Sydney Test wrap-up and the small matter of lbw

Yes, I know – there was a one-day match last night in which Australia was soundly beaten. For those of you who live off-shore, the score was Sri Lanka 5/343 (Jayasuriya 122 (105 balls), Atapattu 101 (124 balls)) d Australia 264 (Jayasuriya 10-1-39-4). The less said the better, except for “Well played Sri Lanka”.

The 5th Ashes (or it seems that should be “Orange”) Test ended just four days ago so I thought I’d make some comments before it is ancient history. As we would all know, England won, and won very well. Scores:

Eng 362 (Butcher 124) & 9/452 (Vaughan 183) d Aust 363 (Waugh 102, Gilchrist 133) & 226 (Bichel 49, Caddick 7/94) by 225 runs.

England thoroughly outplayed Australia in all departments and deserved to win. They batted better, bowled better and even fielded better. Yep, that is all departments.

Australia lost the match in the first innings. They should have restricted England’s total by taking the chances offered and they should also have made more runs. Most of the top order gave away their wickets cheaply with careless shots. Australia was knocked over easily in the final innings on a very difficult pitch – but that’s OK. It is quite acceptable for Test match pitches to be difficult on the 5th day. And that wasn’t the worst day 5 pitch ever seen – not by a very long way. When batting last at the SCG, you need a first innings lead of a least 150 to be in with a good chance (and Australia still may have lost with a lead that size).

Australia grassed two critical chances on the first day which were very catchable. Macgill dropped Hussain with a very simple caught and bowled when he was on six (he made 75) and Gilchrist dropped a more difficult chance from Butcher when we was on 39 (he made 124). Butcher was also dropped on 13 by Martyn, which was a very difficult chance at 3rd slip. The English innings was built around the partnership of 166 between Butcher and Hussain and Australia had the chance to break it early.

In addition, Butcher could/should easily have been given out lbw from the first ball he faced. Once again, the umpiring in this match was very poor. We had the same umpires as in Melbourne and they (particularly Russell Tiffin) were even worse. England did have the better of the decisions in this Test but Australia cannot (and thankfully didn’t) use that as an excuse for losing. However, having seen Russell Tiffin’s performance last night I would like to discuss the lbw decisions of late.

My Grandfather wouldn’t watch cricket because he hated the lbw law – he said that if they abolished lbw as a method of dismissal, then he would watch cricket. I don’t know what he was sniffing – but cricket without lbw – never!! But I do understand what he meant. The biggest grievance I have with lbw is inconsistencies from umpires. South African umpire Rudy Koertzen has been criticised for not giving Warne enough lbw’s. Maybe he could give more but he is consistent. All bowlers find it hard to get an lbw from Rudy – it has to be hitting middle peg halfway up. What I hate is when an lbw appeal is not upheld and some time later, another appeal, which looks “less out” is given. This is sometimes because there is inconsistency between umpires – some are less conservative than others. I’m note sure what can be done about that. But each umpire should ensure that hiw own decisions are consistent from seesion-to-session and day-to-day throughout a Test match.

There was a furore at the end of Day 4 when the first three Aussies were fired out lbw (Bichel, batting at number 3, made it four in a row the next morning). First to go was Langer – Langer was given lbw to a ball pitching well outside leg stump. The ball was clearly hitting the stumps but it seems to be common sense that if a right arm bowler, bowling over the wicket to a left hander, bowls an off cutter (an off cutter to a right handed batsman) which hits in line with middle and leg, the ball MUST have pitched outside leg. The sad thing is that I copied and pasted this passage about Langer’s dismissal from my Melbourne Test report. Even sadder is that it was the same batsman, bowler and umpire!!

Hayden and Ponting were given out by David Orchard and there was some doubt about both. Ponting’s decision was probably OK but the ball may have (did) hit just outside the line of off stump. It was certainly hitting the stumps. Hayden’s looked good for line and also height, as it struck him on the knee roll. However, this is were Test umpires should be earning their money – Hayden is a big guy, was on the front foot and bats 50cm outside of the crease. Given those factors, there must have been some doubt about the height, and Hayden should not have been given out. Channel 9’s new toy, Hawkeye (which plot’s the simulated trajectory of the ball right to the stumps) showed the ball going just over the middle stump. Let’s assume for a moment that Hawkeye is accurate (and it does seem to be there abouts), I would argue that it is bad decision even if Hawkeye shows the ball clipping the off bail – how could the umpire be sure that the ball was hitting the stumps?

The extremely contentious aspect of the lbw’s at the beginning of the Australian innings was that just before, Australia had difficulty removing Steve Harmison who proceeded to belt them around the park having been given not out, when clearly out, in consecutive overs before he had scored. One was a regulation nick and the other was lbw, playing back and across to a beautifully pitched googly from Macgill.

For some balance, it should be mentioned that Vaughan had previously been given out lbw when the ball wasn’t really that close to the stumps at all. But he had some consolation – he had made 183.

And I come back to the Butcher lbw on the first morning. It had a big influence on the match and was not backed up by consistency. Just like the Langer dismissal, there was a right arm quick bowling to a left-hander. Unlike the Langer dismissal, the ball did the right things. It swung into the batsman from outside off stump, pitched on the stumps and was taking middle and leg. It was the classic Butcher lbw ball (McGrath and Gillespie had both already claimed him this way in the series) and should have been rewarded. Given that it was not, Tiffin should not have been giving an lbw for the rest of the match unless the ball pitched on the stumps and was hitting middle stump, half way up.

This is how I think that an lbw appeal should be considered by an umpire. Firstly, rely on instinct – did it look like it was hitting the stumps? Did it look out? Do you find yourself taking the pistol out of the holster? No Russ, don’t fire yet. You have to think about it. Should the appeal be rejected for any reason? Where did the ball pitch? Did it strike outside the line of the stumps? How was the height? Is the ball new? Is this a bouncy track? Was the batsman on the front foot? How far down the pitch was he? Is the bowler Shane Warne? Once those questions are answered appropriately, the batsman can be given out.

And then there are those cases where you just can’t see how a batsman was not given out. In three consecutive overs last night, Sri Lanka had big shouts that were turned down (two by Tiffin). All appeared to be hitting middle peg. For the two that were bowled by Jayasuriya, Brett Lee was way back and across and the ball was going nowhere but middle stump. Tiffin seemed to indicate that Lee was saved by hitting the ball – when he clearly did not. So maybe Tiffin just can’t see.

Enough said on lbw and Russell Tiffin – we have seen some very ordinary umpiring in the last three weeks. Let’s hope that the World Cup is not affected (or decided) by bad umpiring.

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