Cricket chiefs have been urged to review the use of soft signals after New Zealand opener Devon Conway controversially survived a claimed catch by Zak Crawley.
The incident occurred when Conway had made 22 in New Zealand’s first innings. He edged a delivery from Stuart Broad to Crawley at third slip, who dived forward to take the catch, with Broad celebrating the wicket.
Conway, however, stood his ground, promoting a meeting in the middle between on-field umpires Richard Kettleborough and Richard Illingworth. Kettleborough, the standing umpire, duly referred the incident to the third umpire Michael Gough, but not before delivering a soft signal of ‘not out’, indicating he felt the ball had not carried.
Under ICC rules, the burden of proof was then on Gough to prove that Kettleborough had made a mistake if he wanted to overturn the decision. After studying replays, Gough sided with the on-field officials, saying that the ball had “clearly” been grounded.
England struggled to contain their irritation on the field, with Stuart Broad gesturing at the umpires that Crawley had got his fingers under the ball, and the incident also prompted a backlash from senior figures within cricket, who blamed the soft signal system for effectively skewing the decision-making process.
Former West Indian captain Jason Holder wrote on Twitter, “How much longer will the soft signal cloud the game?”, while pundits including Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain, Rob Key and New Zealand’s Simon Doull all insisted the catch had been taken cleanly.
Conway – who made a double-hundred in his Test debut at Lord’s last week – had made 22 and duly went on to complete another half-century as New Zealand responded to England’s 304 all out.
This year, the Indian Premier League opted to remove the soft signal for decisions referred to the TV umpire, with on-field umpires not giving any indication of whether they think a player has been caught cleanly when referring a catch.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India and the country’s captain Virat Kohli have been critical of the soft signal in international cricket, and its future is likely to be a growing source of discussion going forward.