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March 27, 2000


Duels in the Desert

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The umpire strikes back

Armchair Expert

Question: Which is the second worst job in the world? (The first, everybody knows. Wot Sachin?)

Answer: A couple of weeks back I wrote about the kind of pressure umpires have to undergo nowadays. Pressure from commentators. Pressure from players. Pressure from the crowds. And even pressure from inanimate objects. Like stumpcams, snickometers, giant scoreboard replays…actually, it might well be the worst job in the world. (Or, as bad copywriters like me would put it, 'Jo umpiring se kare pyar, woh pressure se kaise kare inkaar.')

Time out! Correction! Snafu! A captain can always blame his team. The selectors for not taking decisions. The selectors for taking decisions. The selectors for making monkeys out of the cricket-loving public. The selectors for making all kinds of irresponsible statements in the media. The selectors for…hey, the selectors can be blamed for almost anything. (By the way, anybody seen the little snippet that ESPN plays for the promo of 'Inside cricket?' The one that has a very, very, very, tired Sachin stating very, very, very somberly that it is…the selectors who take decisions! Now, is that a bad clip or is that a bad clip? I'll tell you, it's a bad clip. And it makes the Master Blaster look very pathetic.) Anyway, the point is, captaining the Indian side may not be that bad a job. (Ask Ganguly.) But umpiring? Well, let me put it this way. Who can the umpires blame? (Certainly not the selectors.) Viola! We have a new champion. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the worst job in the world. Umpiring. (A point only further emphasized by some of the examples am about to go into 'apropos de' Aus/NZ series taking place Down Under.)

We all know the Aussies are masters at putting pressure on anyone. Umpires, captains, opening batsmen, tailenders, the coach, the media, the cook, the dry cleaners…everyone and anything that can help them win. (Right Mr. Harper? Right Mr. Hair? Right Mr. Parker? Right Mr. Simon Taufel? The list just goes on…) And as many other Indians who've been, and seen, at the receiving end of Aussie-style mind-games, nothing pleases me more than seeing the Aussies cringe when the close decisions, for once, don't go their way. (Okay, second only to the joy of watching Steve Waugh the master tactician at work. You can almost hear his mind ticking all the way here from Australia.)

How does it feel Warne to not have a Hair on your side? (That's not supposed to sound like that.) How does it feel Steve to have to not have everything go your way? And McGrath…well, Glenn, guess things would have been different had you decided to target Stephen Fleming in Australia. And it's got nothing to do with the bouncier pitches, the weather, the food or any of the other things that constitute 'home advantage'. I mean, give or take a couple of things, it's not much different for an Aussie playing in NZ. (Unless, you bring some of the 'men in white coats' into the equation.)

Make no mistake. Not for a minute am I suggesting the Aussies are not a great team. In fact, I'll be the first to say that this team is, probably, one of the best teams of all time. And I don't have to say it. They've proved it to all and sundry by winning practically everything over the last year or so. (None of which looks about to change in a hurry.) The issue here is they haven't had it all their way in NZ. (And neither have they made it any easier for the umpires.)

For one, they've had to take the field with 11 men. (Isn't that the number of men the fielding side is supposed to have? Yes, but 13 was what it seemed like, sometimes, when the Pakis and Indians went Down Under.) They haven't had umpires being most generous to Warne and McGrath. Justin Langer hasn't been allowed to get away with…well, just ask the Pakis. (Or a certain gent in the white coat who decided to be 'oh-so-magnanimous' and make up for an earlier mistake.) They've had to get the big guns out, more often than not, 'fair and square'. And, more importantly, have had an equal number of decisions going against them. (Point? Bad decisions are a part of the game. But only when they cut both ways.)

Enough has been said about Tendulkar and the decisions that went against him. (At least a couple of them might have changed the course of the series.) About the crucial 'Gilchrist caught and bowled' that was replayed only once and then given 'not out'. Yet again, letting the Australians get out of a hole in the first Test. Yes, yes, also with a little help from captain Tendulkar. Did someone say something about the 35 cameras that are there to ensure every angle is shown? (Well, where were they then?)

For all you know had things gone a bit differently, with a little help from the umpires, Sachin might still have been leading this side. (What was that? Was that a 'thank god they didn't go our way.' Don't be cruel. Sachin wasn't that bad.) But, back now to the Fleming/Waugh duel.

The current series has seen both Australia and New Zealand playing some great cricket. And the Aussies, perhaps for the first time, feeling the wrong end of the stick. (Like some of close calls that didn't go their way in the second innings of the second Test at the Basin Reserve.)

Cut to March 26, the Basin Reserve…

Cairns is playing the innings of his life. (Perhaps one of the greatest examples of counter-attacking I've ever seen. If only we'd done…never mind.) Fleming giving him shrewd support. (If only Dravid and Ganguly…never mind.) And then, Cairns goes for a quick single. A throw happens from mid-on. A direct hit. (What do you expect? This is the Aussie fielding we're talking about. Not Ind…never mind) Cairns seems gone. What's worse, it had everything to with him not having grounded his bat. (Looks like Saurav, Sunil Joshi and Azhar have company.)

Enter the third umpire. He looks at it from every angle possible and decides…not out. Courageous man. And correct decision. (Wot say Mark Taylor?) All thanks to having a look at the replay enough times before arriving at a decision. (Notice…he looks at the replay at least six times. Not once!)

The Aussies can't believe it. (Of course, they couldn't believe it. They've gotten so used to so many of the close, sometimes even not so close, decisions going their way they can't take no for an answer. And why should they? They got Sachin out 'lbw' on a bouncer and caught 'bat-pad' off the pad!) There was more to follow. In the form of at least three more close calls in the space of the next hour or so that didn't go their way. Welcome to the real world Mr. Steve Waugh. And no, contrary to what you and the rest of Australia (give or take a David Hookes) might think, the umpires didn't get any of the close ones' wrong. (At least not the ones in this Test match.)

A millimeter, or thereabouts, of Cairns' boot was over the line. The bat-pad the Aussies were going on about was pad and chest guard! And the 'lbws' they kept yelling for weren't as clear-cut as they thought. (There was an element of doubt. And it had to go to the batsman.) Something Waugh and company will realize when they take a good look at the replays. (And I repeat, for the benefit of Mr. Hair, Harper and company, any doubt, whatsoever, must go in favour of the batsman.)

Will the Aussies apologize for all the filth they spewed when the decisions didn't go their way? I don't think so. But they should. Their umpires make it a point to apologize to their players. Even make up for earlier mistakes! (A first in my memory.) But then, what do the players care? All they have to do is appeal for anything that seems even remotely close. (At times not even remotely close.) And why empathize with the umpires? (Because they're only human?) And, anyway, we've already agreed that umpiring is the worst job in the world. And that, as players, it's our job to do as little as possible to help. (And everything under the sun to win.) And…(no, I've used 'and' too often. Let's try 'after all.') After all, honesty and victory are no longer integral to the game. Just victory. (By the way, the 'integrity' bit goes for everyone. Not just the Aussies.)

So, who wants to be an umpire? (I'm not surprised.)

Armchair Expert

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