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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)


The controversy on claims of authorship



Senaka Weeraratna

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 as follows:

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 innings.

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