The problem with under-calling no-balls

In the first test of India’s tour of Australia last week, Ishant Sharma twice missed out on a wicket as a result of a no ball. The first of them was actually given out, before the DRS review revealed the paceman had overstepped. On the second occasion, the umpire actually called the no ball on the field after a close LBW shout. These were two of just three times throughout the course of that innings, during which Ishant bowled 19 overs, that he was called for overstepping. In the first innings, in which he bowled 20 overs, he was called for two no balls.

Australia's new cricket broadcaster Network Seven, however, decided to go over the tapes, and determined that he should have in fact been called at least 16 times for a no ball in the first innings alone. This is a problem with numerous parts. For one, Ishant needs to stop bowling no balls. He’s been playing international cricket for over a decade and shouldn’t be consistently overstepping at this point in his career. He, of course, is the last person who needs to be told that, and reportedly spent a large chunk of time between the two tests devoted to getting his run up right.

Secondly, the umpires need to call some no balls. It’s difficult to imagine just how hard it must be to determine if a player has overstepped a faded line in a split second before moving your eyes upwards to watch the delivery, but calling five no balls on Ishant in a match where he bowled 16 in the first innings and potentially upwards of 30 in the match is not enough.

The impact this has on India is blatantly unfair, and it’s the same for every team around the world. If a bowler is consistently bowling no balls and not being called for them, why would he change anything? He’s going to continue without altering his run up, and it’s only when he finally gets a wicket that the front foot will be checked. 

There’s a simple solution - two, in fact. The first one - which is the lesser of the two options - is to simply not check the no ball when a wicket is taken. If it’s not called on the field, too bad. Why the powers that be ever decided to check the front foot on a DRS decision when the query is about an LBW call or a catch is beyond me, but to now do it every single time a wicket is taken is simply ridiculous when it isn’t done on a non-wicket taking ball.

The second one is to simply review every delivery. The technology is now - surely - at the point where the third umpire can relatively quickly have a replay beamed onto his computer to determine if the delivery that’s just been bowled was a fair one. There isn’t a major downside to this; people may complain that that means the decision won’t be made in real time on the field, but who cares? Players don’t have nearly enough time to react to an umpire yelling out ‘no ball’ to alter their shot, and if the third umpire can make the call and tell the on field umpire within around ten seconds, nothing and no one is impacted. 

If Ishant had been called every time he overstepped in the first test, I guarantee you he wouldn’t have done it 16 times in the first innings alone. Maybe he would have lost his rhythm as he did on day 1 of the second test in Perth, or maybe he would have simply made the adjustment. But he wouldn’t have kept doing it, and it wouldn’t have only been realised that he was overstepping once he actually got a wicket. 

It’s something which has been a problem in cricket for a number of years, and now that we have the technology to unequivocally rectify it, it’s beyond me why the situation remains the same. Umpires are presumably at a point where they err on the side of caution with calling no balls because they know that if a wicket is taken, the front foot will be checked regardless. But this is in no way fair. If you’re bowling no balls, you need to be told or you’ll likely continue to do it. 

By sending the responsibility upstairs, a number of problems are solved. The first, and most important of them, is that the bowler knows if he’s bowling a no ball, and can do something about it before he has a wicket taken away from him. The second is that the third umpire actually has something to do in the hours between reviews - what on earth else is he doing up there? And finally, the on field umpires get to watch the actual delivery without worrying about the front foot. These umpires are the best in the world and are obviously accustomed to adjusting their field of vision relatively quickly, and do a perfectly good job of it, but it would surely come as a relief to them to not have to bother with a task which can very easily be done by someone with a much better view.

Cricket has often shown itself to be relatively slow in adjusting to the advancement of technology, but this should be a relatively easy fix. There’s absolutely no need for the on field umpires to be checking the no ball, and a number of issues can be solved by simply referring each delivery upstairs. This way, bowlers who have a tendency to overstep like Ishant know when they are doing so, can adjust, and we won’t have situations like we did in Adelaide when wickets are overturned because of something which the bowler could have fixed hours ago. It’s an outdated way to judge no balls, and it’s time to take advantage of the obvious solution.

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