Rediff Logo World Cup 99
May 21, 1999

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Pointing a finger at the umpiring

R Mohan

The more things change, the more they remain the same. The French saying to that effect holds good most in the kind of human errors seen in umpiring.

The World Cup of '99 might set some kind of record in the kind of umpiring mistakes committed by the men in brown coats not only on the field of play but in the third umpire's room too.

Some extraordinary decisions came from the elderly umpire Ken Palmer in the television umpire's position in the match between South Africa and Sri Lanka. The tournament favourites were so incensed by the decision that they used the anger as a motivational tool in their rousing win when defending the meagre target of 200.

There have been errors not only of commission, as in the Palmer incidents involving decisions of caught off a rebound from a fielder, but in what was a clear case of 'bumped ball' and of 'caught' again when the fielder Vass, on the line, was hardly in control of the ball which he threw into the field in order to save the six.

There have also been errors of omission as in Darrel Hair and his colleagues refusing to consult the television umpire when there was an element of doubt over whether Merv Dillon was bowled in the match against Pakistan.

The rules governing the consulting of their television colleague support the umpires. But it would have been in the spirit of the game had they cleared their doubt by asking a person who was in a far better position to see what exactly happened. By not consulting the television, the umpires were casting doubts on the wicket-keeper having clipped the bails sneakily.
On that occasion, Moin Khan was not guilty on that count.

In the higher stages of the competition, such errors may tilt close matches. And yet the organising committee has drawn up umpiring duties in such a way as to honour umpires who were or still are on the ECB's national panel but are not in the international panel of umpires doing duty in the middle in this World Cup.

The logistics of the 30-match league are such it may not be easy to post only international umpires to television duties but there are grave fears over whether such a policy of appointing umpires not fully equipped to adjudicate in tricky situations should be asked to preside over crucial aspects of play and umpiring.

By not equipping the grounds with the 'line decision' cameras at fixed positions on both sides of the wicket at square leg, the World Cup of '99 has also saved itself some money. Such cameras can decide run-outs and stumpings to within a fraction of an inch, and without having its line of vision occluded by fielders or batsmen getting in the way of the cameras operated by cameramen to follow the course of the ball in play.

England has been known for its fondness to uphold the traditions of the game. But by being rigid on umpiring matters, the element of human error is being allowed to run riot.

It would be much fairer to harness today's near magical film technology to eliminate human error as much as possible.

To have a World Cup decided by fortunes other than the regular ones, those that already govern the game in what are well known as the glorious uncertainties of cricket, is to be inexact in the modern age. To have banned the use of communications technology in coaching the players when they are on the field, on the grounds of inadequate notice may have been inevitable. But should the game not adapt rapidly improving technology to help the hapless men in the coloured coats in the middle?


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