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Umpiring Blindspot – Why Ben Stokes was rightly aggrieved

There was much furore around the dismissal of Ben Stokes in the 2nd ODI of the post-Ashes bilateral series between England and Australia, where he was given out obstructing the field, a decision which proved to be pivotal in the game as England were never able to recover from that point.

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The 3rd umpire Wilson probably judged the decision using Law 37, which states that a batsman is out obstructing the field if he willfully strikes the ball with his hand, unless it is to avoid injury. The key part of the law if a decision is to be made in favour of field obstruction is that the contact with a throw must be deliberate and the ball must be judged as heading towards the stumps. I of course, feel that Ben Stokes was not out.

There’s a worrying absence of street-smart thinking in the umpiring world these days. The whole affair occurred at very high speed, from the delivery to the straight drive to the throw to the sway out of line by the batsman. Everything that happened after the shot was essentially about instinct and reflex action. I can’t imagine the umpire not being swayed into the decision by the slow motion replays.

Using evidence from the slow motion action replays to assess the batsman’s intention (which is only indicative evidence anyways) is fundamentally flawed, considering Stokes had to evade the throw within a fraction of a second. In that fraction of a second, he used his hand to save himself. If you have a look at the replays in the video above, the ball was hurled at Stokes’ right shoulder. Hence he first moves his hands towards the ball to block it from hitting the shoulder, and instinctively also moves his shoulder out of the way by turning his body sideways. Starc’s throw was such that the ball swung from its initial line hence Stokes’ outstretched hands instinctively followed it. Stokes was already moving his head backwards when the ball hit the gloves. He was not in direct sight of the throw which to me is the most convincing evidence that Stokes’ reaction was evasion and self-protection and not obstructing the field.

I am guessing here that ultimately it was the still shot at the point of contact of the ball with hand that swayed the umpire’s decision towards giving it out. However, I believe still shots are never the solution for these cases. Viewed in isolation, it doesn’t show that the ball was hurled at the body initially and that the natural swing of the throw and movement of Stokes’ right shoulder made it look as if the ball was actually very far from Stokes’ body. As a reaction triggered by your stimulus, you generally follow the ball when you’re faced with a split second decision. It’s similar to when you are playing a ball that swings out late; you don’t deliberately follow the ball, the hand adjustment is pure instinct. Hence not out for me. The way I see it, there’s no deliberate attempt from Stokes to obstruct the throw. As a fellow cricket enthusiast put it, it is absurd to think he could obstruct a ball thrown at such pace and from that distance, with the objective to save his wicket in that split second. Adding on to his comments, there seems to be a serious mistrust of cricketers.

I think the umpire was too quick to reach a decision. If we only have to look at replays in black and white, for example where the ball is at point of contact, why do we even need an ICC umpire for this job? Surely in this case, the real umpiring skill should be to assess the body and ball movements that transpired before the contact to judge Stokes’ deliberation? In accounting principles, we are repeatedly reminded to use substance over form in making decisions related to the standards governing financial reporting. Surely the umpires who are highly trained should be exercising their judgement on the substance of such incidents? Surely they have a bigger responsibility than interpreting standards in black and white, especially when judging deliberate intent?

Remember this?

Remember this?

In my opinion, this decision has simply added to the increasing number of woeful decisions made by the 3rd umpires in recent times. The recent run out dismissal of James Anderson in the 2015 World Cup comes to mind. And who can forget that legendary 2005 run out decision given after Inzamam had involuntarily stepped out of the crease while taking evasive action against Harmison’s throw?

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The Neural Connection with Wahab Riaz

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Ever had an experience where you are not really there, but you are there? A moment stuck in time where in the thrill of witnessing what someone is doing, the ‘why’ of that performance is lost in between? Let me rephrase the question, have you ever had the experience of watching a Pakistani fast bowler attempt to defend a small total?

At the biggest stage, in front of a large hostile crowd cheering on the home side, and in a country which truly values devastating fast bowling, Wahab Riaz came up with a performance so animalistic in nature, the players watching it in the stadium, the 30,000 plus crowd present in the stadium, and the millions watching it on the television will remember it for years to come.

Wahab’s bowling was filled with such undisguised anger, it was a near miracle he didn’t lose control of his bowling or his temper, either through the 6 overs of his first spell nor in 2 of the 3 overs he bowled in his second spell. It was difficult to ascertain what Wahab was angrier about. His bowling seemed a direct response to both, his team’s run-of-the-mill insipid batting and the sledging from the Aussies who had hounded him every minute he was on the crease. Perhaps the Australians sensed that in the absence of Irfan, disarming Wahab was the key, and continued their tradition of going for the head of the snake. In that, they ended up complimenting him, perhaps inadvertently reaffirming Wahab of his status and value to the opposition. And oh how the head of the snake responded.

The first 8 overs were captivating yes, but one felt a slight uneasiness, inevitability even, as if the real showdown which was to come was expected. When would Misbah introduce Wahab? What could he do? The tension Wahab brought with himself was visible in Warner’s first shot, a mistimed punch off the back foot off a short and wide delivery that went for three runs. Another wild bouncer followed and was called a wide. And then Wahab struck, a short rising ball which Warner could not control, caught ironically in hindsight, by Rahat at third-man. Enters Michael Clarke. Wahab is touching 90 mph in his first over. A short-leg fielder comes up to say hello. The fourth ball of the second over is venomous, it is a cruise missile aimed at the narrow length between Clarke’s neck and the top of his head. Wahab cruelly choses to exploit Clarke’s weak back. Clarke could only fend off the ball to forward short-leg. And Wahab had burst the door open. Angry. Fast. And hungry for more.

Wahab that day was in complete sync with the most quintessential of human instincts; that of the hunter. Wahab’s rhythmic run up and delivery was hypnotizing. Your pulse raced with the rise and fall of his own. As a spectator on TV, you felt your emotions spilling over, blood boiling and body temperature rising a few degrees as the force of Wahab’s aura overwhelmed everything else. In that moment, you felt a part of your soul had formed a neural connection of sorts with Wahab and the full impact of his anger, frustration, aggression and desperation hit you like a freight train.

Wahab - 50 fucking shades of crazy

Wahab – 50 fucking shades of crazy

As Wahab sent in bouncer after bouncer and Watson hung on for dear life, as he hushed the vocal crowd who must have sensed a slight element of fear, as he was delightfully reminding Watson about the bat he had come out with and bullying him in his strong zone, he transcended the match result itself, the runs needed, and the other players on the field. You were moved by one man’s barely believable confidence in his own skill to challenge and dominate an opponent. The bouncers were of such high quality pace and accuracy, for a moment you’d have thought this was Bodyline in Adelaide 1932-33, Harold Larwood at the bowling crease and Douglas Jardine his captain. With two close-in catchers on the leg side, Misbah certainly did what was allowed. Judging by Wahab’s accuracy, in hindsight, he could probably have had all others come around the bat at catching positions and Watson still wouldn’t have been able to get him away. Among the many that were there to watch the spectacle, it seemed there were only two. Then and there, the world must have been a lonely place for Watson.
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Australia v Pakistan: Quarter Final - 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup


That Wahab couldn’t inflict more damage through the wickets column was due to fielding of such poor standards it should be termed criminal. Also, the resilience of Watson and Smith cannot be ignored. One can only imagine what would have become of the Pakistani batting unit had they faced such a ferocious spell of bowling. As Wahab returned for a second spell with the game almost lost, he gave Pakistan one more chance to make amends. Maxwell made an ugly attempt at a pull / swat that went high towards third man. Predictably, this attempt to catch the ball was even worse. Wahab, so visibly in anguish, let out another pained scream and the World Cup was over. The rest was just semantics, the last rites of one of those many ‘what-if’ games Pakistan has been a part of. Coach Waqar may consider putting an arm around Wahab, and let him know why he and Wasim only concentrated on LWBs and Bowleds.

With the chaotic management and injustice both prior to, and during the first 2 games of the World Cup, I had tried to disassociate myself from the team’s cricket, dispassionately declaring for a need to lose 0-6 in the group stages so that the disease which plagues Pakistan cricket does not remain covered. A friend asked me the day after the match that why was I so emotional about the result now, and I could only respond with a phrase fast becoming legend, courtesy of some very Pakistani cricket journalists and fans, “Kya karun yaar, Pace is Pace Yaar (What to do man, Pace is Pace man).”

Almost feels like a Wahab slow-clap -

Almost feels like a Wahab slow-clap –

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