Simon Taufel backs umpire Dharmasena's 'soft signal' decision against Kohli

'Soft signal' took centre stage last week, in the second India vs Australia Test, when Virat Kohli was adjudged caught by umpire Kumar Dharmasena by soft signalling 'out' before involving the third umpire to make a decision.

Peter Handscomb signals out after taking a low catch at slip to dismiss India captain Virat Kohli in the Perth Test.   -  Getty Images

Umpire Kumar Dharmasena's soft signal, which ruled Virat Kohli out in India's first innings of the Perth Test, caused a huge uproar in the cricket fraternity last week. The umpire gave himself time before making the soft signal as ‘out’, but even so, it was a brave, borderline call.

A couple of reasons: a) the bowler, Pat Cummins, was in his follow through and impeding the umpire from having a clear view of the second slip fielder taking the catch and b) it was such a low catch that making a real-time decision is extremely difficult if not impossible.

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Peter Handscomb claimed he took a clean catch to dismiss Virat Kohli off the bowling of Pat Cummins.   -  AP

Simon Taufel, a former ICC elite panel umpire, weighed in on the issue in an exclusive chat with Sportstar.

“So, what happens in a non-televised game (which is without a TV umpire, also known as the third umpire),” asks Taufel in response to a question about the necessity of the soft signal.

Soft signal is made by the on-field umpire at the bowler’s end — if he thinks a batsman is out, he signals ‘out’ with a finger close to his chest; if his decision is not out, he waves his hands indicating not out — indicating his decision to the third umpire, who then proceeds to make what stands as the final decision. If the third umpire doesn’t have conclusive evidence from the television replays and the technology available (HotSpot, Snickometer and ultraedge) to overrule the on-field umpire’s soft signal, the decision of the on-field umpire stands.

 

Why was the soft signal introduced?

Taufel says: “It (soft signal) was introduced so that umpires would make decisions and also because technology doesn’t always provide an answer. Even a referral to the third umpire has its limitations because broadcasting differs from country to country — for example, the HotSpot is not part of the Decision Review System (DRS) for matches played in India. If you give the benefit of the doubt to the batsmen, then all of those decisions are going to come back as not out.

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“It’s no different from making a normal signal,” Taufel says of the umpire’s thought process when he makes the soft signal. “You have to decide, in your own mind, whether it is out or not out. Even with the broadcast, television cameras, etc., and the technology like HotSpot, Snickometer and ball-tracker available, it’s very hard for a match official to make a decision.

Taufel, who officiated the 2011 World Cup final after missing out on the 1999, 2003 and 2007 editions because Australia reached the final, says that “officiating is not for everyone”.

Former ICC Elite panel umpire Simon Taufel says a soft signal is no different from making a normal decision.   -  Getty Images

“I’d say that match officiating is not for everyone. It’s certainly a hard task because your job is to make decisions. If you take away the soft signal, you’re telling them not to make a decision.

When the soft signal created controversy

In use for a couple of years now, the soft signal has proved controversial on a few occasions.

Joe Root was given out by the on-field umpire, who felt K. L. Rahul had taken a clean catch fielding in the slip cordon, during the third Test between India and England at Trent Bridge. The decision was referred to the third umpire, but because he didn’t have conclusive evidence, the on-field umpire’s decision was upheld. Steve Smith, another of Kohli’s contemporaries, was also a victim of the on-field umpire’s soft signal in an ODI this year.

Related: Virat Kohli unfazed by media, camera scrutiny

More bizarrely, in an India-New Zealand ODI at Feroz Shah Kotla in October 2016, the fielder at fine leg (Corey Anderson, more than 60 yards from the umpire at the bowler’s end) was adjudged to have taken a clean catch (diving forward), with the umpire’s soft signal ruling the batsman, Ajinkya Rahane, out.

When soft signal and DRS weren’t in use

Taufel narrates his own experience of a similar situation when the umpires didn’t have to make a soft signal and DRS wasn’t in use.

“It was a Test match in 2006 in Antigua, between India and West Indies. It was India's second innings and M. S. Dhoni was the batsman. There was uncertainty over whether it was a six or if he was out. I was standing at square leg and Asad Rauf was the umpire at the bowler's end. Rauf referred the decision to the third umpire (Billy Doctrove). The third umpire couldn't make a decision if Dhoni was out or if it was a six. He told us, 'What do I do? You guys are on the field'. 

“Daren Ganga, the fielder, was claiming the catch. Dhoni accepted the word of Ganga that he did not touch the rope in completing the catch and left the field after several minutes. 

“Someone has to make a decision. Umpires are there to make a decision.”