Quietly, without any fanfare, a revolution was inaugurated in the world of cricket on September 12 during the opening match of the Championís Trophy in Sri Lanka. The Pakistan all-rounder, Shoaib Malik, became the first player in the history of the game to be given out leg before wicket by the third umpire. This decision, however pathbreaking, was in keeping with the playing conditions laid down for the Championís Trophy by the International Cricket Council. Before this tournament, the third umpire was brought into play to assist the umpires on line decisions and on whether catches have carried. But for the Championís Trophy, the third umpire can come in on any decision. Malik was the first victim of this newly extended operative field for the third umpire when the on-field umpire, Daryl Harper, declared him out lbw after consulting the third umpire, Rudi Koertzen. Traditionalists are in a state of shock for the logical implication of this is that the umpires could be reduced to no more than clothes pegs for players to hang their sweaters and caps. Dicky Bird, perhaps the most celebrated umpire of the game after Frank Chester, has bemoaned this new development and has commented that it is impossible for a machine to take into account all the factors involved in an lbw decision.
This is one of the rare occasions when Dicky Bird is wrong in his judgment. The fact of the matter is that a machine is not making the judgment but a human being trained to be an umpire is. The machine with the help of the Hawkeye is helping the umpire to analyse all the aspects: where the ball was delivered from, how much the ball moved or spun, where it pitched, the height it gained and where it would have gone. The third umpire, after watching all this on television, gives the verdict. What is important is that if even after seeing all this the umpire is not satisfied with the evidence, the rule of benefit to the batsman holds. Thus a technological development is helping to enrich the game by eliminating one controversial aspect. Cricket is becoming less uncertain. This may take away some of its charm, if any remains after all that has happened to an erstwhile noble game.