Change appeals to top umpire

A look at the new umpire review system that will debut at the India-Sri Lanka Test series and umpire David Shepherd's views on it.

The England bowler Andrew Flintoff appeals to umpires for a wicket in the second Test match against South Africa at Headingley.
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The world of cricket is set to witness another chapter which could have serious implications, changing the nature of the game and the way it is played. The Test series between India and Sri Lanka, which starts tomorrow, could well be a watershed fixture in the history of cricket, with players and captains allowed to contest and appeal a decision if it is percieved as incorrect.

The review system is already in place in tennis, where every decision which is successfully challenged ensures that the quota of three referrals remain intact. Like tennis, cricket also uses technology but only for slow motion replays for catches and boundary line fielding efforts. The expertise of the Hawk Eye, especially for leg before decisions, is available to the television commentators. These will now be made available to the umpires.

While the debate rages on the pros (getting more decisions right) and the cons (slowing up the game among others), one umpire says there is no harm giving it a try. David Shepherd, the senior retired umpire - only Steve Bucknor has officiated more matches - is more famous for his traditional mindset and superstitions like standing on one leg when the team score is 111, a Nelson. While Shepherd subscribes to the general feeling that the trend is harmful to the spirit of the game, he is also unequivocal that anything which helps in getting the decisions right should not be discouraged without having a look at it.

"Let us try it out first and see what happens. The idea is to get as many decisions correct as possible. That is what we (umpires) have been trying to do." "If the technology can help us, why not? If it gets things more right, the better. If not, we can always drop it. But it's worth giving a try," says Shepherd. His predecessor Dickie Bird, also from England, disagrees and has called it "the death of the thinking umpire".

"People tell me you've got to move with the times," says Bird. "But this a sad development for cricket, because the sanctity of an umpire's authority is what has kept the game running going back into history. "People like myself, who liked only to give their own decisions and think on their own, are finished. All the big umpires I have talked to here in England feel they want to give their own decisions, but that's gone now.

"It is an eyewash on the ICC's part to say the final decision rests with the on-field umpire." As if on cue, the second Test between England and South Africa started on a sour note with players contesting the dismissals of Andrew Strauss and Hashim Amla. While Strauss himself called for the third umpire, Amla was sent back from the pavillion by coach Mickey Arthur. It is now revealed that both sides had failed to agree to mutual terms in case of dispute, thus implying that the umpire's word should have been final.

And Shepherd agrees that the game is heading in the wrong direction, riding roughshod over the spirit that once distinguished it from other sports. "Yes, it is sad but true," he added. "I accept that the spirit of the game has been tarnished. It has not been like it was before." But the official of 92 Tests, 172 one day internationals and 16 matches as TV umpire is still of the view that the experiment continues despite the problem of slowing the game down, especially in the face of the Twenty20 threat. "It is difficult but that's the idea of getting it [decisions] right despite the problems," he says.

"It is a test, not only of the officials, but also of the players." Former Indian batsman Sanjay Manjrekar also sees this decision from a fan's point of view. "The spectator interest rises whenever a decision is referred to the third umpire," he says. "Yes, there could be some slowing down of the proceedings, but I feel the bigger culprit is the dismal over-rates maintained by teams which slows down the game a lot."

Former Sri Lanka captain Aravinda de Silva concurs with Shepherd. "When you have a system in place to eliminate doubts (in the umpire's mind), we should make use of it even if cuts down the pace of the game," says De Silva.