Explained: Why Grey Areas in Soft Signal, Similar to Umpire’s Call, Lend Itself to Controversial Decisions

Explained: Why Grey Areas in Soft Signal, Similar to Umpire's Call, Lend Itself to Controversial Decisions

Soft signal! The on-field umpires these days are often seen signalling out, raising his pointing finger in front of his stomach after drawing a rectangle in the air to check with the third umpire if there is conclusive evidence to rule against his decision. At some other times, they cross over their arms in front of them to soft-signal not out.

The latest instances of Indian debutant Suryakumar Yadav being given out by umpire KN Ananthapadmanabhan on Thursday after Dawid Malan claimed the catch even though umpteen TV replays showed the ball falling between the gap of his fingers and into the turf. The third umpire, Virender Sharma, who otherwise had a decent outing in the second and fourth Tests he stood with ICC Elite umpire Nitin Menon preceding the T20Is, ruled Yadav out saying he did not have conclusive evidence to say not out.

Similar was the dismissal of Washington Sundar, when on-field umpire, again Ananthapadmanabhan, ‘soft-signalled’ out while the fielder, Adil Rashid, in the deep seemed to touch the boundary rope while catching the ball. Sharma, in both the cases, went with the on-field umpire’s soft signals.

“Why Can’t There be an ‘I Don’t Know’ Soft Signal, How Can Umpire See Clearly,” Questions Virat Kohli

Strange are the rules that say that you cannot overrule the on-field umpire’s soft signal unless there is “conclusive evidence”.

The ‘soft signal’ is similar to ‘Umpire’s Call’ in DRS. The Umpire’s Call throws back to the on-field umpire for him to stay with his decision rather than saying ‘Out’ or ‘Not Out’ based on the video replays that the third umpire gets to see. The ball is either clipping the bail or not clipping the bail; the impact on the pad is in line with the stumps or not in line with the stumps. Nothing in between.

In the case of soft signal, the TV umpire goes with the on-field umpire and displays OUT or NOT OUT on the giant screen.

Should there be a soft signal in the first place? Does the umpire give soft signal in case of line decisions? No. He just refers to the third umpire and waits for the decision on the giant screen. It may be argued that line calls are decisive based on the batsman inside or outside the crease from the television replays. The same applies to soft signals based on the replays, doesn’t it?

It is only because of the doubt that the on-field umpire goes upstairs for the correct decision to be made. The third umpire is in the best position to view from so many angles that are at his disposal to arrive at the right decision.

Experienced international umpires whom contacted for better understanding on the subject say that the replays the third umpire gets to see are from 2D pictures and not 3D pictures.

“By giving a soft signal, you commit to the decision. Earlier, it was still there but it was in the form of two-way communication with the third umpire saying ‘I feel the ball carried’, or ‘I feel the ball touched the ground’ or ‘I am not sure’. Soft signal is an opinion, not a decision. ‘If the footage turns out to be inconclusive, use my soft signal’, is the message the on-field umpire gives to the third umpire. The responsibility is on the third umpire based on what is presented on him,” said an umpire on the condition of anonymity.

Gone are the days when the benefit of the doubt went to the batsmen. The benefit of the doubt going to the batsmen has been taken out of the equation completely with the advent of more technology in the game. “Benefit of doubt exists in the form of conclusive evidence or inconclusive evidence these days,” clarified the umpire.

Perhaps to eradicate any doubt and to arrive at a conclusive decision has the technology been put to use on a large scale today. But, soft signal and Umpire’s Call are still not using the technology to the fullest. In Umpire’s Call, it is either ‘Out’ or ‘Not Out’, nothing in between. Similarly in the soft signal, the third umpire should adjudicate whether it is out or not out, irrespective of the soft signal.

Indian captain Virat Kohli rightly said at the post-match presentation after Thursday’s win that these issues need to be “ironed out”. “The soft signal becomes that important and it becomes tricky. I don’t know why there can’t be an ‘I don’t know’ call with the umpires as well. It is similar to Umpire’s Call. These are decisions that can change the course of the game, especially in these big games. We were on the receiving side today, and tomorrow it could be some other team. You want these ironed out and keep the game really simple and linear. It isn’t ideal in high pressure games and we want a lot of clarity on the field.”

Former international umpire VN Kulkarni from Bengaluru told “Why do we have soft signal? The third umpire should have a direction, where to go and what to see to arrive at the decision. Since the on-field umpire is not 100 per cent sure, he goes to the third umpire to arrive at a more correct decision. The third umpire guides the on-field umpire. He has to see all those things and also independently if certain other things are there. The third umpire has so many options like ‘rock and roll’, ‘magnifier’, ‘freezing screen’, ‘split screen’, etc. Unnecessarily, the term conclusive evidence is far-fetched. At times, two-dimensional and three-dimensional pictures give distorted views. We have two-dimensional cameras and the action happens in three-dimension.”

Kulkarni, who stood in two ODIs on the field besides being the fourth umpire in one Test and four ODIs, was also an umpire’s coach and umpire’s educator in the BCCI set up. The 66-year-old Kulkarni felt that the third umpires need exposure and have to be proactive.

“In the case of Rashid’s catch at the boundary, the third umpire should have prompted the on-field umpire to refer for the boundary. They make a two-way communication in case of boundary calls, whether the ball has been fielded inside or outside. In this case, it should have been referred for boundary. It is only two-way communication. Once you see the foot has touched, you communicate it as a boundary. Automatically, it becomes a boundary (six) and not a catch. While our umpires are doing an excellent job, the third umpires need exposure. We need to educate our umpires on what’s conclusive evidence and what is inconclusive evidence. This is where the mentor comes into play. The ICC umpires go back to ICC umpire’s coaches. But BCCI umpires? They have nobody to fall back upon for their performances, more so because the academy is not functional now,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni also endorsed Kohli’s suggestion and said: “For deep catches, there should be one more soft signal, the ‘I am not sure’ signal’.”


The playing conditions say that if the umpires are not sure about the validity of the catch, they get together and they extend it to the TV umpire with a soft signal, that is out or not out, or what their initial opinion is. If an umpire is not sure about the catch, he checks with his on-field partner and after discussion, if they are not sure of the decision, they refer to the third umpire with a soft signal.

The umpire shows a soft signal by raising his finger in front of his stomach to indicate ‘Out’ or by crossing over his arms to indicate ‘Not Out’. The third umpire, based on the evidence he/she has, adjudicates as out or not out. The third umpire should have conclusive evidence to overturn the soft signal. Otherwise, the soft signal of the on-field umpire stays.

ICC defines soft signal as the visual communication by the bowler’s end umpire to the third umpire (accompanied by additional information via two-way

radio where necessary) of his/her initial on-field decision prior to

initiating an Umpire Review.


The International Cricket Council introduced the soft-signal concept in 2014. Earlier, the on-field umpires and the third umpire, by way of two-way communication, checked the validity of the catch without soft signals being actually given.


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