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March 13, 2000


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Dear Tony

Armchair Expert

One bad decision and Tony Greig showed his true colours. (In his case, green, yellow and black, spelt South Africa.) Not that there's anything wrong about that. (Haan, some say commentators ought to be neutral but I'm all for a bit of patriotism and passion.) Just that one was most shocked by the extreme reaction from a man one has come to respect for his incisive and balanced views on the game. Admittedly, the provocation was grave. But as with all bad decisions, they're...well, part of the game. (I never thought I'd be saying this. But there's little else one can say to explain that shockingly poor decision from Mr. Singh.)

But first, let me tell you where that headline came from. And then, you can tell me whether what Tony said was...

Pull back to the last over in the first one-day match between India and South Africa. India on the verge of a victory - what? India, winning? You must be joking. (That's pressure point number 1 on the umpire.)

Umpire Singh from Bombay, officiating in his sixth match - again, not a statement that's meant to use his relative inexperience as an excuse, just a little bit of extra info about the gent in question - declared Pollock's third delivery a 'no-ball.'

Pollock couldn't believe it. Well, of course he couldn't believe it. He's desperately disappointed to have let the team down at such a crucial time. So was wouldn't be overtly surprised by his reaction. But replays showed why it wasn't just disappointment. It was Pollock telling the umpire "Gawdawful, I've been screwed! That was no 'no-ball!" It was also one of the poorest decisions seen in recent times. But, it was not disgusting. And Tony, of all people, had no business being so insensitive and crass in his choice of words.

You see, what the first few replays didn't show, was the milli-second Mr. Singh had to judge whether Pollock's skid on the line was on or off the line. Sure enough, he was under pressure. And unfortunately for Pollock and South Africa, he succumbed to it.

But, we've seen that happening. Under less pressure. In more incriminating circumstances.

Like the 'debatable' decision given by a certain Mr. Harper in Australia. Or, for that matter, a respected international umpire from your country, by the name of Mr. Rudi Ko...(You know who am talking about.) Yes, the same gentleman who the English, to put it mildly, found a little hard to stomach. Proof, that everyone has a bad day. And that you've condoned worse. But so what? Umpires, like all of us, do make mistakes. They shouldn't be crucified for it. Corrected, maybe. But not condemned.

Oh but this was particularly disgusting. And South Africans have never seen such things happening. Right? In simple English, wrong. (And the clumsy little pun is every bit intended!) Just ask the Ian's. Both and Chappell.

But why ask? You must have had a chance to tune in to Sky Sports' excellent coverage of the South Africa/England series in South Africa. Yes, I do know you were busy. But the cricket lover you are, and SA supporter you showed yourself to be, you couldn't have resisted a good, long peek. Oh, am sure you did. You must have. And am also sure you must have cheered the loudest when the South Africans won the series and the one-day trophy. By the way, did you catch what David Gower, Ian Botham, Mark Nicholas, David Lloyd, Bob Willis, the Barmy Army, the whole world and his wife had to say about Rudi?

No, I have nothing against Rudi. I think his apology was the gentlemanly thing to do. He had a bad day. And he took the rap for it. As they say, it happens. Who's they? Well, you know, they. (People like Tony and Ian when it comes to people like Harper and Rudi.)

The Barmy Army, though, wouldn't be as charitable. And would be the first to agree with Ian Chappell's wry "I've seen worse." in response to your extreme "that's disgusting." Because they saw Rudi giving Hussain lbw to a ball that was, a) headed down the leg-side and b) had taken the outside edge of Hussain's bat on it's way to the third-man boundary. Nothing more, nothing less. And like Channel 9, Sky Sports made it a point to show it about 36 times for the benefit of all and sundry. Just so everyone knew who got what wrong.

Ask the men you respect Tony, they'll pretty much have a thing or two to say about Rudi's performance in that match. Heck, even Rudi didn't have too many nice things to say about his performance in that match. The excellent umpire and good human being Rudi is - he must be, it takes character to admit failure - Rudi will be the first to tell you about human fallibility. Pressure can do strange things to people. And you as a top-class player ought to know that. (Players do know more than us armchair experts, right?)

Is it easy handling the pressures of listening for a snick over the tens and thousands of chanting voices? The pressures of having less than a split-second to decide between a no-ball and a million other possibilities? A mindful of possibilities. (Considering the umpire's job, most appropriate when said to rhyme with minefield.)

The umpire - like a fielder who has to decide between a catch and stop - has less than a second to decide whether it is a no-ball or not? Did it pitch outside off? Would it have gone on to hit middle and leg? Was the batsman too far forward? Why is the keeper coming charging toward him. Why is the bowler doing a jig? And why does the batsman not make his job easier by just walking?


See, that's what pressure can do to a person. Try telling me a human being is not likely to make a mistake under such circumstances.

And Tony you were part of the crack team Down Under. You saw what Sachin got every time he batted. (Good balls, bad luck and a few atrocious decisions.) No, not for a minute am I suggesting any of the decisions that went against him were disgusting. (Just plain atrocious.) A couple of them were iffy. (Or as, the for the once 'uncourageous', Taylor put it, 'courageous'. (Now that's...never mind, mere kalam se gaali kyon likhvana chahte ho?)

Was Sachin out caught at short-leg in the first innings of the, possibly, series-defining first Test match? Ask Channel 9. Was Sachin out lbw after having belted Mcgrath for four consecutive boundaries? Ask Channel 9. Was Sachin out lbw to a bouncer? Don't ask Channel 9. Just ask any idiot. In fact, don't bother asking anyone. Everyone knows. Except a certain Mr. Taylor. Who thought it was 'courageous'.

Tony, please note Mark Taylor's choice of words, he says 'courageous'. Not disgusting. Was it a tougher decision than the one Mr. Singh had to make? I'm not sure. Harper didn't have to look for the nearly invisible no-ball line. Harper had no last minute split-second skid to contend with. Harper didn't have the pressure of a crucial last over. And Harper didn't have a highly emotional commentator talking the millions through the replays. But, like Mr. Singh, Harper too was under pressure. (A different kind of pressure.)

It's not easy turning down a bowler like McGrath. He doesn't just appeal. He demands. He demands. And he demands. And then...he demands some more. You can well imagine the kind of demands that situation must have made on Mr. Harper. It's not easy being an Australian umpire in Australia. What with McGrath demanding you give the best batsman in the world out that very second? Every three seconds. Nothing less will do for McGrath. Or Warne. Or any other bowler. Or any player who's at the wrong end of the finger. (Or call.)

The fact of the matter is, umpiring, pretty much, sucks. (Err. Excuse the language. But I am like this only.) And Mr. Singh after his last match, will be the first to agree. (No thanks to Tony.) We have cameras to tell us everything. What do the umpires have? Less than a second.

The easiest thing in the world is being a critic. A commentator. A journalist. An armchair expert. (I should know.) Heck, anything is easier than being out there on the field. The least we can do is not start saying insulting things - and that too, in front of the whole world - about someone who's doing a dirty job 'cause he's chosen to do it. (But it's still dirty. And a lot more than the one you and I are doing.)

Tony, you never said that about Harper. About Rudi. Why now? Oh, I forgot, you aren't neutral anymore. (Am I going on a bit? Okay, I'll wrap it up.) Yes Tony, I'll tell you what's disgusting. It's disgusting to take advantage of all the additional resources you have at your disposal to forward a point of view, based more on misplaced emotion than sound judgement, to nail a man who's only being human. (Now was that a quick wrap up or what?)


Doesn't matter. You're still my second most favourite commentator. The first being, Harsha. Like you, I'm not neutral anymore. And nothing wrong with that.

Armchair Expert

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