In this age of reality television and real time social media campaigns, Mitchell Marsh might go into cricket’s voluminous records as the first player to be voted out of a game as a result of popular vote.
Recap & highlights: NZ win amidst high drama
Or unpopular vote to be more accurate, given the rabid response Australia’s cricketers have been treated to from crowds in New Zealand since arriving a week ago.
The debate over whether the delivery that Marsh squeezed on to his boot via the inside of his bat should have been referred to the third umpire, and whether there was sufficient video evidence to prosecute a case will echo long after Chappell-Hadlee Trophy was presented.
To New Zealand, for the second consecutive summer.
The best bits of two absorbing press conferences in which captains Steve Smith and Brendon McCullum discuss the controversial dismissal of Mitch Marsh in the deciding Chappell-Hadlee ODI
But the process by which the verdict was rather untidily achieved will need to be examined by wise heads, in the cool light of day lest it sets a precedent that, in turn, could see mob rule become an active element in officiating professional sport.
To be fair to umpire Ian Gould, the Decision Review System (DRS) was introduced on the noble premise that it might help to eradicate the ‘howler’ – the unfortunate error that reflects poorly on both officials and the game – from elite contests.
And this was no straightforward edge to slip, or line-ball run-out.
Smith: Process poor, verdict right
However, the fact that Marsh’s dismissal was not so clear-cut upon review of the vision coupled with the even more salient fact that the bowling team were neither displeased nor mildly surprised when it was initially deemed not out meant this was not one of those obvious mistakes.
Where the issue strays into controversy is the fact that it came at such a crucial point of the contest (as they invariably do) and arose solely from the response of the crowd when the incident was replayed on the scoreboard video screen.
It was the crowd’s hollering that alerted bowler Matt Henry, who had shown mild and fleeting interest in appealing for a caught and bowled from the delivery that floated back to him via Marsh’s shoe.
It was Henry’s revised interest in the cold case that prompted him to ask again of umpire Gould and, when that hearing was unsuccessful, to lobby further and involve his skipper Brendon McCullum.
And it was McCullum’s under-stated, almost apologetic, badgering of Gould that led to the DRS process being belatedly swung into action and the dismissal of Marsh ultimately confirmed.
Things became very tense out on the middle // Getty Images
Several minutes after the moment that signalled the effective end of a run chase that Australia seemed to have in their keeping.
Whether the time that elapsed between the initial query being refused and the subsequent appeal to a higher court being lodged should have constituted a ‘dead ball’ ruling is one that scholars and social media protagonists will debate at length.
Gould would have been forced to withstand vocal pillorying had he enacted that ruling, and potentially worse if closer study of the footage showed a clear error had been perpetrated.
What officials might have to look more closely at is the power that is unleashed when video evidence is played to a potentially volatile gathering while the decision-making process is still ‘live’.
Because clearly it was the voice of the people that swayed the umpire to act, rather than the chorus of one or two vaguely interested Black Caps fielders when the pivotal moment arrived.
Brendon McCullum and Steve Smith after the match
Some will argue it was a fitting finale for McCullum, who true-to-nature offered Marsh a consolation pat on the back as the seething all-rounder stormed from the field incensed by the episode, to secure a series win over his country’s bitterest rival in his farewell ODI performance.
Some more magnanimous Australians might even suggest it was a case of karma for the ‘howler’ decision given in favour of Nathan Lyon when he seemingly edged a catch but was given not out at an equally vital moment of the final Test of the Trans-Tasman Series earlier this summer.
And there are those who will question the damage done to Black Caps’ ‘good guy’ image given the angry exchange of words that appeared to take place within the NZ celebratory huddle as Marsh was sent on his way.
What remains beyond doubt is – just like that controversial final day of the historic pink ball Test in Adelaide – an absorbing series between two evenly matched, highly competitive teams was resolved amid the unmistakable cloud of controversy and the lingering whiff of an unfair ruling.
If not unfair, then certainly unsettling.
And that is precisely what the DRS process was installed to prevent.