Players went off the field with India needing just 2 to win © AFP
Players went off the field with India needing just 2 to win © AFP

It probably took Quinton de Kock some time to realise what was going on. It is not every day, you see, that the umpires call for lunch with 2 runs left to provide a result. Virat Kohli walked down the pitch to have a word with Adrian Holdstock, but the umpires were firm: they would play by the books. It was not within their rights to exceed the laws. The television camera zoomed in on a section of spectators who, having recovered from a state of bemusement, made a beeline for the exit.

Aiden Markram, who had a brief but eventful day of humiliation on his first outing at work as national captain, would not have minded to wait for an over or two. Kohli certainly looked keen on finishing it off.

Twitter user, after heaping lavish praises on Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav throughout the South African innings, now found a new pair of targets in Aleem Dar and Holdstock. Some of the tweets were hilarious, some were not, but all of them were targeted at the umpires.

Now, did the umpires do anything wrong?

South Africa had been bowled out for 118 in 32.2 overs. That had left India with about an hour’s batting before lunch. India raced to 93 for 1 after 15 overs. In a different era lunch would have been taken at that point. However, On September 28, 2017, ICC modified certain laws. Law 11.4.4 read as follows:

“The umpires may decide to play 15 minutes (a minimum of four overs) extra time at the scheduled interval if requested by either captain if, in the umpires’ opinion, it would bring about a definite result in that session. If the umpires do not believe a result can be achieved no extra time shall be allowed. If it is decided to play such extra time, the whole period shall be played out even though the possibility of finishing the match may have disappeared before the full period has expired.”

Dar and Holdstock believed that the match would get over by those extra 15 minutes. They might have been requested by Kohli (or, though it is unlikely, Markram), but that was irrelevant: they had sole rights to extend the session by 15 minutes. They could have stretched it beyond that only if those 4 overs had not been bowled.

However, South Africa did bowl 4 overs in 15 minutes. India reached 117 for 1, and the umpires broke for lunch.

We have seen matches like this in the past. India’s match against UAE in the 2015 World Cup at Perth was a perfect example. After bowling out UAE for 102 in 31.3 overs, India went to dinner at 88 for 1 after 16 overs.

We had a close call last year at Bristol. After Ireland were shot out for 126, England, at one point, needed to score 21 from 18 balls to seal it before lunch. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow took 12 balls, but had they not managed it, lunch would still have been taken.

It was perhaps (we don’t know for sure) this match that prompted a change in law. Perhaps this one will, as well — though both were marginal cases.

One cannot help but wonder exactly how ICC will change the law. Will they change the 15-minute ‘extra time’ to 30? The tea interval in Test matches is mandatorily brought forward (if an innings closes) or postponed (if a side is nine down) by thirty minutes. Captains can also ask for an extra half an hour’s play after stumps if the umpires feel a result is possible within that time.

But will thirty solve the problem? What if India had reached 117 for 1 in 23, and not 19 overs, after the stipulated extra half an hour. Won’t we be stuck at where we were on Sunday?

One way to go about this is to leave it to the umpires. If the umpires decide that a result is still possible (after those extra minutes), let them have their say. There are two problems with this:

1. The umpires have already decided on extra time under entirely subjective guidelines. Making them do it twice is probably not a great idea.

2. What if the two umpires don’t agree?

An obvious solution is to have lunch between innings (whenever it is). That definitely hurts the finances, otherwise ICC would have done that a long time ago.

And then, there is another aspect too:

Consider this. There is heavy rain predicted during the final two hours of a Test. A side is chasing a small target, say 125, and they have about an hour of cricket left before tea. They reach the last over with 8 to get. The clouds are getting darker and darker. Play may be washed out after tea — or perhaps it will not — who can predict the vagaries of weather?

The fielding side try their best to restrict the batsmen, not allowing them to score those 8 runs. They know it’s their only chance. The batsmen know they won’t lose, but they won’t leave anything to chance: they need those 8 runs now.

Won’t that light up a one-sided contest?

Had there been heavy clouds looming on the horizon at Centurion, won’t that have made the last over before lunch — otherwise a formality — a tight one? Won’t that have added a dimension, a little bit more excitement to the contest?

Is the law worth changing at all?