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Dismissal highlights case for third man

By Mark Nicholas

16 March 1998

THERE was a moment soon after tea on Saturday which altered the momentum, maybe even the course, of this Test match. Angus Fraser bowled a low full toss to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who edged it on to Alec Stewart fielding at second slip, who safely caught it.

Nothing exceptional there, expect that the ball hit the ground immediately after it had touched the edge of Chanderpaul's bat, so the catch was not a catch, so to speak.

Chanderpaul knew this and stood his ground before graciously leaving the field, having been given out. Stewart, I believe, could not have immediately known about the ball bouncing, though it is possible that when the team huddled together in congratulation, they may have sensed something was up. The West Indians were clearly unhappy about the incident and when they came out to field, Brian Lara spoke to Eddie Nicholls, the umpire who had upheld the appeal, and Stewart. He was not whispering sweet nothings in their ears.

The point, I'm afraid, is that players, almost to a man, take the laws of the game to their limit and, more worryingly, are of the idea that the game must be run exclusively by the umpires rather than with any assistance from them. Hence, batsmen not walking, fielders around the bat endlessly appealing for things they know are not out, and occasionally, worst of all, catches being claimed when the ball has not carried - I repeat, Stewart was not an example of one of these occasions.

If that's the way the players want it, it's fine; not pretty, not very 'sporting', in the old-fashioned sense of the word which reflected the ethic of the pursuit, and, most importantly, not likely to encourage sympathetic umpiring.

It's the them-and-us syndrome which belittles umpires primarily because the television camera can so easily expose their human frailty - and in the end will make the game less attractive because the game will become more confrontational, if that is possible. Players are guardians of the game every bit as much as umpires or administrators and since they are the shop window, they have only themselves to blame if cameras, still or television, expose their economy with reality.

I repeat that I do not think Stewart was dishonest in claiming the catch, only that the moment highlighted another issue which could well have been, in fact should have been, referred to the third umpire. There was a suggestion from some West Indians that England should have called back Chanderpaul, but how could they be certain of the legality of the catch without seeing a replay? And, anyway, it must not be that the players can request the camera to make a judgment. What mayhem that would be.

In this instance, the luck went with England - who continued to dominate the match yesterday - and against the West Indies. Chanderpaul was sucking the life out of the game with his defensive batting and had he continued with it for another hour or so, a draw would have become the bookies' favourite.

What should have happened is what soon should always happen, that the third umpire, with the benefit of replays, makes the decision. It is an unedifying way for the game to go and will break the rhythm of play but the players, all of us the world over in this modern age, have made our moral beds and must lie in them.

To reiterate: it's fine, it will work, it may answer many contentious questions, but it's not pretty, not how it was all meant to be.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 16 Mar1998 - 15:11