Let’s take stock. Technology determines fouls in Olympic long and triple jump. Ball tracking is relied on down to the millimetre for DRS judgments. They put man on the Moon nearly half a century ago. Can we automate the front-foot no-ball rule already? Or, at the very least, take the onus of ruling on them away from the central umpire?
An often-sodden Sunday (June 12) at Lord’s highlighted yet again the shortcomings of the status quo when Nuwan Pradeep was denied the integral wicket of Alex Hales after taking his leg-stump mostly out of the ground. Rod Tucker’s arm was erroneously stretched out for an overstep, but as replays quickly confirmed, the bowler’s boot was behind the line. Without any recourse, there was nothing anyone could do to right the wrong.
Of course, human error is an accepted part of officiating the game. The sheer pace the action takes place at, and the fine margins requiring adjudication, means it always will be – albeit less over the last quarter century as technology has been turned to more by the year.
But there’s something about this that especially grates, doubly for the fact that these types of errors only serve to diminish a bowlers’ lot at a time when the game has never been more slanted in favour of bat. Including now, when no-balls are routinely checked for, and called, after dismissals. Work that out.
More to the point: Sunday’s episode brought back memories of just four months ago in New Zealand, where Adam Voges was reprieved in identical circumstances. At the time he was on seven and Australia on the cusp of bother late on the opening day of that series. He went on to make 239. That was the end of that.
It’s encouraging that this topic is currently under consideration by the ICC Cricket Committee, and that a change in some form appears imminent. It’s unclear whether this will be looking expressly at retrospectively overturning incorrect no-ball calls (i.e. to tell Hales in this case to keep walking) or more fundamental reform.
Looking at the latter, this is core of the problem: that central umpires still have this responsibility to begin with. The game has never been quicker, nor scrutiny of their decisions more widespread. In turn, let’s keep the officials’ attention where it should be — at the business end. After all, this part of the job amounts to a clerical task when they have far more complex matters to rule on.
Naturally, a structural overhaul in the application of this law would be complicated, and does generate plenty of logistical questions. But surely, they are posers worth thrashing out in an effort to find consensus and get this right with a robust solution in keeping with modern elite cricket.
Hales fortune came when he was on 57 and was dismissed 37 runs later. On paper, that’s not devastating. But with the time available left in this match to force a result the tourists’ way, less again after train until well after lunch, the extra hour and a half Hales spent at the crease was more valuable than the runs added.
Instead of losing two wickets within a quarter hour of resumption, Hales was joined by Alastair Cook, his usual opening partner, for a bit of gentle target-setting. Rather than bowling England out, only a declaration was realistic. To win, for what little this is worth, requires the visitors to make more runs than any team in a successful fourth-innings chase at Lord’s.
With his work with the ball now complete, Pradeep should leave this tour with far more confidence than which he arrived. His numbers (a bowling average of 45 before this Test) belie his performances across all three Tests, where he’s been Sri Lanka’s most effective asset, claiming ten wickets at 31. The gap between those numbers should be far narrower though, the fourth day just the latest in a series of breaks that have not gone his way across the tour.
After coming to the game in a formal sense as a 20-year-old, at age 29 it may very well be now that he is into his prime. Pradeep has consistently bowled with lively pace and wicket-inducing seam movement that you can build an attack around. He has won a lot of new fans.
As for Hales, he successfully became the first England batsmen to be dismissed in the 90s in all three forms of the game before making a century. In truth, it felt somewhat appropriate his series would end this way, dismissed courtesy of a poorly executed clip across his front pad, adjudged leg before six short of a maiden salute.
Putting to one side that annoying three-figures matter, Hales is the foremost positive for England in this series alongside Jonny Bairstow’s batting. With 292 runs across the three Tests, the ‘who replaces Andrew Strauss’ saga seems to be resolved. It only took four years.
Considering Hales was no certainty to retain his spot after a poor tour of South Africa, he can leave move onto his next assignment against Pakistan safe in the knowledge that he has the game to compete at this level. His tons will come.