An ICC Cricket committee, spearheaded by former India cricketer and coach Anil Kumble, recently decided that the umpire's call element of the Decision Review System (DRS) should stay.

A controversial topic, it is in line with the soft signal rule in cricket, and has divided fans and pundits alike.

Explained: What is umpire’s call in cricket?

The umpire’s call simply means that the on-field umpire is given the benefit of the doubt for their original verdict on a leg-before-wicket (LBW) that was challenged and reviewed. This is after the third umpire concludes that the original decision was too marginal to be adjudicated otherwise after the review.

An LBW decision can be challenged when the batsman that has been given out requests for a review by making a T-signal with his hands or hand and bat. It can also be challenged when an on-field umpire’s decision goes against the fielding team and they request a review.

The third umpire then has to review three aspects of the LBW - ball pitch, ball impact and whether the ball would hit the stumps based on Hawkeye.

Hence, the umpire's call comes into play when the impact is far away from the stumps and the game conditions state that if the first point of contact is 300 cm or further from the stumps, then the umpire's call remains.

If the ball is deemed to have pitched in-line with the stumps, and the ball impact is also shown to follow suit, then the decision rests on the predicted trajectory of the ball toward the stumps.

In marginal decisions where the ball is predicted to clip the edge of the leg or off-stumps, conclusive evidence - ball tracking - must show more than 50 per cent of the ball hitting the stump for an on-field decision of an out to be upheld. Otherwise, it can be overturned.

Given that technology can’t predict the accuracy of the ball hitting the stumps -- it accounts for a margin of error -- the third umpire will be within his right to deem a decision to be not out even if the ball is shown to be hitting the stumps (less than 50 per cent impact).

Why is the umpire’s call controversial?

While the Decision Review System (DRS) came into existence in 2009, it was not until 2016 that the International Cricket Council (ICC) introduced the umpire’s call to make a DRS more technically effective.

The umpire’s call has drawn the ire of many cricketers - former and current - and a few retired officials. Virat Kohli was against the umpire’s call citing that it complicates the situation, thus calling for simplicity of the rules.

"I have played cricket when there was no DRS. If the (on-field) umpire made a decision, it stayed like that, whether the batsman liked it or not and vice-versa...  or if it was marginal or not,” Kohli explained.

“When the ball is shown as clipping the stumps, the bails are going to fall. So, from basic cricket common sense, I don't think that there should be any debates on that. If the ball is clipping the stumps, it should be out - whether you like it or not you lose the review. And that is how simple the game has to be: if it hits the stumps or it misses the stumps, it doesn't matter how much it is hitting. Because it is creating a lot of confusion,” he asserted.

The MCC’s World Cricket Committee - consisting of cricket legends like Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara and Shane Warne - echoed the Indian cricket team captain’s views.

A statement from the committee, which made its concerns known to the Kumble-led ICC Committee, stated that some members felt that the umpire's call was confusing to the watching public.

Earlier, there were calls from former ICC elite panel umpire Daryl Harper and legendary Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar to ban the umpire’s call after a couple of controversial decisions in the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India.

Even England captain Ben Stokes questioned the credibility of umpire's call during England's five-match Test series against India in 2024 after a few questionable calls against his team during the tour.

The first instance was when Australian skipper Tim Paine was given out, after the on-field call by Paul Reiffel - given not out - was overturned by third umpire Paul Wilson.

As quoted by Sydney Morning Herald, Harper called for a ban on the system while stating that there is still a gap in communication or understanding the concept.

“I’ve had enough of the umpire’s call. Let’s just ban it. Get rid of the controversy and just go with it. Any contact with ball on stump will dislodge a bail. No 48 per cent, 49 per cent,” Harper declared.

“The fact it’s been going for 12 years and the public are still mystified, and the players are still mystified, would suggest that there are some deficiencies in either the communication or the understanding,” Harper added.

In the same fixture, Australian batsmen Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne survived the LBW appeals despite replays indicating they could have been declared out.

“It doesn’t matter whether the ball is hitting 10 per cent or 15 per cent or 70 per cent because when you get bowled, none of this matters. I understand that the tracking system is not 100 per cent accurate but can you name one umpire who has never made a mistake?” Tendulkar asked.

All things considered, umpire's call seems to be here to say. While it is true that it has its fair share of detractors, it's also worth noting that there are several individuals who back this way of decision-making and argue that the existence of human errors will always leave room for controversy, hence making it the best possible method to come to proper decisions when dealing with close calls. 

Feature image courtesy: Twitter / Cricket Australia