There have been two incidents in the past couple of months that
should make the game's controlling bodies sit up and take notice.
The ICC have done some admirable work -- and they are not normally
known to be a quick decision-making authority -- in the area of
umpiring and television replays. Now, they need to go one step
When India played Pakistan at Karachi, the third umpire Mr Riazuddin,
produced a shocker when he ruled Shahid Afridi not out on a stumping
appeal. The wicketkeeper had fumbled with the ball, but the batsman
was way out when he was legally stumped. And again at Nagpur, Mr
Godbole provided another example of a decision that should really
have gone the other way.
When the idea of a television replay was introduced, everybody
hoped it would be completely foolproof; that there would never
again be a mistake with run-outs, stumpings and no-balls. Here,
every one believed, was a miracle gadget.
What they did not take
into account was the finger of the man who presses the button.
It is very easy to say that Messrs. Riazuddin and Godbole are
incompetent. To my mind, that would not be completely fair. I suspect
the problem lay in the fact that they were inexperienced. And
that is where the ICC and the home authorities need to take a
very firm stand.
They have to ensure that only experienced umpires -- ideally, only
Test panel umpires -- are given the replay jobs to do. There is
a temptation at the moment, a most bizarre temptation really, to
hand out the job to whoever the local association recommends.
This is completely incomprehensible; a bit like asking an amateur
photographer with an auto-focus camera to judge a photo-finish.
Like the men in the middle, the replay umpire too should be able
to handle the pressure. That comes with experience. Something
which also minimizes the chance of one man trying to become a
hero by coming up with a sensational decision. Umpire Gobble may
well have been telling himself, 'I saw something in that replay
that nobody else did. Here's my chance to become the star!'
went for red!
That is not being fair to anyone, least of all to the players.
Anil Kumble might well believe that he was robbed of a century.
And given that he hasn't made one in Test cricket, he probably
lost out on something special. The umpires are present precisely
to prevent mistakes like these, and surely that must convince everyone
that the care taken in appointment of umpires should extend to
the man in front of the box.
For some reason, out Board believes that everything other than
a Test match is an opportunity to experiment. We saw that last
year, when 20 umpires were used for 10 Titan Cup games. If we have
22 umpires (the 20 used plus the two ICC panel umpires) capable
of standing in international cricket, we should have the finest
men in the world. That is not true. In fact, no country can have
so many competent umpires. They just don't grow on trees.
Now, the free gifts are being doled out to replay umpires. It
is acts like these that bring down our prestige in the cricket
world. Remember too, that because we have virtually no televised
domestic cricket, our umpires are not very well tuned to what
television can do and what it cannot.
It might be a very good idea to request a top TV producer or director
to come down to India and organize a training session for our
first class umpires (if that requires an unusually large conference
room, you could limit it to our top 20). He could talk to them
about camera angles, about the different replays they can ask
for, even about how technology can help them give decisions
when it seems that the view is obscured. More important, he can
tell them about the limitations of the camera and therefore, about
what they need to watch out for.
Given the profound impact television is having on cricket, it
makes sense for an umpire to understand the medium as well as
he does the laws of the game. But for this to happen, somebody
in the administration has to be sensitive to the needs of the
people who matter. On that count, the BCCI hasn't come out with
flying colors lately.
It is a bit depressing to see the country's cricketing prestige
being lowered because not enough people care. This unfortunate occurrence
with the third umpire is only really a symptom. But then, should
we be complaining when we can't even given him a separate room
to sit in?