pad decisions and catches behind the wicket. These would then be referred to the third umpire who would adjudicate after watching a television replay.

Cameras are already used in cricket to help decide run outs, stumpings and catches close to the ground but, with these decisions, it is the umpire who chooses to ask for technological help.

Now the plan is for the players to ask for three debatable decisions per innings to be considered. That quota would be reduced by one each time they appealed wrongly. But if the appeal was upheld the quota of three would be unchanged.

This radical move comes in the wake of the ICC's concern on the number of decisions on crucial close calls that have been later proved to be incorrect.

Although London's 'Evening Standard' has stated this proposal was first mooted two years ago by England coach Duncan Fletcher, such a move was in fact put forward and published in international newspapers and magazines by an eminent lawyer from Sri Lanka Senaka K. Weeraratna, to whom the credit should be given if this move is accepted and put into practice by the ICC.

Weeraratna was moved to suggest a method of minimizing after watching the infamous one-day international between Sri Lanka and England at Adelaide in 1999 where in the midst of the controversial no-balling of Sri Lanka off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan by Australian umpire Ross Emerson, two century makers in the match England's Graeme Hick and Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene were given reprieves when the umpires failed to make use of the third umpire facility.

Weeraratna's letter to the 'Weekend Australian' published on February 20, 1999 under the heading: 'A spectator's appeal: reform cricket umpiring' stated: "These incidents raise significant questions. Why do cricket rules allow wrong umpiring decisions to stand? Why has full use not been made of video replays that can correct errors?

"The answer to these questions lies in the outmoded approach to adjudication in cricket. The rule that the umpire's decision is final has become so entrenched in the philosophy of cricket that any attempt to modify it is viewed as heresy.

"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 behind or in front of the wicket, run outs and stumpings that are not referred to the third umpire by a field umpire."

Weeraratna also had his point of view published in other prestigious publications as the 'Time' magazine, The Northern Territory News, the Daily News and the Sunday Island.

The only difference Weeraratna points out between his proposal and the proposal before the ICC is that he has limited the number of appeals to five per innings while the ICC limits it to three per innings.

"I used the analogy of the appeal system in Courts of Law to reduce umpiring errors by allowing a dissatisfied side the right of appeal against a field umpire's decision to the third umpire," said Weeraratna.

Ever since his school days at Royal College (he played for the school second XI), Weeraratna had an academic interest in cricket and has followed the game closely. He lived in Australia for 20 years since 1975 and is a qualified lawyer from the Sri Lanka Law Faculty and the Monash University. He was also a barrister and solicitor in Victoria and Northern Territories.

"I have sent my proposals to the Cricket Boards of several countries including the ICC in 1999, but nobody even bothered to acknowledge receipt of it," lamented Weeraratna. "I am pleased that the ICC is now giving serious consideration to a concept which I conceived in 1999 to reduce umpiring errors."

Should this proposal be accepted by the ICC and implemented as a new rule, credit should go to Sri Lanka. To ensure that Sri Lanka is not denied such an honour Sri Lanka Cricket must make strong representations at the next ICC meeting and make it known to the cricket world at large from where the proposal originated lest someone should step in to claim undue praise for it.

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