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The role of cricket umpires

Umpires Billy Bowden and Tony Hill confer
Umpires Billy Bowden and Tony Hill both hail from New Zealand

What is the job of a cricket umpire and when can they refer decisions to a third official?

Let's start with the basics. On the field of play, there are two umpires officiating a match.

One umpire stands behind the stumps at the bowler's end of the pitch, while the other umpire stands at square leg.

At international level there is also a third umpire on the sidelines and a match referee.

The umpire at the bowler's end makes decisions on lbw appeals, no balls, wides and leg byes.

The square leg umpire will judge stumpings and run outs.

At the end of each over, the umpires change position.

The umpires indicate no balls, byes, leg byes, wides, boundaries and sixes to the scorers, who keep a running total of the runs scored, while the match referee rules on disciplinary matters.

If a player disagrees with the umpire about a decision and argue their case, the referee can fine the player in question.

The third umpire uses TV replays to rule on run outs, stumpings, whether a ball has hit the ground before being caught or when it is unclear if the ball has crossed the boundary.

However, the third umpire can only make a decision if they have been asked to do so by the umpires out on the pitch.

Paul Collingwood and Peter Hartley
Collingwood discusses his controversial dismissal with umpire Peter Hartley

Their involvement in the game has becoming increasingly influential, with fans and commentators alike calling for technology to be used for every contentious appeal.

There have been a couple of instances where the issue has been highlighted.

In the sixth one-day international between England and India in 2007, umpire Peter Hartley initially gave Paul Collingwood not out as he attempted a quick single.

But when Hartley jogged in to replace the bails, the slow-motion replay was shown on the big screen despite Hartley not asking for a referral to the third umpire.

When the replay showed that Collingwood was out, and the Indian team celebrated, Hartley then motioned for a referral to the third umpire.

So did Hartley make a mistake? Well yes in not referring straight away to the third umpire, but as MCC laws state, "an umpire may alter his decision, provided that such an alteration is made promptly. This apart, an umpire's decision, once made, is final."

Law 27 continues: "A prudent umpire will always take a moment or two to consider the facts before him. No shame is attached to an umpire changing his mind if, in the final analysis, the decision is a correct one."

In the end Hartley was correct but he will no doubt regret not calling for the third umpire as soon as there was any doubt about the run out.

Another instance was in the second Test between India and England in 2006.

Kevin Pietersen sweeps Harbhajan Singh, but the ball hits his wrist
TV replays would have saved Pietersen in India in 2006

England opener Andrew Strauss was correctly given out when umpire Simon Taufel referred a catch to third umpire Arani Jayaprakash in the second innings.

However, umpire Darrell Hair did not ask for Jayaprakash's assistance when he gave Kevin Pietersen out caught by Rahul Dravid at leg slip.

But television replays clearly showed Harbhajan Singh's delivery had hit Pietersen's wrist rather than his glove or bat.

If an umpire is unsure about a decision, then the batsman is always given the benefit of the doubt, but with more and more referrals to the third umpire that doubt can be checked upon.

Only an umpire can give a batsman out, but only after an appeal from the fielding side.

If a batsman stands their ground and no appeal has been made by the fielding side, they should not be given out by an umpire.


In the last few years, the ICC has trialled a review system - which allowed players to challenge the on-field umpires and have their decisions referred to the third umpire - in Test cricket.

Australia keeper Brad Haddin signals for a review during a Test against South Africa in February 2009
Players call for a review by making a "T" signal with their forearms

The dismissed batsman or the fielding captain could appeal by making a "T" sign with both forearms at shoulder height - and each team were initially limited to three unsuccessful challenges per innings, although this was later reduced to two.

Sri Lanka batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan made history on 24 July 2008 when he became the first player to successfully appeal against an umpiring decision.

After on-field umpire Mark Benson adjudged him caught behind off India's Zaheer Khan, he appealed to third umpire Rudi Koertzen who ruled he was not out.

The review system was trialled again during several Test series in 2009 and 2010, and was used at the 2011 World Cup.

However, at this stage, both sides must agree for DRS to be used in a Test series.

Because of India's objections, the England-India Test series in 2011 only used a limited DRS, with lbw decisions not allowed to be reviewed.

see also
World Cup review system approved
01 Jul 10 |  Cricket
Umpire review system in 'crisis'
17 Nov 09 |  Cricket
ICC drops TV referrals for Ashes
12 May 09 |  Cricket
England to use Test appeal system
14 Oct 08 |  England
Dilshan makes history with appeal
24 Jul 08 |  Cricket
ICC unveils Test referral trial
17 Jun 08 |  Cricket
Guide to umpire's signals
10 Nov 06 |  Laws & Equipment

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