The umpire's decision is no longer final

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The Independent Online

reports from Cape Town

One thing became clear at Newlands yesterday: the umpire's decision is not final. Hansie Cronje, the South Africa captain, was fined half his match fee of 6,000 rand (pounds 1,065) after a noisy controversy surrounding the was-he, wasn't-he dismissal of Graham Thorpe.

Thorpe was given not out twice by umpire David Orchard, but in response to protests by Cronje and his team, not to mention a jeering crowd, the decision was finally referred to the television adjudicator.

Thorpe had slipped Adams fine down the leg side, was called for a sharp single, and Andrew Hudson promptly threw down the stumps at the bowler's end. It was a brilliant piece of fielding, the excellence of which was eclipsed by what followed. Orchard - who had already been responsible for one very subtle decision when he deemed Robin Smith to have nicked a ball that seemed to brush his knee (if anything) - gave Thorpe not out.

The 5,000 English supporters who had brought their banners to Cape Town breathed an audible gasp of relief. But then the noise changed. Up in the corporate boxes, the replay was showing that Thorpe was clearly out. The roar spread to the sunburnt groundlings in the open stands, and soon it was evident to everyone that justice had not been done.

Adams was back at his mark ready to bowl again, but the other fielders formed a gaggle in the outfield. Cronje approached Orchard, who shook his head, gave Thorpe not out again and took up his position behind the stumps. Then he changed his mind and spoke to Thorpe. Cronje joined in (suggestions that there was an altercation were firmly denied), and finally Orchard trailed over to talk with the umpire at square leg.

It was immediately obvious that Cronje had broken the rules and would have to be penalised. The International Cricket Council regulation governing third umpires says that players may not appeal to the umpire to use the replay system. Cronje broke this commandment, but in so doing he exposed how poorly it is framed.

If players are not allowed to appeal, then one would not expect their appeal to prevail. The same regulation urges the umpire to "take a common- sense approach". Orchard was in flagrant breach of this, both in failing to call for the replay at once, and then failing again when it was clear from the crowd that a mistake had been made.

Afterwards the match referee, Clive Lloyd, was at pains to defend Orchard. "He went to square leg to inquire if it was possible to ask for the technology. He thought he might have made a mistake and it might be too late to rescind it. But the umpires do have a right to ask for a replay in that situation."

But Lloyd was in no doubt about Cronje's guilt. "Hansie went to Orchard and asked him what the situation was. He's not allowed to do that. It was dissent and I had no option but to fine him."

Bob Woolmer, South Africa's coach, suggested that television be used routinely. "I think the ICC should look at the rule," he said. "Whenever run-outs and stumpings are close, then they should go to the third umpire immediately. Immediately."

Ray Illingworth, not surprisingly, expressed some dismay at the idea that the fielding side, and the crowd, could persuade an umpire to change his mind. "The right decision was made," he said. "But I wasn't too happy with the way it was made. Seeing that the umpire had said not out twice, I think they should have gone ahead and bowled the next ball."

The only reason Orchard could have refrained from calling for the replay in the first place is that he was quite sure that Thorpe was not out. The third umpire is the one with the beadiest eye - it is only a matter of time before it is made the boss. This was the first time that people power has transformed a crucial decision in a Test match, but it might not be the last. Soon, umpires might no longer referee; they will simply refer.