They will sometimes miss an edge or two, and sometimes it will happen in lumps, but that does not make a bad judge
When TV commentators and fans start psychoanalyzing judges, you know it’s a statement day. It can be difficult for a spectator to see, but any top-level sport is first and foremost a competitive exercise, and through that it becomes a spectacle. It’s a spectacle because it’s competitive, and not competitive because it’s a spectacle.
So India chose to strike to deny New Zealand even the slightest snuff and not to lose the advantage of bowling last. They could have enforced a follow-up and would probably have completed the test now, but they have nowhere to go after finishing early. They will still be stuck in the bubble for the South Africa trip, so why not make sure to take the extra day and be absolutely ruthless?
In addition, India had a couple of strikers who could cope with a little timeout in the middle. Plus, Axar Patel said at the end of the day’s game that they used their batting innings to simulate a fourth-innings chase on a turnaround out in the middle.
It does not give rise to engaging viewers, especially when the opposition does not have bowlers to compete under these conditions. Will Somerville, one of the four specialists that New Zealand played in both tests, has gone wicketless in the series. Only seven bowlers in the game’s history have conceded several runs in a series without taking a wicket.
In such circumstances, except for those who are personally invested in the races, e.g. Virat Kohli scorer, spectators find it difficult to stay engaged. Then comes the usual punching bag, the judges. Not that the judges were not pillaged before Covid-19, but the latest fad is to criticize home judges because the authorities consider it unnecessary to fly in neutral judges during the pandemic. This is the worst slander of professionals in an era where they are being professionally assessed. It’s ridiculous to imagine that a judge would carry a bias in front of all high-resolution cameras at high frame rates, which could limit his own career.
If there can be a bias, it will not even be visible to those who build such lazy narratives. Bias can be in the running of the game, in how much they let someone sled, who they pull up for bad behavior, how much they let a team play in wet conditions, etc. Even bad light does not fall under such bias due to. it is objectively measured. Aside from the strange off-the-record mumble, there hasn’t been a major issue on this front either.
Unfortunately, former cricketers, often known for being on edge with referees when they played, are at the forefront of this slander. During this test, Shane Warne chose e.g. an isolated, few seconds long clip of Kohli lbw at first and ruled out that it “simply was not out”. He went on to suggest that third-party judges often misinterpret the technology without ever considering the possibility that it could have been pad-bat-pad. After all, there was a time when the bat was a little behind the pillow and UltraEdge still picked up an audio signature. In the second half, when the bat was only an inch or two further ahead, Kohli was ruled out under almost identical circumstances.
The same people ignore technology when it comes to low catches because technology has not played test cricket, and those who have played test cricket know that every low catch is out, even if there is new evidence on screen.
Before you know it, 20 media organizations are quoting Warne, and the judge must not defend himself. Even when he does, it never really sticks. Kumar Dharmasena, an excellent judge, a former ICC Umpire of the Year, gave an excellent explanation for his refereeing error in the 2019 World Cup final. .
Despite Dharamsena explaining that it was physically impossible to know where the two running batteries were in relation to each other at the exact time the fielder dropped the ball from 60 yards away, people ignored another playing condition and asked him why he could not check with the third judge. The problem here is that the playing conditions allow referees to only check expulsions and boundary saves with the third referee. That the MCC rewrote the law was an admission that it could not be enforced in the form it was.
Just search on any platform for “Dharmasena final” and you will know how much we care about the judging profession itself and the decision making process, why one of the dominant discourses on a slow day was about judges in this series when they have not really been bad. They will sometimes miss an edge or two, and sometimes it will happen in lumps, but that is not a bad judge. Moreover, we have DRS to remove them these days.
You need to take care of those who make major conceptual mistakes, like this. There are certain lbw calls that give cause for concern: basically those where it is not physically possible for the ball to hit a batter within the stumps and also hit the stumps. If you waver over these, it may indicate that you are affected by other things, such as the strength of an appeal.
There was only one call in this series that was very close to this category when R Ashwin made a decision with a major setback that hit Will Young on the front foot, one of the rarest of rare layoffs in cricket. However, the low bounce probably made everyone to the point that even the dough did not report it. There have been marginal lbws missed by the judges in this test who did not even elicit a decent appeal from the bowlers. That’s because three sets of professionals out there didn’t think it was out, and high-resolution super slow motion repetitions showed the ball was missing the edge or kissing the boot on its way to the inside edge. Using them to beat referees is an unfair battle that they can never hope to win.
There are many things that are wrong with the judge discourse that will take up much more than this space (you can do worse than reading this), but a slow day is a good time to remind yourself how good the judges today are and remembering to use the same empathy that we use for the athlete when we encounter the occasional mistake.
Sidharth Monga is Assistant Editor at ESPNcricinfo