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India vs New Zealand: Was the third umpire justified in giving Virat Kohli out LBW in the Mumbai Test?

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There’s the odd, the bizarre, and then something even more absurd. On Friday, as a fairly packed Wankhede stadium watched, a bizarre sequence of events unfolded in the second Test between India and New Zealand.

Virat Kohli, resuming captaincy duties after taking a break in the first Test, jogged out to massive applause from the crowd, but the atmosphere had more apprehension than furor, more panic than anticipation.

India had just lost Cheteshwar Pujara for a duck shortly after losing their opener Shubman Gill. The memories of a Test victory slipping out of grasp in the closing stages of the fifth day in Kanpur hung over the heads of the Indian team and management. They couldn’t miss out in Mumbai and not finish with a win in this series. That would be more than a mere blip in India’s nearly unblemished home record; a low that the Rahul Dravid era would find difficult to shrug off.

The assurance of Kohli stepping onto the field of play is a thing of the past. The journey to a 71st international hundred had taken longer than anyone expected, and at this point, it was hard to argue if Kohli was in form or out of form. The odd exceptional knock was interspersed with a string of low scores and the reliable No.4 batter inducing fear in the opposition camp was a thing of the past.

Here, it took Ajaz Patel, skipping in with a spring in his steps after dismissing the first two Indian batters, just four balls to get rid of Kohli. The Indian skipper took a long stride forward to defend a loopy delivery and was struck on the pads, or so it seemed to the on-field umpire. The finger went up in an instant, but Kohli had no hesitation reviewing it, the quickness of which made you wonder if he nicked the ball before it hit the pads.

Replays took an eternity to the restless Indian fans but showed what Kohli believed to be right. There was bat on the ball. But, it wasn’t all that they saw. The ball had brushed the pad too at almost the same time. Multiple replays followed as Indian fans looked on tense.

The third umpire, Virender Sharma, had a ridiculously tough call to make. On the one hand, the ball had hit the bat and pad together and with no conclusive evidence to overturn the on-field umpire’s call, the third umpire will have to stick to the original call. On the other, it was Virat Kohli. A nation was holding its breath and waiting for him to make a call, one that would let them heave a sigh of relief.

There was none. No evidence at all to suggest that the ball had hit Kohli’s bat first. Sweaty palms for the TV umpire? He called out, for the 8lakh viewers on Hotstar and a million others outside, to the on-field umpire that there was no conclusive evidence and that the original call would stand. Such was the pressure that he basically forgot to play out the ball tracking evidence – until on-field umpire Anil Chaudhary reminded him – to see if the ball had indeed gone on to hit the stumps.

Social media went up in flames as Kohli walked back with every evidence against him. Slow-motion cameras and videos popped up everywhere as fans dissected if Kohli was indeed out. Was he? Was he really, according to the ICC WTC Playing conditions, which overrules the MCC laws, out?

Clause 36.2.2 of the MCC Laws of Cricket states that “if the ball makes contact with the striker’s person and bat simultaneously, this shall be considered as the ball having first touched the bat.”

With this in mind, Kohli was definitely not out.

But it is a tad different in the ICC playing conditions. ICC’s conditions state that “if the bowler’s end umpire is not satisfied that the ball intercepted the batsman’s person before it touched the bat, the batsman shall be given not out.”

“That was bat first in my opinion,” Wasim Jaffer tweeted. “And I understand the ‘conclusive evidence’ part. But I think this was an instance where common sense should have prevailed. But as they say, common sense is not so common. Feel for Virat Kohli.”

A million people felt Kohli’s pain. Despite the lack of hundreds, his home record in the last two years was nothing to be scoffed at. Kohli’s shake of the head from the dressing room as he replayed the videos told a tale by itself. He was furious as he walked back and took a swipe at the boundary hoardings. In the dressing room, he was more composed but had a wry smile on his face, disbelief writ all over his face.

But the TV umpire wasn’t at fault. For one, the MCC laws do not apply to the TV umpire according to Appendix D of ICC Men’s Test Match Playing Conditions. The on-field umpire had made a call based on what he witnessed, and it may or may not have been wrong. The TV umpire’s job, though, is to go by the evidence he has at hand, and if there’s no conclusive evidence, stick to what the on-field umpire called it.

Ridiculous? Absurd? That’s how most laws are. But you abide by them, and here, as evident as it was that Kohli had possibly nicked the ball through to his pads, the mistake was made moments after on the ground, by the on-field umpire.

The TV umpire, as powerful as he is with the aid of technology, sophisticated cameras, and slow-motion replays, has no say in the dismissal if there’s no conclusive evidence in front of him. Virender Sharma had none. The nation can fret, the captain can shake his head and the fans can feel aggrieved, but at the end of the day, it’s a human error, an element of any sport that is hard to erase even with the most advanced of technologies at your disposal. You live with it.

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