The umpire call in cricket is a means to make more accurate decisions while ensuring there’s still a human part involved. Cricket like many sports, can be complicated and it’s coupled with technology, it can get more confusing for casual viewers. The umpire’s call confuses even the regular viewers and usually attracts polarising reactions.
Here we will talk in-depth about the origins of the umpire and why it is one of the most talked about things in cricket.
Why is the umpire call controversial in cricket?
To understand why is umpire’s call controversial in our sport, we need to know what is umpire’s call.
The Decision Review System DRS was first introduced in cricket in 2008 and later the umpire’s call became a popular term in cricketing discourse.
A player or a team can opt for a review for an LBW or caught dismissal. The on field umpire then makes a tv-shaped box gesture to send the review upstairs. Umpire’s call comes into play for LBW decisions. To determine whether the batter is dismissed Leg-before-wicket or not, there are three zones that are important in ball tracking. Three reds means out.
- Pitching Zone – It’s the initial part of the ball tracking once the delivery is confirmed to be legal. Pitching is, as the word suggests, where the ball lands on the pitch. If it’s outside off stump or in line with the stumps, then it is considered a red. If it is pitching outside leg stump, then the third umpire doesn’t need to go further and can call it as not out.
- Impact Zone – The next part of the ball tracking is where the ball makes first contact with the pads. If the ball is hitting in line with the stumps, then it is a red. If it’s hitting outside the off stump or outside leg stump then it is adjudged as not out.
- Wicket Zone – The last part of the ball tracking is where the ball is projected to hit the stumps. The wicket zone comprises the area from base of the stumps to outer edges of off stump and leg stump to the top of the bails.
Now, the umpire’s call is not applicable for the pitching zone as the ball tracking technology can detect where the ball has pitched with utmost accuracy. It’s either red or green.
For the impact zone, if the technology can not tell conclusively whether the ball is making first contact with the pads in line or not, then the on field umpire’s call stays on.
The wicket zone is where the DRS becomes the most tricky. The ball tracking technology predicts the path of the ball hitting the stumps after it has made an impact. What we see on the screen is one of the several predictive paths and not the only one. For this reason, the umpire’s call rule makes sense.
But most of the fans are not aware of the purpose of the umpire’s call or simply do not want it complicate things. The outrage or the controversey occurs when the umpire’s call goes against the favour of fans’ favourite team/player or when the predictive path does not match to what our eyes see.
Do teams lose a DRS review for an umpire’s call in cricket?
No, the teams do not lose a DRS review if umpire’s call goes against their favour. The Decision Review System was introduced to reduce the number of howlers that is extremely bad decisions while the umpire’s call ensures there’s human element still in play.
While the technology is great, it is still not full proof and which is why the umpire’s call is kept in play.
Earlier this year in April, the head of the ICC’s Cricket Committee, Anil Kumble, explained why the umpire’s call was still seen as an important aspect of DRS.
“The principle underpinning DRS was to correct clear errors in the game whilst ensuring the role of the umpire as the decision-maker on the field of play was preserved, bearing in mind the element of prediction involved with the technology. Umpire’s call allows that to happen, which is why it is important it remains,” said Kumble.
In simple words, the umpire’s call is benefit of the doubt, which extends to the player or the team which has taken the review. A team retains the review on umpire’s call and there’s no limit on how many.
What are the famous controversies of umpire’s call in cricket?
Earlier this year in April, Bangladesh team director had asked for neutral umpires after several close call went into the home side South Africa’s favour. In one instance Dean Elgar was given not out by the on field umpire, after Bangladesh reviewed it, the ball tracking showed the ball would’ve clipped the leg stump. But the umpire’s call was upheld.
In the Chennai Test between India and England in 2021, Virat Kohli lost his cool after the umpire’s call saved Joe Root for what looked like a plumb LBW. Root was struck on his back pad in front of the stumps but the on field umpire gave it not out. India sent the decision to the third umpire but the ball tracking showed umpire’s call for impact. Later, ahead of the ODI series on the same tour, Kohli criticised the need for umpire’s call.
“According to me, umpire’s call right now is creating a lot of confusion. When you get bowled as a batsman, you don’t expect the ball to hit more than 50 percent into the stumps to consider yourself bowled,” said Kohli.
“So from basic cricket common-sense, I don’t think that there should be any debate on that. If the ball is clipping the stumps, that should be out whether you like it or not, you lose the review,” he added.
One of the most controversial moments occured during the 2019 ODI World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand, when Virat Kohli was given out LBW. Kohli was hit on the pads by the Kiwi left arm pacer Trent Boult and the on field umpire raised his finger. Kohli opted for the review but to no relief. The ball tracking showed it would’ve just clipped the stumps. Since the on field umpire gave it out, the decision stayed with the umpire’s call. To be dismissed on fine margins in such a massive game certainly attracted significant outrage.
In the second semi-final of 2019 ODI World Cup, where Steve Smith was struck on the pads in a similar fashion to Kohli’s dismissal in the other semifinal. But since the on field umpire gave it not out, Smith was adjudged not out. Umpire’s call works on the on field umpire’s contention and thus attracts criticism.
What is the meaning of ‘pitching’ in an umpire’s call?
Pitching in the DRS review is basically where the ball lands. If it lands outside off or in line with the stumps, then it can be given out if the following two zones also return red. There is no provision of the umpire’s call in pitching, it is either pitching in line, outside off or outside leg.
What is the meaning of impact in an umpire’s call decision?
Impact in the ball tracking is the point of first contact between the ball and the pads. If the impact is in line then it can be given out. The on field umpire’s call stays if the ball tracking can not tell conclusively whether the impact was in line or not.
How many umpire’s call reviews can be retained?
A team can retain an unlimited number of DRS reviews on umpire’s call, same as the successful reviews.