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|May 17, 2000||
Defending the fan's-eye verdictAshwin Mahesh
The adage in action-replays on television is a simple one - the camera doesn't lie. The images of events that transpire on the field are passed along to the viewer, who is then free to determine her own assessment of what the verdict should be. The process eliminates much of the uncertainty that would otherwise prevail, and offers each batsman the honest opportunity to retain his wicket until genuinely dismissed by the opposition. Indeed, the fariness of this process is sufficiently apparent that a whole new person - the third ump - has been added to the game in recent years.
Despite this simplicity, verdicts aren't accepted with the sort of unanimity that one might imagine would result from it. The camera, for all its unvarnished relaying of the action, isn't always in the ideal position to record them. Some decisions have to be made from the umpire's point of view, and by the simple impossibility of positioning both the camera and the umpire in the same spot, rendering judgement as the ump would is precluded. And so we sit in front of television screens, insisting to each other that the batsman should have the grace to walk, on the one hand, and that the bowler should earn his wickets instead of looking to be gifted them, on the other.
The cricket administration's handling of the numerous allegations of criminal behavior in recent weeks offers much in parallel to this. Press reports and investigative journalism takes the place of the camera, providing ever-increasing looks at the same question. The accused protest their innocence, much as a wronged batsman holds his bat up to indicate he did nick the ball, no matter what the umpire may think. The accuser sometimes stops in midpitch and kicks up a cloud of dust, more in consternation than anything else, leaving the spectator wondering if that really was such a close thing.
The parallels with the players aren't nearly as revealing as that with those who sit in judgement, however. Much as an umpire might get it wrong, the cricket adminstrators render ringing endorsements of the game's stars, only to look silly when their poster-boy confesses to being a crook. Reminds me of the time the overeager umpire started to declare the batsman out and hastily corrected his action to pretend all he intended was to adjust his hat. And just as with the game itself, some folks move on to the next ball, while others hold back, insisting that a proper review of the previous delivery be conducted first.
I refer to these parallels with good reason. Many of us can remember a time from particular matches when we were certain that a player wrongfully gained or lost the benefit of proper judgement by the umpires. I recall an especially comic scene from the mid-80s. Krishnamachari Srikkanth, playing and missing on the up with his usual abandon, found the bails dislodged by the backswing of his bat. Thankfully for him, this particular fact remained unknown to the opposition. Sensing this, Srikkanth nonchalantly did his usual strut-about the crease, walked back to the wickets and replaced the bails. Why, one might have guessed he was doing the ump a good turn, putting the wickets back in order after the wind disturbed it.
That's the sort of charade that just isn't. Yes, the batsman gets to wage his battles another ball, another over, another session even, perhaps. The bowler is deprived of his legitimate wicket, and the umpire has simply fallen down on the job. Part of the game, you might say. The spirit of competition, perhaps. And the game goes on - except for one tiny bit. In living rooms around the planet, a million viewers chuckle to themselves grinning at the practised ease of the dupe they have just been witness to, and a million others throw up their hands in anger and frustration, taking turns to loathe the batsman's falsehood first, and then the umpire's inattention.
Yes, the camera doesn't lie. But the story it tells isn't always the one that goes into history books, memoirs and statistical volumes. That's the sort of disconnect we now have in the investigative matters that have become familiar to us. At every turn in this tale, a Dalmiya or a Richards, a Kapil Dev or a Cronje, is wont to make his own assertions, in apparent or actual expression of disgust at the accusers. And yes, on the recording side of the stadium, a stern-looking band of observers caution us that we must not be hasty to judge the innocent wrongly. Innocent until proven guilty, they tell us, wagging their fingers as if to say in their admonishing tones "you should know better than that".
Tell that to someone else. Me, I'm too busy watching the bails drop.
Mail Prem Panicker
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