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
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
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
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
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)
The controversy on claims of authorship
The Umpire Review Decision System (UDRS) which is now applicable in
Test Cricket came into operation on October 1, 2009 after a long
gestation period. It has radically altered the adjudication process as
it allows for the first time in cricket history a player to appeal
against the decision of on-field umpire in respect to the dismissal of a
batsman, to the third umpire. The on-field umpire's decision is no
longer treated as sacrosanct. This rule has been put into effect to
reduce the number of mistakes of on-field umpires and thereby enhance
the degree of accuracy of cricket's adjudication process.
The new UDRS has also generated controversy and it has a Sri Lankan
dimension particularly in respect to its authorship. Senaka Weeraratna,
Attorney-at-Law, claims authorship of this rule and contends that the
basic ingredients of his proposal have been adopted by the ICC without
due acknowledgement to him and thereby denying credit to both Weeraratna
and Sri Lanka.
The 'Daily News' published an article relating to this controversy on
October 1, 2009 (the day of entry of this new rule) under the caption 'Recognise
authorship of the Umpire Referral Rule - Weeraratna appeals to SLC to
intercede with ICC' by a Special Correspondent. In response to numerous
requests from our readers for more details of Weeraratna's proposal,
following the publication of the aforesaid article, the 'Daily News' is
pleased to reproduce (on right) an article by Senaka Weeraratna on this
subject, which was first published in 1999. Extracts of this article
were published in the 'Weekend Australian' on February 20, 1999.
Thereafter the article was carried in full in several Sri Lankan
newspapers, around that time.
To enable our readers to form an informed view and agitate for fair
play and justice on the part of the cricket authorities, particularly
the ICC, if convinced, we have decided to publish elements of the new
rule, i.e., circumstances in which a review may be requested. They are
1. A player may request a review of any decision taken by the
on-field umpires concerning whether or not a batsman is dismissed.
2. Only the batsman involved in a decision may request a review of an
'out' decision and only the Captain (or acting Captain) of the fielding
team may request a review of a 'Not Out' decision.
3. A decision concerning whether or not a batsman is dismissed that
could have been referred by the on field umpire to the Third Umpire is
eligible for review as soon as it is clear that the on-field umpire has
chosen not to make the referral.
4. Each team is allowed to make two unsuccessful review requests per
innings. If a review results in the on-field umpire reversing his
original decision then the request has been successful and does not
count towards the innings limit. If the umpire's decision is unchanged,
the review is unsuccessful. After two unsuccessful requests by one team,
no further review requests will be allowed for that team in the current