James Lawton: Bungled referrals can teach England the folly of excessive appeals

The high-pitched, unified scream for a dismissal has become a congenital disease

Test match cricket journeyed back into some of the best of its past here yesterday when Andrew Strauss made arguably the boldest decision of his brief career as captain of England, and sent South Africa in to bat on a first day of superior and quite frequently remarkable attrition.

Whatever the outcome of Strauss's initiative – and last night it was slipping into critical condition as Jacques Kallis reminded us of all his quality and nerve at the crease – it was also true the old game – and especially the English part of it – may have come to terms with a vital part of its future.

It was the one concerned with how it grows to understand and live with the controversial TV referral system. The idea is the eradication of some of the more glaring examples of human error by umpires forced to make potentially match-changing decisions in little more than fractions of seconds. So far, though, referral has been greeted from within much of cricket with such little enthusiasm it might be a new strain of bubonic plague.

However, it is the future, it is a rational response to inevitably flawed officiating and – we saw some signs of this here yesterday – it might just wipe out of cricket a disease which in recent years, even decades, has become just about congenital.

The most disagreeable symptom is the high-pitched, unified scream for a batsman's dismissal that is mostly about hopeful speculation and the certainty of unnerving all but the steeliest of umpires.

Here yesterday England learnt that it is a custom running into a dead end.

Strauss, having earlier sturdily resisted the temptation, twice submitted to the passionate belief of some of his players that the video evidence would send such large obstacles to the success of his gamble to bowl at the South Africans – Kallis and A B De Villiers – back to the pavilion.

Twice he went to the review – first when Kallis had edged a ball from Jimmy Anderson into his pads, one that was, anyway, plainly going wide, and then when wicketkeeper Matt Prior yelled that he had gathered up a De Villiers snick off Graeme Swann – and twice he lost. This meant that while England no longer had any means to contest the most outrageous of decisions through the rest of an innings so likely to shape the outcome of the match, the South Africans retained both their referral options.

This was because the South Africans won their argument, without the semblance of a doubt, when they protested at Australian umpire Steve Davis's positive response to the cry of Graham Onions that he had claimed the wicket of Ashwell Prince. The difficulty in all of this was the extreme likelihood that England were right to believe that De Villiers was indeed out – but wrong to demand a review.

The evidence simply wasn't categorical. The TV umpire would have been required to follow the example of his on-field colleague and, essentially, make a fine judgement unaided by film evidence carrying anything like certainty. This is not the function of the referral system. It is designed to rid cricket of the outrageous mistake, human but potentially devastating to the true course of a Test match. It is not intended to make fools of umpires but provide them with available safeguards.

In this, cricket is massively ahead of football, where authorities talk about addressing the possibilities of more human error with extra goal judges rather than introduce the TV technology which would have made Thierry Henry's recent handball in Paris impossible to conceal.

Cricket has also learnt from the trial in the West Indies earlier this year, when three appeals rather than the present two were allowed and Hawk-Eye technology was not made available. Another major problem, though, was the unrefined understanding among some players of the point of the experiment.

It wasn't to create new disputes, to prolong arguments that couldn't be proved, one way or the other, but to abolish for ever the kind of wretched lbw decisions which disfigured key Ashes Test matches last summer.

In this admirable endeavour what happened here may well prove a pivotal development, imparting as it did the clearest sense of what can be achieved with a little familiarity.

Quite what England can do after the superb rebuttal by Kallis of the suggestion that his incapacity as a bowler also meant that his batting would produce not much more than a glimmer, is another, much more troubling question.

Was Strauss right to put such faith in four front-line bowlers? Was his investment in boldness in sharp contradiction to the conservative selection of six batsmen?

It certainly carried a degree of surprise, with South African captain Graeme Smith insisting that if he had won the toss he certainly would have batted. Still, statistics were on Strauss's side. Ten winning captains have inserted the opposition here and not one of them lost. Certainly, the South African view was that Strauss had shown plenty of nerve – and a properly competitive thrust.

For some time he also seemed to be blessed with a winning instinct. Though neither Ashes hero Stuart Broad nor Anderson found the best of their form, Onions produced some impressively hostile bursts and Swann did well to survive a brief mauling from Kallis and bowl with some guile.

Kallis, though, grew quite relentlessly as the hot day wore on. Strauss had dismissed suggestions that after weeks of injury one of the world's great batsman would be seriously diminished. "The fact that he cannot bowl is irrelevant," said the England captain. "He is a tremendous batsman and competitor and we would be foolish to forget that."

That particular trick will, no doubt, have proved quite impossible in the hours leading up to this morning's resumption of battle. Strauss's gamble may not be lost quite yet but it has come under the severest pressure.

He has reminded that beyond any plan is the possibility that you will run into something that makes its own rules and its own odds. Such, we know once more, is the talent of Jacques Kallis.

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
news
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone