The results of the T20 International (T20I) series between Australia and India, that was concluded in the week that went by, bore the impact of two instances wherein decisions taken outside the field of play influenced the course of play.
The first of these took place in the opening game, and involved the decision of David Boon, the match referee, who allowed Yuzvendra Chahal to be brought into the playing eleven as “concussion substitute” for Ravindra Jadeja. Chahal bowled brilliantly to set up a victory for his side and walked away with the man-of-the-match award.
The second was the disallowance of the appeal made by the Indian side under the Decision Review System (DRS) by the third umpire in the last match on the ground that replays of the incident were shown in the screens mounted on the stadium, before Indians preferred to question the not out decision. Matthew Wade, the batsman who benefitted from this reprieve added 30 runs after this incident and helped Australia put up a winning score. Thus, the first of these worked to the advantage of the visitors while the other helped the interests of the hosts and hence one could say that spoils were split evenly between the two sides.
However, these instances brought out some of the loopholes prevailing in the statutes and procedures governing the conduct of international matches and hence warrant a discussion. Law 2 of “Laws of Cricket”, published by the International Cricket Council (ICC) allows the use of substitutes on a cricket field for a player who is injured or takes ill during the course of a match. It also stipulates that a player acting as a substitute shall not bat or bowl, unless agreed to by the two captains, though the player for who substitute has acted can bat, bowl or field. In 2019, the ICC allowed the use of a substitute, who could also bat and bowl, for a player who suffers concussion while playing. This was brought into effect from August 1, 2019, for being implemented in all international matches and teams were allowed to use a “like-for-like” player, who had to be approved by the match referee. Marnus Labuschagne of Australia became the first concussion substitute in the history of the game when Steven Smith retired hurt after being struck on the head by a bouncer from Jofra Archer in the second Test of Ashes series in 2019.
In the first T20I of the recently concluded series, Ravindra Jadeja was struck on the helmet when he top edged a attempted pull off a short pitched delivery bowled by Mitchell Starc in the last over of the Indian innings. The ball ricocheted to backward point where the catch was dropped. Jadeja continued batting and struck two more boundaries in the over to take the side’s total score to 161/7. Before that, Jadeja had pulled his hamstring muscle and had required attention from the physio during the penultimate over.
During the break, Jadeja felt drowsy and India sought Chahal as concussion substitute. This was approved by Boon, but met with protests from the Aussies, whose head coach Justin Langer was seen arguing with the former over this decision.
What could have the Aussies been protesting over? They might have suspected that India was trying to get an unfair advantage by seeking a concussion substitute for Jadeja, thinking that his problems were more on account of hamstring injury than due to the the blow on the head. Or they could have been unhappy with the choice of substitute, since Chahal was a right-arm leg-spinner, while Jadeja a was left handed-arm all-rounder. With regard to the severity of the damage caused by impact of ball on the helmeted head, the Aussies would themselves be knowing that symptoms of concussion could have a late onset. In fact, in the second test of the Ashes test, Smith resumed his innings after retiring, following the blow to his head, but did not take further part in the match after being dismissed, prompting the Australian side to seek services of Labuschagne as the concussion substitute. So there was nothing abnormal with the delayed onset of symptoms in the case of Jadeja. In such instances, one has to go by the world of the player and the advice of the qualified doctor, both of which stated that Jadeja had suffered concussion of the head.
On the question of like-for-like substitute, it is near impossible to find exact replica of the concussed player from within the squad. While a batsman can be placed by a batsman irrespective of his position in the order and a bowler by one who is similarly skilled, difficulties can come to the fore when an all-rounder is injured. Thus, there would exist no doubt that a batsman can have only a batsman as his replacement and not an all rounder; similarly the concussion substitute for a fast bowler cannot be a spinner. But when it comes to allrounders, finding like-for-like replacements would pose more challenges. Had India bowled first and Jadeja suffered an injury to his head while fielding, would India have sought services of Chahal? In all likelihood, if such a situation had arisen, it is extremely unlikely that the Indian management would have requested for the services Chahal; rather, they would have demanded playing a batsman like Manish Pandey or Mayank Agrawal.
Thus, it could be seen that the Indians were correct in seeking the services of Chahal as concussion substitute as the side was only required to bowl after the injury occurred and there was no scope for dispute about he being a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja as a bowler. But the fact remains that he is not a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja as an all-rounder. It is not practically possible for international sides to pack their squads with adequate number of similarly skilled players in anticipation that one of them might have to don the role of a concussion substitute. It is this grey area in the present rules which worked to the advantage of the India that so angered the Aussies as to argue with the match referee. But since Boon had done his job within the letter and spirit of the statute, he could not be faulted either.
In the last T20I, Wade, the Australian opening batsman, was batting on 50 when he missed an attempted shot on the leg side to a delivery from Thangarasu Natarajan and was hit on the pads. A feeble appeal emanated from the Indians, who were not certain whether the ball would be missing the leg stump, and this was turned down by the umpire. Even as they were discussing about a review, the replay of the incident was shown on the big screen fixed on the stadium, which indicated that the ball would have struck the stumps. This effectively nullified India’s request for review as the rule clearly states that players cannot receive direct or indirect inputs while deliberating whether to make a DRS request. The rule also provides for a 15-second time list for making the request and only after conclusion of this period can replays be shown on the screen. Hence the decision of the third umpire not to entertain the appeal made by the Indian side was correct.
In this case, the broadcaster made the mistake of showing the replays on the screen before the 15-second time limit expired. It can be said with the benefit of hindsight that this lapse on the part of the crew gave a life to Wade. Virat Kohli, the Indian skipper, was spot on when he said that lapses of this nature should not occur at the highest level. In all probability this mistake would never be repeated but it opened one’s eyes to the fact that with technology being brought into use for decision making in a big way, even the technical crew needs to be fully aware about all the provisions of statutes and playing conditions.
Both these incidents bring home the fact that evolution of cricket during the last two decades has brought in fresh challenges to the administrators and supporting staff. Earlier, only the actions of the players on the field and the two umpires could create an impact on the progress of the game. The circle of “influencers” on the outcome has progressively widened and presently involves not only the match referee and support staff of the team but also the crew doing the job of recording the match and uploading the visuals on the screens. The increasing role of the personnel outside the playing arena in determining the outcome of the match is an aspect that administrators and law makers would do well to minimise while considering new innovations and technological upgradations in future.
The beauty of sports and games lies in the easy, simple, objective and uncomplicated manner in which the winner is decided. Sports administrators should remember that while innovations and use of technology are most welcome, they should not alter this basic premise.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)