“Can’t get out first ball!”
How many times have I heard that over the years during long, summer evening backyard games?
Sometimes I wonder whether international umpires’ minds wander while on the job, and they find themselves standing in imaginary backyard cricket games. I think that Shep found himself in a village green somewhere in England, showing mercy to young Tommy Tootell (8 years old) who had just come to the crease.
I’m a big fan of David Shepherd – he’s one of the best umpires around and also a great character. His antics while diligently standing on one leg while the score is on Nelson (111 or a multiple of) are highly entertaining.
In yesterday’s match between Australia and Sri Lanka, Shep made one of the worst lbw decisions I have ever seen. As it had little impact on the match and as lbw adjudication is one of my hobby horses, I feel compelled to make some comment.
Australia had Sri Lank on the rack. They had just lost 4 wickets for 8
runs in 23 balls. Lee was balling very quickly and getting late swing.
Sangakara made his way to the wicket to receive his first ball. Left-handed Russell Arnold had just departed for 1, lbw to Lee. Lee
has the perfect lbw ball for the left-handers, bowling over the wicket,
pitching up at great pace with late in swing (an out swinger to the
right-handers). The ball pitches on the stumps, continues to straighten and traps the batsman in front.
Sangakara, also a left-hander was nervous as a cat on a hot, tin
roof. There were no prizes for guessing what the first ball would be. It was perfect: Quick, perfect swing, pitching on middle and going straight on. Sangakara did the umpire the favour of playing right back. The ball hit on the knee roll, on the back leg, only inches in front of middle. I watched for Shep’s finger – it seemed a formality. But astonishingly, it stayed in the holster. Shep seemed to call out “leg side”. This delivery was clearly more out than the previous one (and there were no complaints about that one).
Was Sangakara benefiting from the “can’t be out first ball” rule. It is my opinion that the chances of an umpire giving a batsman out lbw on the first ball are low. Bat-pad (or just pad) seems to be fine but lbw is another matter. And if the previous ball was an lbw decision, the chances seem to be almost nil. Seems silly as umpires are grown men, and professionals who are expected to treat each ball on its merit.
Anyway, Australia won handsomely batting first. Gilly was desperately
unlucky to be run out on 99 (88 balls), returning for two at the non
strikers end. He was done by a direct hit from more than 50
metres. Ponting made a scintillating 114.
Sri Lanka were never in the hunt. All of the bowlers were slaughtered
(except for Murali) and the batsmen were never in the hunt on a bouncy but true wicket.