I watch a lot of football and sometimes I’m flabbergasted by the VAR decisions that are made. Sometimes it feels like the video referees are desperately trying to make sure they don’t throw their mates under the bus when making their decisions.
However, I had tremendous sympathy for third umpire Nitin Menon when asked to decide if Steve Smith was exhausted for 43 shortly after tea.
There was so much going on at that time. First, he obviously knows the laws of the game and so he had to go through several checks.
Did England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow break the stumps? Yes. Has he broken the stumps enough for the two handles to come out of their grooves? No. Then when he hits the stumps, does the other surety come out all the way and was Smith short of the crease? Or was he above the fold at the time? Which strain had moved? And when?
After around 50 minutes of my Sky Sports colleague Ian Ward analyzing it to the nth degree with different camera angles, we finally got to a stage where it looked like it might have been out.
Steve Smith (pictured) narrowly escaped Jonny Bairstow on day two of the final Ashes Test
It was a controversial decision and one that sparked a lot of discussion online, with third referee Nitin Menon deciding that Smith was “not out”.
There were millimeters between Smith’s bat in the crease as Bairstow crushed the ball into the stumps
The middle stump had backed up and it looked like the two surety lugs had come out of the groove, which must happen by law for a leak to occur.
Remember, it took 50 minutes! And it is not plausible that a third referee has 50 minutes.
So, I think it’s fair enough on this occasion, and there are times when a referee in that minute or two he has to work with is forced to say, “Honestly, I don’t know.”
Sometimes in life there are things that just aren’t perfect. Not easy. It wasn’t an obvious mistake.
The other thing I find interesting is that if Jonny Bairstow hadn’t made the mistake, what would have been the end result? Also remember that Smith’s dive to about three meters was magnificent.
The other thing that people may have forgotten is that the law has changed. It used to be that if your bat crossed the line and bounced, you could still be knocked out.
But this law now states that once you anchor it beyond the fold you are in.
It’s not that kind of decision that frustrates me. The ones that do are when the officials can just give themselves 10 more seconds and make the right call.
In commentary, during a test match between India and England in Chennai two years ago, Mark Butcher cited such an example.
Ajinkya Rahane pushed towards Jack Leach, and the ball hit something about to be caught in the short leg.
Referee Virender Sharma did not recover from it on the pitch and England saw him again, with confidence.
TV umpire Anil Chaudhary reviewed the footage and ruled via Ultra Edge that the ball had missed the bat and grazed the pad, failing to give it away.
England, however, were actually claiming a glove hold after the ball grazed the pad and Joe Root made that point to the referee on the pitch.
Chaudhary was then asked to review the footage one more time and oddly searched LBW for a ball that had obviously kicked the outside leg.
It was England substitute outfielder George Ealham (second from right) who produced the superb throw at Bairstow in the crease
Smith (pictured) was then retired for 71 carries, after hitting a top edge from Christ Woakes
The ball flew high in the air with Bairstow (pictured) behind the wicket to take the hold and dismiss the former Australian skipper
But he didn’t seem to consider what the ball last hit before it got into the defender’s hands, as he didn’t take those extra few seconds to fully travel.
England lost their replay and Rahane survived when he should have been out because the third referee had not studied the replay to its full extent.
There was one earlier in the series when the ball was hit on the boundary at Headingley and you could clearly see the pad roll back as outfielder Ben Stokes slid to stop the ball. It was clearly four and it was given as two.
I don’t mind referees on the field making bad decisions, but with all the technology out there and being able to give themselves those extra few seconds, third referees should be in a better position to get it right. However, on rare occasions like the one we saw at The Ring, things aren’t always conclusive.