live Infotainment Factory: Why this incredible Ashes moment is tainted

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Sunday, 25 August 2019

Why this incredible Ashes moment is tainted


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In the space of six weeks, cricket has gifted us with two of the most enthralling matches in history – both with the same hero.

Ben Stokes has reigned supreme at Lord's in the World Cup final and now in a pivotal Ashes Test at Headingley. The England all-rounder is destined to become that most special breed of cricketer, whose career stats are somewhat irrelevant. Who needs dull numbers when your greatest feats are seared in the memory of everyone who saw you play?

Stokes is defining himself this year. So is cricket, mostly for the better.

Yet in these unforgettable moments, the game is also being defined by its mistakes. By the vagaries of its confounding rule books.

Stokes tied England with New Zealand in the World Cup final, twice. England did not win the game, yet were awarded victory by the absurd virtue of having hit the most boundaries.

Stokes was out in the third Ashes Test, plumb LBW, meaning that Australia should have won and retained the Ashes. The incompetence of umpire Joel Wilson and the laws of the decision review system (DRS) meant that he was not dismissed and four balls later, he completed England's greatest Test run chase.

Both matches may have been all-timers, yet they also carry unfortunate, needless asterisks. In the first instance, there was no true winner. In the second instance, the wrong winner.

Why couldn't the World Cup final have been decided by a second Super Over? It would have taken a matter of minutes to rightfully decide a match that we'd waited not just four years, but a lifetime to witness.

Why does an epic Ashes Test come down to Tim Paine's ability, or lack thereof, as a de facto umpire? Why are players allowed to umpire at all, and why are flawed on-field officials retained as the primary authority, when the third umpire has every answer at his fingertips?

The World Cup final was one thing. The ICC's contingency planning was limited and proved inadequate in the astonishing event of a double draw. That game is done, for better or worse, and we don't have to worry about such an occurrence again for four years; by which time the rules will likely have been changed.

At Headingley, Stokes was out. That he was not dismissed has changed the entire complexion of an ongoing Ashes series, one that could define careers.

Paine is being slammed for wasting Australia's final review in the third Test, with an LBW claim against England No.11 Jack Leach that clearly pitched outside leg stump. Six balls later and the review gone, Nathan Lyon trapped Stokes, to no avail.

TV umpire Kumar Dharmasena could easily have fixed the error, had laws allowed. Instead, Paine copped a loss and a torrent of blame, at a vulnerable point in his career where Alex Carey has assumed the limited-overs wicketkeeping role and former captain Steve Smith is back with a vengeance.

Players should play. Umpires should umpire. Simple. And the third umpire should have a greater role when it's clear that the on-field officials, making decisions in real time, are entirely fallible.

In handing review powers to players from 2008-09, the ICC green-lit an inevitable problem. Player reviews were meant to be a safety net for umpiring howlers but of course, teams started to use them speculatively; when the opposition's best batsman got a reprieve on a 50-50 LBW, or in this instance, when trying to fluke the final wicket to retain the Ashes.

Former Australian captain Mark Taylor told Wide World of Sports that he remained opposed to the DRS, because frivolous player reviews too often meant that serious errors couldn't be overturned.

"I'm not a fan of the review system and not just because of today," Taylor said.

"At the end of the day, it still doesn't get the right result. I think that showed what can happen today and Australia have only got themselves to blame.

"I remember saying exactly the same thing in the World Cup semi-final, when (England's) Jason Roy was given out when he wasn't out, but he had no reviews left because Jonny Bairstow had absolutely wasted one the over before.

"This is the problem with the system. I don't like the players being in control of the umpiring of the game and unfortunately, that's what can happen.

"Now, poor Tim feels like he's done the wrong thing with the review, so he's got an extra responsibility hanging over his head. He'd obviously love to go back to that LBW off Cummins and not review it and have one up his sleeve, like he should have had if there was a howler – and there was."

Paine reacts to review shocker

Taylor said that Wilson had erred with his decision on the Stokes LBW, but Australia was also to blame due to its all-too-familiar misuse of the DRS.

"It's a mistake, but the mistake was also made by Australia the previous over when they used up their last review," he said.

"That's why the system is here; it's there to help you, but you've got to keep one in the bank for the howler.

"Unfortunately, as we see far too often with this DRS system, it's not removing the howler from the game. It's changing 50-50 calls. Players, as they're going to do, are trying to get as much out of it as they possibly can, but then they roll the dice and they don't have the opportunity to remove the howler from the game."

Before the DRS, technology gradually crept into cricket for the use of umpires; allowing them to review run-outs by video replay and then whether catches had carried. The introduction of player reviews coincided with greater accuracy in technology that allowed rulings on LBWs and edges; Hawk-Eye, hotspot and real-time snicko.

Before the technology advancements, players would occasionally get away with murder; Australians among them. Justin Langer's 'clicky bat handle' during his famous run chase against Pakistan in Hobart, 1999, was in fact a big edge off Wasim Akram that the umpire missed.

Langer made 127, with 51 runs coming after his let-off. His main batting partner, ironically, was Adam Gilchrist; who made 149 not out and four years later walked on a caught-behind decision in a World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka, becoming an icon of sportsmanship. Not so, Langer.

"Straight up, I smashed it," Langer told cricket.com.au, 17 years after that Hobart Test. "It was a massive nick and everyone knew it."

Such controversies no longer hold any intrigue, no folklore value. We know if a player is out of not out. Modern scorecards should reflect as much. The romantic grey area is gone and injustices are simply that.

In the explosive 'Monkeygate' Test of 2008, Andrew Symonds edged a delivery on 31, only to be given not out and reach 162. Symonds readily admitted that he hit the ball, sparking anger within the Indian team.

Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly copped questionable dismissals in the same Test as India fell to an ill-tempered defeat and post-match, then-Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland touted the value of looming DRS player reviews.

"There have been some advances in technology that cricket can continue to explore," Sutherland told The Australian.

"I think there is a strong argument on the technological side ... in tennis it works where a player can make only two or three [incorrect] appeals in the course of a match. That may be something that makes people think twice about using the appeals at the right time."

A decade later, that hasn't proven to be the case; at least, not to the extent that serious controversies are avoided. Player reviews are successful roughly 25 per cent of the time.

That's three out of four reviews that range from wrong-enough to downright frivolous. Then follow the howlers, after reviews are burnt, and the whole thing feels deeply flawed.

If there's a solution, perhaps it's simply to let the umpires umpire; especially the man upstairs. On-field umpires should feel compelled to check with the third umpire on any decision of which they are not certain; LBW, caught behind, whatever it may be.

It would slow the game further on occasion, but consider how many player reviews were made in the shambolic first Ashes Test; 10 umpiring decisions were overturned, including eight from Wilson. Removing adjudication responsibilities from players might also let them concentrate on holding up their end with the similarly huge problem of over rates.

Alternatively, the third umpire should simply review every decision as a matter of course. They already do that to an extent, checking a bowler's front foot after each wicket to confirm that the successful delivery was not a no-ball. Technology is only getting faster and more accurate.

DRS has also created strange dynamics between the players and umpires; and not just in the fact that overturned decisions undermine an official's authority.

After the Stokes LBW, Paine actually suggested that Wilson might have been best just to give the England batsman out, because it would have seen Stokes review and the decision sent to the third umpire.

"If it was given out, the correct decision would have been made upstairs," Paine said.

Incredibly, former England captain Michael Vaughan agreed with the twisted logic of Wilson making a decision opposite to what he actually believed to be correct; such is the DRS system.

"Wilson had to use his common sense at that moment and give Stokes out to Lyon," Vaughan wrote for The Telegraph. "England had one review left. They could have checked his decision and nobody would have had a grumble."

The same outcome would have been achieved in a far less bizarre fashion had the third umpire just reviewed the decision regardless.

In an era where the bonafides of an umpiring decision can be examined down to microscopic detail, it seems absurd that the fate of Ashes Tests are largely left in the hands of imperfect on-field officials and harried players with compromised intentions, working within a system that has proven itself a failure.

In the space of six weeks, cricket has gifted us with two of the most enthralling matches in history – both with the same hero.

Ben Stokes has reigned supreme at Lord's in the World Cup final and now in a pivotal Ashes Test at Headingley. The England all-rounder is destined to become that most special breed of cricketer, whose career stats are somewhat irrelevant. Who needs dull numbers when your greatest feats are seared in the memory of everyone who saw you play?

Stokes is defining himself this year. So is cricket, mostly for the better.

Yet in these unforgettable moments, the game is also being defined by its mistakes. By the vagaries of its confounding rule books.

Stokes tied England with New Zealand in the World Cup final, twice. England did not win the game, yet were awarded victory by the absurd virtue of having hit the most boundaries.

Stokes was out in the third Ashes Test, plumb LBW, meaning that Australia should have won and retained the Ashes. The incompetence of umpire Joel Wilson and the laws of the decision review system (DRS) meant that he was not dismissed and four balls later, he completed England's greatest Test run chase.

Both matches may have been all-timers, yet they also carry unfortunate, needless asterisks. In the first instance, there was no true winner. In the second instance, the wrong winner.

Why couldn't the World Cup final have been decided by a second Super Over? It would have taken a matter of minutes to rightfully decide a match that we'd waited not just four years, but a lifetime to witness.

Why does an epic Ashes Test come down to Tim Paine's ability, or lack thereof, as a de facto umpire? Why are players allowed to umpire at all, and why are flawed on-field officials retained as the primary authority, when the third umpire has every answer at his fingertips?

The World Cup final was one thing. The ICC's contingency planning was limited and proved inadequate in the astonishing event of a double draw. That game is done, for better or worse, and we don't have to worry about such an occurrence again for four years; by which time the rules will likely have been changed.

At Headingley, Stokes was out. That he was not dismissed has changed the entire complexion of an ongoing Ashes series, one that could define careers.

Paine is being slammed for wasting Australia's final review in the third Test, with an LBW claim against England No.11 Jack Leach that clearly pitched outside leg stump. Six balls later and the review gone, Nathan Lyon trapped Stokes, to no avail.

TV umpire Kumar Dharmasena could easily have fixed the error, had laws allowed. Instead, Paine copped a loss and a torrent of blame, at a vulnerable point in his career where Alex Carey has assumed the limited-overs wicketkeeping role and former captain Steve Smith is back with a vengeance.

Players should play. Umpires should umpire. Simple. And the third umpire should have a greater role when it's clear that the on-field officials, making decisions in real time, are entirely fallible.

In handing review powers to players from 2008-09, the ICC green-lit an inevitable problem. Player reviews were meant to be a safety net for umpiring howlers but of course, teams started to use them speculatively; when the opposition's best batsman got a reprieve on a 50-50 LBW, or in this instance, when trying to fluke the final wicket to retain the Ashes.

Former Australian captain Mark Taylor told Wide World of Sports that he remained opposed to the DRS, because frivolous player reviews too often meant that serious errors couldn't be overturned.

"I'm not a fan of the review system and not just because of today," Taylor said.

"At the end of the day, it still doesn't get the right result. I think that showed what can happen today and Australia have only got themselves to blame.

"I remember saying exactly the same thing in the World Cup semi-final, when (England's) Jason Roy was given out when he wasn't out, but he had no reviews left because Jonny Bairstow had absolutely wasted one the over before.

"This is the problem with the system. I don't like the players being in control of the umpiring of the game and unfortunately, that's what can happen.

"Now, poor Tim feels like he's done the wrong thing with the review, so he's got an extra responsibility hanging over his head. He'd obviously love to go back to that LBW off Cummins and not review it and have one up his sleeve, like he should have had if there was a howler – and there was."

Paine reacts to review shocker

Taylor said that Wilson had erred with his decision on the Stokes LBW, but Australia was also to blame due to its all-too-familiar misuse of the DRS.

"It's a mistake, but the mistake was also made by Australia the previous over when they used up their last review," he said.

"That's why the system is here; it's there to help you, but you've got to keep one in the bank for the howler.

"Unfortunately, as we see far too often with this DRS system, it's not removing the howler from the game. It's changing 50-50 calls. Players, as they're going to do, are trying to get as much out of it as they possibly can, but then they roll the dice and they don't have the opportunity to remove the howler from the game."

Before the DRS, technology gradually crept into cricket for the use of umpires; allowing them to review run-outs by video replay and then whether catches had carried. The introduction of player reviews coincided with greater accuracy in technology that allowed rulings on LBWs and edges; Hawk-Eye, hotspot and real-time snicko.

Before the technology advancements, players would occasionally get away with murder; Australians among them. Justin Langer's 'clicky bat handle' during his famous run chase against Pakistan in Hobart, 1999, was in fact a big edge off Wasim Akram that the umpire missed.

Langer made 127, with 51 runs coming after his let-off. His main batting partner, ironically, was Adam Gilchrist; who made 149 not out and four years later walked on a caught-behind decision in a World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka, becoming an icon of sportsmanship. Not so, Langer.

"Straight up, I smashed it," Langer told cricket.com.au, 17 years after that Hobart Test. "It was a massive nick and everyone knew it."

Such controversies no longer hold any intrigue, no folklore value. We know if a player is out of not out. Modern scorecards should reflect as much. The romantic grey area is gone and injustices are simply that.

In the explosive 'Monkeygate' Test of 2008, Andrew Symonds edged a delivery on 31, only to be given not out and reach 162. Symonds readily admitted that he hit the ball, sparking anger within the Indian team.

Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly copped questionable dismissals in the same Test as India fell to an ill-tempered defeat and post-match, then-Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland touted the value of looming DRS player reviews.

"There have been some advances in technology that cricket can continue to explore," Sutherland told The Australian.

"I think there is a strong argument on the technological side ... in tennis it works where a player can make only two or three [incorrect] appeals in the course of a match. That may be something that makes people think twice about using the appeals at the right time."

A decade later, that hasn't proven to be the case; at least, not to the extent that serious controversies are avoided. Player reviews are successful roughly 25 per cent of the time.

That's three out of four reviews that range from wrong-enough to downright frivolous. Then follow the howlers, after reviews are burnt, and the whole thing feels deeply flawed.

If there's a solution, perhaps it's simply to let the umpires umpire; especially the man upstairs. On-field umpires should feel compelled to check with the third umpire on any decision of which they are not certain; LBW, caught behind, whatever it may be.

It would slow the game further on occasion, but consider how many player reviews were made in the shambolic first Ashes Test; 10 umpiring decisions were overturned, including eight from Wilson. Removing adjudication responsibilities from players might also let them concentrate on holding up their end with the similarly huge problem of over rates.

Alternatively, the third umpire should simply review every decision as a matter of course. They already do that to an extent, checking a bowler's front foot after each wicket to confirm that the successful delivery was not a no-ball. Technology is only getting faster and more accurate.

DRS has also created strange dynamics between the players and umpires; and not just in the fact that overturned decisions undermine an official's authority.

After the Stokes LBW, Paine actually suggested that Wilson might have been best just to give the England batsman out, because it would have seen Stokes review and the decision sent to the third umpire.

"If it was given out, the correct decision would have been made upstairs," Paine said.

Incredibly, former England captain Michael Vaughan agreed with the twisted logic of Wilson making a decision opposite to what he actually believed to be correct; such is the DRS system.

"Wilson had to use his common sense at that moment and give Stokes out to Lyon," Vaughan wrote for The Telegraph. "England had one review left. They could have checked his decision and nobody would have had a grumble."

The same outcome would have been achieved in a far less bizarre fashion had the third umpire just reviewed the decision regardless.

In an era where the bonafides of an umpiring decision can be examined down to microscopic detail, it seems absurd that the fate of Ashes Tests are largely left in the hands of imperfect on-field officials and harried players with compromised intentions, working within a system that has proven itself a failure.

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