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January 24, 2000


India Down Under

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Umpiring means never having to say you're sorry

V Gangadhar

In the 1996 England vs South Africa series in England, umpires Peter Willey and Javed Akthar made more news than the players. Beaten 2-1 after leading 1-0, South Africa had every reason to believe they were 'done in' by the umpires, but was too gentlemanly to protest.

The Australia-Pakistan-India Test series was also soured by umpiring decisions and controversies. Slow motion replays on television exposed the incompetence of some of the Australian umpires. The Aussies were no doubt a gifted combination, but would they have won the twin series so convincingly if the umpiring had been better?

At several crucial points in the games, decisions always went against the visitors. The one vital decision which took away Pakistan's chances was when umpire Peter Parker declared Justin Langer not out at the beginning of the last day in the second Test at Hobart. The click was audible, the pads and the boots were nowhere near the bat and yet Langer was reprieved. Along with Adam Gilchrist, Langer went on to win the match for Australia and make the series (2-0) for Australia.

Peter Parker had erred earlier in the match when he gave Langer out caught in the first innings. The ball clearly came off the pad. Curiously, Parker apologised to Langer in a press interview and it was widely presumed that he made it up for Langer by ignoring the furious, legitimate Pak appeal for a catch behind the wickets in the crucial second innings.

This was not the first time an umpire had apologised to a batsman for a goof, though. During the 1984 Lord's Test between England and West Indies, umpire Barry Meyer declared a rampaging Viv Richards out lbw to a ball which would have missed the leg stump by miles. Later in the evening, he apologised to Richards who shrugged off the incident. The apology made big news in the media.

More recently, South African umpire Rudi Koertzen admitted that he might have committed errors while officiating in the second Test against England. Koertzen told Radio 5 in an interview, "If I say I didn't make any mistakes I would be a liar. I can probably recall two. I missed the leg before decision on Gary Kirsten and maybe Chris Adams. There was a clear noise, but if he didn't hit it, then I'm sorry I got it wrong."

But the South African Cricket Board appeared to be satisfied with Koertzen and reappointed him for the final Test of the series. The Brititsh television commentators and cricket writers were less happy. "You were being very polite if you say those decisions were dreadful. A couple of them were beyond me," observed former England allrounder Ian Botham, a commentator for Sky TV. Added another stalwart, Geoffrey Boycott, "The decisions were diabolical."

Like the South Africans, the Australian cricket authorities had touching faith in their umpires. Daryl Harper, who declared Sachin Tendulkar out under controversial circumstances at the Sydney Test, was again invited to officiate in the one-day series. Apology or no apology, Peter Parker was also there. Australia, it appeared, could not do without its 'star' umpire, Darrel Hair, whose career has been one long controversy.

Hair was the one who began calling Sri Lanka offspinner Muthaiah Muralitharan whose action had been cleared by the ICC. Murali was a marked man in Australia. Just before the Sri Lankans arrived in Australia last year to play in the triangular series, Hair published his memoirs where he called Murali's action 'diabolical'. The publication of a book just before the series was clearly a violation of the rules, yet Hair was in the Australian panel of umpires for the 1999 World Cup!

Hair and English umpire Peter Willey found something wrong with the bowling action of the Pakistani star, Shoaib Akthar, and reported him to the ICC. Thanks to Dalmiya's intervention, he was subsequently allowed to play the ODIs. The issue was further complicated when doubts were raised about the legitimacy of the action of the young Australian fast bowler, Brett Lee. The Sri Lankan match referee, Ranjan Madugalle, who had been unduly harsh on the Indians, declared that he and the umpires had found nothing wrong in Lee's bowling action. Can the match referee comment on a bowler's action and give him a clean chit? The ICC ignored this issue also.

Apology, excessive appealing, showing of action replays in slow motion in cricket grounds, the role of third umpires -- all big issues today -- prompted me to speak to former Test umpires P D Reporter, Dara Dotiwala and S K Sharma, who continues to officiate in ODIs. Here are their views:

P.D.Reporter: I have never issued an apology over any of my decisions. It is not necessary. I agree with Darrel Hair on the issue of slow-motion action replays shown on the ground. In fact, even ten years back I had suggested this should not be done. You see, it is okay if these replays are watched at home by TV viewers. But why show them on cricket grounds in front of thousands of spectators? It could lead to unpleasant situations.

On the role of the third umpires, I leave it for the authorities to decide. If they feel that the third umpires can be called on to decide on some more issues, let them. Anything which is beneficial to the game should be approved and implemented.

Do umpires try to make it up to a batsman whom they had given out wrongly? Well, such thinking is wrong. Two wrongs do not make one right. No good umpire will do this consciously. As for the rules about chucking, the ICC has made a clear ruling -- according to it, the match referee is supposed to submit his report on any bowler, it is for the ICC to decide whether he is bowling fairly or not.

Dara Dotiwala: There is nothing in the rules which says that an umpire should apologise for a wrong decision. Such an apology is totally unnecessary. I also do not agree that umpires try to 'make up' for a wrong decision by giving a deliberate reprieve to the concerned batsman next time.

I am against slow-motion action replays on the ground, they could lead to trouble some day. You asked about excessive, frivolous appealing and whether they could influence an umpire to ignore a legitimate appeal. Well, this can happen, but no good umpire will ignore a genuine appeal deliberately. You see, the fielding side has every right to appeal and there is nothing in the rules against it. The umpires have no rights to admonish a side on this issue. There was not much excessive appealing during my time. I think, because of one-day cricket, the instances have gone up.

I also do not agree that today's umpires made too many mistakes. The TV replays exaggerate these. So do the observations of the TV commentators. The umpires out in the middle do commit genuine mistakes because they do not have the benefit of the slow-motion action replays and other technological innovations. Human errors are part and parcel of the game, and even the best umpires have made bad decisions. No, umpiring standards have not declined over the years.

I wouldn't mind if the third umpire was asked to handle more decisions -- if we have the technology, why not use it? If one of the field umpires was unsighted and unable to decide on an appeal, he can well ask for the third umpire's opinion.

As for as chucking is concerned, no bowler should be penalised unless there was strong, irrefutable evidence against him. The match referee and the ICC should be very clear on this issue.

S.K.Sharma: No, I am not in favour of an apology. What does it indicate? Will any umpire have the guts to recognise his mistake on the ground, reverse his decision and call the batsman back? If an umpire makes a genuine mistake, he has to take it in his stride. It happens to the best of umpires.

As for excessive and frivolous appealing, the issue can be referred to the match referee. There are chances that an umpire who had to contend with such appealing may turn down a legitimate one. It all depends on the quality and experience of the man in white.

It is not right for an umpire to declare a batsman not out (when he was clearly out) just because earlier in the game, he had wrongly given him out. Such an umpire is guilty of making two mistakes.

As for slow motion replays on the ground, I feel Darrel Hair exceeded his authority when he admonished some of the Indian players. ICC rules say players can watch these replays. At the same time, repeated showing of these can create problems, particularly in the subcontinent.

No, umpiring standards have not declined. But our mistakes are exaggerated because of television replays. Some of the TV experts make comments which are not called for. The umpires on the field cannot compete with those who have the privilege of watching the slow motion action replays. Genuine mistakes will always be made. Why attribute motives when none exist?

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