1948-49. India vs. West Indies Test at Braboune stadium (Bombay). On the final day, umpire Bapu Joshi called off play before time, and also goofed up the ball-count. Chasing 361, India were 355/8. Not only Joshi called a five-ball over, but also took the bails off, when a minute-and-a-half was still left. Multiple outcomes were possible, but Joshi led an anti-climax.
Six or five runs for Ben Stokes? Alas, cricketer-turned-umpire Kumar Dharmasena cuckooed, in the decisive encounter! The ICC WC 2019 witnessed such poor decisions, the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jason Roy, Chris Gayle becoming victims. Earlier, in an IPL match, umpire S.Ravi never had any suspicion whatsoever of Lasith Malinga’s huge overstepping! Lapses galore.
Umpiring, or the lack of it, continues to hog the spotlight. Some are complex situations, yet need rapid decision-making, especially when slow-motion replays show apparent misjudgements. People have gotten angrier at umpires, more because errors are scrutinised to greater extent than ever before.
There used to be stories making rounds that Javed Miandad was seldom given ‘out-LBW’ in Pakistan. In mid-eighties, many dubious decisions in the India-Pakistan series prompted a leading Indian daily carry a write-up, captioned “India XI vs. Pakistan-Xlll”. The premise that nationality alone would be the greatest cause of bias is, of course, not necessarily true. Though Decision Review System (DRS) has nearly eliminated the need for neutral-umpires, it has its own pangs.
Has DRS made umpiring easy or irksome? DRS has caused a lot of arguments, but also prevented innumerable others. You hear your decision reversed, and then, with a little humiliation, you have to publicly change your decision! It’s hard to move and zoom in on the next delivery. Remember, the technology exerts pressure to get it right the first time. Unlike a judge, umpires cannot adjourn decisions. Even the minutest errors are spotted with precision. These technologies may not be perfect, yet accepted for the better.
The Third-umpire has the tougher job out of the whole umpiring team. Bat-first or Pad-first? He, at times, had to use his own prudence. Nothing should go out to people in their living rooms that is missed by the TV-umpire. Though technology may have helped reduce umpiring lapses, it also exposes their blunders which otherwise would have escaped review and analysis.
Historically, the umpires were guarded in giving ‘LBW’ decision, and batsmen exploited this leaning, particularly against spinners. They would strive forward a long way, happily padding delivery after delivery. One wonders how many more wickets, spinners such as EAS Prasanna, Bishen Singh Bedi or an Abdul Qadir would have taken in their time, had DRS been around and their opponents been forced to play them with the bat rather than pads. Though TV technology majorly assisted umpires in decision-making, we don’t want every decision taken away from them. We still want a human-element, not robots.
Who knows, if only DRS had been around in the time of ‘Dickie Bird’, the game’s most revered official and a notorious ‘not-outer’, possibly he may not have been held in such high esteem. Don’t forget, Bird was given the ‘guard of honour’ in his last outing.
Ridiculous ‘Umpire call’
If hawk-eye shows half-a ball width contacting the bails/stumps, the batsman is ‘out’. Giving ‘not-out’ based on ‘umpire’s call’ is like arguing that a ‘caught-behind’ is valid only if there is a ‘thick-edge’. Or, if technology isn’t conclusive, extend the benefit of doubt to the batsman, not the umpire. After all, bowler gets a second chance, batsman doesn’t. ‘Umpire call’ should go.
Respect the verdict
Getting a bad decision doesn’t mean you lose your composure. Even a cool MS Dhoni stormed on to the field to confront the umpire over the withdrawal of a no-ball. Why not leave the ‘forensic auditing’ to the governing bodies?
Having said that, when Australian batsman Bancroft was caught in ball-tampering, technology came to the rescue of not only decision-making, but also helped manage player behaviour.
Though Dhoni crossed the line, it did underscore the debatable standard of umpiring. The grade is even poorer in the domestic tournaments, but goes unnoticed due to the absence of TV cameras. Not just Indian umpire, even ICC Elite panel officials from England and Australia commit howlers. Nigel Long even damaged a door of the umpire’s room at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore following a no-ball tiff.
Finally, it’s all about accepting ‘human error’. Results come and go, but who you are and how you play really defines you. If dropping catches and bowling full toss are errors on the field, so do umpires at times.
As long as you don’t walk after nicking a ball, without looking at the umpire, the ‘gentleman’ will miss the ‘game’. While some players even practise a ‘not-guilty’ reaction when they edge behind, a few coaches tell their batsmen ‘not to walk’. “Any batsman who stands at the crease knowing he is out, is in my book a cheat!”, said noted umpire David Shepherd.
The best compliment umpiring gets is when no one talks about umpiring!
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)