Although dwarfed by the attention given to Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma's wedding, people may still have noticed there’s a new Star Wars film opening this week. Wherever you turn there’s no escape from the publicity for The Last Jedi, with Darth Vader, Kylo Ren and some stormtroopers even invading a soccer match in Western Australia. It was actually quite interesting to see these imperial characters in Perth because just up the road at the WACA, third umpire Aleem Dar has also been joining in the Jedi theme during the third Ashes Test.
When overruling the on-field decision to give England’s Mark Stoneman not out on Thursday, the much-admired official seemingly ignored conventional DRS-based evidence such as video, Snicko and Hot Spot and instead used a mysterious higher power of perception — something similar to the Force — to come to his conclusion. That evidence, emerged only later in the day to ultimately prove him correct, merely added to the suspicion Dar may well have been trained not by the ICC, but by Yoda.
Initially the third official seemed to have simply gone rogue. In the 38th over, Stoneman was given not out caught behind to a ball by Mitchell Starc. The Australians were convinced he had gloved it, however, so they referred Marais Erasmus’s call upstairs where Dar was waiting, it transpired in hooded cloak. Snicko suggested the ball certainly hit something hand-shaped, but Hot Spot and the replays shown at that particular time proved inconclusive as to whether it was the glove on the bat or the one off it.
To the confusion of many, Stoneman was nonetheless given out, which came as yet another body blow for a man who had already braved a meteor shower of Australian short balls on a then hyperspace-paced WACA wicket.
While Stoneman was unamused, the decision may well have brought a cackle of delight from Mike Kasprowicz, the player dismissed in similar, though DRS-less circumstances, at Edgbaston twelve years ago to earn England a dramatic two-run victory. What no one could quite work out was why Dar - on the evidence everyone in the ground and at home had seen - banished Stoneman back to the hut, leading to considerable jabbering online.
Based on this specific first series of videos, Dar’s decision — especially as he needed to have clear proof to overturn the on-field call — seemed rather enigmatic, like he had access to a greater knowing denied to mere mortals. It was as if he suddenly heard the vanquished voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in his ear-piece, the old Jedi Master trying now to educate elite umpires as he once educated the young Luke Skywalker:
“Your eyes can deceive you, Aleem. Don’t Trust them.”
“But without that conclusive angle, how can I send Stoneman on his way?”
“Stretch out with your feelings….”
So indeed Dar did and England’s battered opener trudged off. As further (though still inconclusive) replays were shown to TV viewers, assistant coach Paul Collingwood and captain Joe Root came out onto their balcony, appearing to tell the Surrey batsman to stay put. As the decision had already been made it was a ridiculously futile effort, but Steve Smith in particular will certainly have enjoyed his opposite number's attempt to warp history. In March, the Australian captain was given out LBW in a Test versus India in Bengaluru and, before opting whether to review or not, looked up to his own balcony for advice. Now it was the England captain having the “brain fade”.
In a further twist later replays indicated Dar had indeed got the Stoneman decision right, leading some to philosophise whether a correct decision reached by incorrect methodology could actually be called correct. The suggestion was that Dar, in a manner that would have upset MS Dhoni, had come up with the right result via the wrong process as the replay angles he saw at the time were ambiguous. Han Solo for one would have been sceptical of the apparent use of instinct over technology: “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for the DRS footage available at the time, Aleem….”
On Friday, Usman Khawaja’s LBW to Woakes also raised eyebrows when Dar refused to overturn it. There seemed to be a Snicko spike as the ball passed the bat, but Khawaja was still sent on his way. Dar clearly put the spike down down to a disturbance in the Perth air caused by a passing Millennium Falcon or similar. No one was that bothered at his decision despite the technological evidence and there was little made of it on commentary. Perhaps after the Stoneman review people realised they are all just fuzzy-headed Ewoks compared to the fully operational capacity of Dar’s cerebral Death Star.
The Pakistani is not the only person in cricket to have tapped into the Star Wars vibe. Like Vader, when Sri Lanka took off their masks in the Delhi Test last week they found goodness within themselves and drew the match. Similarly, Morne Morkel’s frequently perilous delivery stride often resembles an Imperial Walker — a huge robotic doberman employed to attack in arctic conditions — crumpling to the ground.
So should we really be surprised if Dar himself actually is a Jedi? After all, he has long been known for his masterful powers of concentration and ability to control men’s fates merely by raising his finger. During the 2011 World Cup he had a freakish five out of five decisions challenged on DRS upheld, a record of dead-eyed clinical precision even the evil Empire's superlaser would envy. Stoneman was out. Khawaja was probably out. You don’t need to see his justifications. Dar’s are the decisions you're looking for.