Can we give TV umpires the power to adjudicate no balls already?
No balls have been an issue for a long time in cricket. They've been responsible for many a bowler losing out on a wicket after it was determined, as the dismissed batsman is walking off the field, that he had overstepped the line in his delivery stride. Many people would make the argument that bowlers should simply learn how to keep their foot behind the line, which in isolation seems like a fair enough point but fails to take into account a couple of important points - firstly, the difficulty of doing that every single time whilst running at full speed, and secondly and more importantly, the fact that they may have previously been doing it without being told because the on-field umpire didn't notice it.
When it first became common practice to check for a no-ball after every wicket - something Shane Warne no doubt wishes happened a decade earlier after he was dismissed a run short of what would have been his only century off what was later shown to be an enormous no ball - it immediately bothered me. Why should we check after a wicket if we aren't doing it after every other delivery? Of course, the reason is that wicket balls are more important and have a far bigger impact on the game than a regular dot ball, but that's beside the point. Who's to say the bowler hadn't been bowling no balls which weren't called for the first five balls of the over, and it was only when he dismissed the batsman that it was reviewed?
It's an enormous and unnecessary disadvantage for bowlers in a game which already leans too far in favour of batsmen. Of course the bowlers shouldn't be bowling no balls in the first place, but they throw down that many deliveries that it will invariably happen occasionally. And when it does, most of the time it won't be a wicket ball, and if they are aware of the fact that they've overstepped they'll simply move back their marker half a metre and not do it again.
Waiting until a wicket to check is setting them up for failure, and there is such an obvious way around it that it blows my mind that the ICC hasn't bothered to trial it sooner. Take the onus away from the on-field umpire and give it to the third umpire.
Being an on-field umpire isn't easy. Watching a ball hurtle down the pitch and arrive at the other end in less than half a second, at which point you have all sorts of things to take into account, must be really, really difficult at the best of times. Factor in that you then have to ensure that, at the moment of the bowler's release, you have your eyes firmly fixed on his feet, and less than half a second later have them firmly fixed on the ball at the other end, and it must be doubly difficult - and all when there is a far better person for the job.
I'm sure the third umpire does plenty outside of the public eye, but as far as most people can tell they spend a lot of their day sitting in a box waiting for a dubious decision to be sent their way - which happens maybe a couple of times a day. With all the extraordinary technology present in cricket, from hot spot to real-time snicko, are the ICC really telling us they can't have a live feed of the side-on angle of the bowling crease being sent to the third umpire, who can then relay to the on-field umpire whether it's a no ball?
In fact, we know they can. Trials have been conducted in recent years, with ICC's general manager for cricket operations, Geoff Allardice, explaining it thusly: 'The footage is shown on a slight delay, it goes to super slo-mo as the foot approaches the point of landing, and then it freezes.'
One concern which has been raised is the delay which will invariably occur if that were the method instead of the on-field umpire simply doing the job. And sure, there might be the occasional close call which needs a replay and might take a few seconds to get right. But even in that case, it won't likely take more than 10 or 15 seconds - 10 or 15 seconds after a bowler has released the previous delivery, he is probably not far past the umpire in returning to his mark, and the ball is probably at second slip or gully. It literally makes no difference to the game for the on-field umpire to, at that point, stick his arm out and say no ball. According to the ICC, in 2016 the average length of time it took a TV umpire to adjudicate this decision was eight seconds.
It isn't as though, as has been the case throughout the history of cricket, when an umpire calls out no ball immediately as the ball is bowled the batsman has time to adjust. He doesn't hear it while the ball is halfway down the wicket and change from playing a defensive shot to trying to smack one out of the park as a result of the fact that he can't be given out that ball. A single delivery happens very quickly and the umpire calling out no ball makes no difference to the outcome of the delivery, except to perhaps distract the batsman slightly as he is in the motion of playing his shot.
Another problem is the ability to include this technology at every stadium where international cricket is played around the world. As Allardice said, 'in 2018, there was about 84,000 balls delivered around the world in each of these formats in men's international cricket. So to monitor the no-ball on each of these deliveries at all of the different venues is a big exercise. We just need to understand all the challenges before implementing this across all matches.'
And sure, that sounds fair enough. But bear in mind that this is the same organisation that allowed India to simply refuse to use Hawk-Eye because the BCCI simply didn't like it while the rest of the world was embracing the same technology. The same organisation that allowed, again, India - sorry to all the Indian fans out there - to refuse to engage in day-night cricket because they felt it put them at a competitive disadvantage while virtually every other Full Test Playing Nation gave the format a try.
Of course it's important for the ICC to do their due diligence before incorporating a major change into world cricket, but for them to claim they need to be certain it is applicable across every single delivery of men's international cricket before including it anywhere is hypocritical. Who cares? Include it at a few major venues and gradually roll it out across others if you have to. It's great that they're finally trialling these things, even if it was an obvious solution to the problems years ago, but at the moment they're rolling out a whole lot of excuses which continue to delay something which should, to be honest, be relatively straightforward to implement - and certainly more straightforward than all the technologies included when challenges became a part of the game.
Ultimately they'll get there, and the on-field umpire will finally be rid of the unnecessary, and quite frankly probably performance-diminishing task of checking for a no-ball. The wheels are in motion, which is great to see, but it's taken an awfully long time for the ICC to actually get up to speed on this one.