Marnus Labuschagne has been handed a massive reprieve on day one of the New Year’s Test at the SCG, with the third umpire denying South Africa a crucial wicket on Wednesday afternoon.
Australia was cruising at 1-130 when Marco Jansen tempted Labuschagne into an off-drive that was edged towards the slip cordon.
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Proteas spinner Simon Harmer held onto the low catch, but Labuschagne was unmoved as South Africa started celebrating the breakthrough. On-field umpire Paul Reiffel sent the decision upstairs with a soft signal of out.
Third umpire Richard Kettleborough consulted replays for several minutes from multiple angles, trying to determine whether the ball had bounced before Harmer completed the catch.
Labuschagne began marking his guard before Kettleborough made his decision – not out.
Cheers echoed around the SCG, but the South Africans were stunned at the outcome. Kettleborough needed conclusive evidence the ball had bounced to overturn the decision, and there was plenty of conjecture on whether Labuschagne had been gifted an extra life at the crease.
“I feel as though the South Africans can be quite aggrieved here,” former Test batter Michael Hussey said on Fox Cricket.
“The soft signal was out. I felt like the ball landed on the fingers and he was able to scoop it up.
“His fingers are down, it hits the top of the fingers, pushed it back.
“I don’t think there’s conclusive evidence there to overturn that decision. That’s just my opinion.”
Former Australian spinner Kerry O’Keeffe argued: “There was enough grass under that to feed a growing cow.”
Former Australian umpire Simon Taufel called it a “really tough decision for the third umpire”.
“The ICC did tweak its third umpire protocols in this area last year, where the soft signal in this particular case with a fair catch would carry less weight, only if the TV replays were inconclusive or poor, or non-existent,” Taufel told Channel 7.
“So, Richard really had a tough job with that one, particularly because the camber of the ground slopes away. Obviously Richard felt that the ball hit the ground before getting into the hands. It’s a tough call.
“That’s where the foreshortening of the lens really becomes a little bit deceptive, when you look at it front on. I think that’s why Richard started with that side-on shot to start with because it looks like the ball is dipping down, but sometimes you’ll get that half-frame in between the ball dipping down and the ball going up, and that’s why the side-on shot is sometimes the better one for the third umpire to look at, but I can understand why South Africa might feel a bit hard done by there.”
Soon after the ordeal, play was suspended at the SCG due to bad light.
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