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Referral rule needs close scrutiny

Alison Mitchell Alison Mitchell | 09:42 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2007

Alison MitchellIt's too early to say whether the new referral rule being trialled in the Friends Provident Trophy will be a success.

The next games where this rule will be applied are Worcestershire v Nottinghamshire on Sunday and Durham's home match against Lancashire on Bank Holiday Monday.

But it was certainly intriguing to be at Taunton for the first televised game of the season and to see how and when it might be implemented, what the results would be, and whether it benefited anybody at all.

However only three referrals were made that day (none successful) and it was not enough to even begin to draw a verdict, despite Chris Adams' initial protestations.

It warrants close scrutiny though, because the trial is at the behest of the ICC, and if it works could be introduced to one-day internationals.

Here's a quick explanation: each side can question a decision of the on-field umpire as many times as they like in an innings, until they've had two unsuccessful referrals, then that's it for that innings.

The referral has to be made by either the batsman involved in the dismissal (no conferring with the dressing-room allowed) or the captain of the fielding side.

Chris Adams and Mushtaq Ahmed await an unsuccessful referral at Taunton

They have to do so immediately, or as the regulation stipulates, "without undue delay" after the initial decision has been made.

The TV umpire then takes a look at replays and radios his decision back down to his colleague on the field.

There were a few teething troubles at Taunton. I had no TV in my commentary box so I was watching proceedings with no more privilege than those in the crowd.

The first thing that struck me was that it was not terribly clear that Sussex captain Adams, batting at the time, was indeed referring his wicket.

The regulation states he must do so 'verbally' to the umpire, but a signal, visible to the crowd wouldn’t go amiss - raising one arm in the air for instance.

It looked a little messy as Adams wandered about the field, the Somerset fielders came out of their celebratory huddle looking a touch bemused, and the umpires stood together to wait for the final verdict, almost in a show of solidarity.

Unfortunately all this was accompanied by a quizzical silence, with no information on the big screen, and the crowd began a slow hand clap.

Thankfully this was put right later in the afternoon and the waiting period was accompanied by the usual Jaws-type music and big screen graphics as for any third umpire dismissal.

Sadly we never saw the replays of any of the dismissals, despite the fact that the TV umpire concurred with his colleague on all of them.

Of course, questioning the umpire's decision goes against the very spirit of the game.

But others will say technology has been in the game for many years now, so it is about time we use it officially.

That's OK, except that Sky don’t use Hawkeye or the snickometer until much later in the competition, so the technology, for now, is limited to fixed cameras and the naked eye.

Don’t expect too many TV umpires to overrule their colleagues.

There are a couple of aspects to the rule, which could create interesting situations further down the line.

What constitutes 'undue delay' is a matter of opinion and could lead to some steamy debates with the on-field umpire if a player feels he is being denied a referral unfairly.

Also the TV umpire is not allowed to judge on no-balls. It means he could find himself in a bizarre situation where an lbw appeal is referred by the batsman, all conditions of the lbw law are satisfied, except that on replay it is noticed that the delivery should have been called a no-ball.

Bad luck. Too late. The TV umpire has to give the batsman out, even though the no-ball is clear for all to see.

Is that not going to look a little silly? The man overseeing the new rule, Alan Fordham, cricket operations manager of the ECB, tells me that they didn't want to open the floodgates on batsmen questioning the legitimacy of deliveries.

Fine. But if a no-ball is clearly visible to the TV umpire in the course of judging a dismissal, surely it makes a mockery of the game for him to ignore it.

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