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Zak Crawley ‘catch’ for England reignites debate over umpire’s soft signal

Does international cricket need the soft signal for low catches? It was a question posed by many, including England’s bowling coach, Jon Lewis, as New Zealand moved to a position of strength on the second day of the second Test at Edgbaston.

The tourists closed on 229 for three, trailing by 74 runs, thanks in part to Devon Conway following the imperious double century made on debut at Lord’s last week with another well-crafted 80 that underlined the left-hander’s class.

England, however, were convinced they had Conway’s wicket on 22, Stuart Broad finding the edge and Zak Crawley claiming a low catch at third slip, only for umpires Richard Kettleborough and Richard Illingworth to check with Michael Gough in the third umpire’s chair.

Kettleborough did so with a soft-signal of “not out”, placing the onus on Gough to find conclusive evidence the catch was clean for the wicket to be given. After studying the replays Gough supported the view of his on-field colleagues, stating the ball had “clearly” been grounded.

England were incensed, Broad telling the officials that Crawley’s fingers were under the ball and flirting with a possible dissent charge in the process. Either way it prompted a debate about whether the soft-signal complicates the decision making process in the era of technology.

“You could see from the reaction on the field [the players] were clearly frustrated by that,” said Lewis after stumps. “It’s sport and it divides opinion. The question really is, is the soft signal required? Or could the guy off the field make the decision? I don’t think my opinion is either here or there, just … should there be one?”

“Richard Illingworth [umpiring from square leg] obviously thought the ball hadn’t carried, which is fair enough from his angle. New Zealand will be happy, we will be frustrated.”

The foreshortening effect of the TV cameras does lend credence to the argument that on-field umpires, who see catches with the naked eye, should still retain an influence on such decisions.

Simon Doull, the former New Zealand fast bowler, was among a number of commentators who were convinced the catch was clean, stressing that grass between fingers does not mean a ball has necessarily been grounded.

Jason Holder, the former West Indies captain, tweeted: “How much longer will the soft signal cloud the game?

A contentious low catch by Dawid Malan during England’s T20 series against India in March prompted a similar debate, albeit with the soft-signal in that instance given as ’out’ by umpire Nitin Menon despite being 60 yards away from the fielder on the boundary rope.

Speaking at the time, India’s Virat Kohli said: “I don’t know why there cannot be a sort of ‘I don’t know’ call for the umpire as well. Why does it have to be a conclusive one? Because then that [dictates] the whole decision completely.”

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The Malan catch prompted speculation that the ICC’s cricket committee may look to revise the regulations and hand on-field umpires the power to review low catches without having to indicate their own opinion first.

No changes were settled upon when the panel last met in late March, however the Indian Premier League, which has its own regulations, opted to remove the soft signal.

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