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Cricket: Striking right balance between umpire and the third man

ONE significant development in international cricket in the 1990s has been the arrival of the third umpire. No one-day or Test series can any longer escape the attentions of television cameras and it became manifestly stupid that umpiring decisions which could be seen to be blatantly wrong should be allowed to stand.

This state of affairs cropped up yet again in the seventh over of the first day of international cricket this summer. Nick Knight on drove Shaun Pollock to the left of Allan Donald at mid on. A fine sprawling stop by Donald caught Knight unawares and when Pollock took off the bails it was desperately close.

The umpire Chris Balderstone was never in any doubt and said that Knight was not out. The replay showed that Pollock had knocked off a bail with his knee before the ball got to him.

Balderstone saw it all clearly and gave the correct decision, but there were still those who thought he should have called for the third umpire.

Of course, umpires have refused to call for the third umpire and it has then been shown that they have made the wrong decision. But if, as in Balderstone's case, he saw the whole process clearly and then gave the correct decision, it is absurd to demand a replay. If you do, you are saying you have no trust whatever in the umpire and the logical extension of that could lead to computer-run chaos.

The laws of cricket allow for error. They say that if there is any doubt and the umpire cannot make up his mind, he must give the benefit of the doubt to the batsman. The game has always lived with this, just as it has with the odd seven-ball over. Mechanical and photographic evidence should be allowed to help, but never to rule the game. I must congratulate Balderstone to have the confidence to do it on his own.

At first, television replays were used only to decide run-outs and stumpings. Gradually, the use of cameras was increased. The umpires now call for assistance when a fielder may have overstepped the boundary in saving a four and to decide whether or not a catch has carried to a fielder.

It seems logical for the cameras to have the last word in a decision where they can indisputably come up with the right answer. It is hard to imagine that this could ever be so with lbw decisions, catches off bat and pad and catches behind the wicket. One hopes they are always left to the umpires on the field. The role of the third umpire has rightly encroached on the game as it was, but his job needs to be more carefully defined.