Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Umpires better managed than hounded

Umpiring is hot in India. Certainly as a topic for discussion if not as a career option! Just look at the ICC elite panel! But the ICC’s elite panel which has no Indians in it still continues to make Indians fume. “God, give me a break” is the title of the caption in the story which has an anguished Sachin Tendulkar on page 1 of the Times of India in Bangalore and quite possibly in other editions of the newspaper as well in other centres like Mumbai and Delhi. The umpires involved in, what the newspaper describes as shocking decisions against the little blaster are none other than Steve Bucknor, Simon Taufel, Ian Gould and the latest and perhaps the most visible offender? Aleem Dar! Not too many people left in the panel are there? In fact if the ferocious straight drive of M.S.Dhoni had carted the dapper Dar to the sightscreen along with the speeding ball the reaction of a few Indians at least, callous though it may seem, could well have been “He deserved it”. Why is it that we get the worst of the rub of the green? Is the whole world, match referees included, out to get us? Is there something that we are doing wrong?

So what’s new?
Contrary to what the young Indian believes, umpiring controversies are not a phenomenon specially designed to stop Tendulkar in his tracks but something that is as old as the willow itself. Of course the ire it created was more pronounced and perhaps even more violent when the umpires were from the same country that was waging battle. Some of the major achievements of post war Australian batsmen were looked at with a jaundiced eye by English supporters. Not even the great Don Bradman was spared. Remember Jack Ikin? As for umpires from Pakistan it might be worthwhile to remember what touring players like Ian Botham and Mike Gatting had to say about umpiring in Pakistan and visiting cricketers had their own choice description of our Indian umpires as well. However aggrieved we may be at the current rash of appalling umpiring decisions, it is perhaps worthwhile to remember that things sort of even themselves out in the long run though Indians might remember what J.M.Keynes said about all of us being dead in the long run!

Are Australians a favoured lot?
I have watched a lot of cricket over the last several years, not to forget the highlights, the reruns and the rereruns and something seems apparent to me. Australians seem to be more fortunate in the interpretation of the umpiring laws though one must say that they got the short end of the umpiring stick in 2005 when the Ashes changed hands. I am not sure how many front pages of Australian news papers carried Billy Bowden’s gaffes crooked finger et al! But otherwise it seems apparent to everyone but the officiating umpires that Hayden, Ponting and Langer seem to be struck on the pads more in front of the stumps than other less fortunate batsmen and live to smite the ball to all parts of the field. Shane Warne and Glenn Mcgrath have more appeals sanctioned than bowlers from other parts of the world. Warne has taken appealing to a new artistic level. Just last night I watched Warne spin a huge leg break in the Pro 40 final that was clearly missing off stump. The verdict? Out! Maybe our bowlers can learn to appeal better. Show more passion. Focus on the ones likely to get a nod rather than fritter away energies and success rates on iffy appeals. Let us not make such a hue and cry about umpiring errors. I did not see too much of a hue and cry about Robin Uthappa getting the benefit of an edge. Nor did anyone mind when Steve Bucknor did not give Sreesanth out in the first test match. He seemed lbw, thanks to the replays which make all of us such wonderful critics! Well we drew the match didn’t we? I wonder if any country humiliates umpires the way we do when they make an error. The poor umpires are grilled in front of television cameras and even made to apologize! Someone would think that they have fixed the game, the way our media treats them. I think our desire to tell the world how important we are I think works counterproductively against us. I think more mistakes are made against Indians not because the world dislikes us but because we put more pressure on the umpires. Like our cricketers carry the burden of a billion Indians one wonders if the umpires carry the fear of failure like the sword of Damocles whenever they officiate in an India match.

Better losers and winners
Winning is a rare phenomenon for us, so I guess we overreact when we are thwarted either by the opposition or the umpires, usually the latter. The umpire is doing his job. Often enough poorly it would seem, because we have the benefit of a squeaky snickometer or a faulty stumpvision. The solution is not technology. It is well accepted that it is still not perfect. Nor can you use technology selectively when it suits us. Just as we want players to sledge less, be more honest, let us also try to be more balanced. That way we would perhaps drink less, argue and fight less and waste less newsprint!
(Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)


Ram said...

Cant agree with you more. I thought the Dravid decision might have been actually a correct one as suggested by the snicko. Dravid himself says he wasn’t sure. The Sachin decision was a tough one since the bat hit the pad as the ball went past the bat. The Simon taufel decision to give sachin lbw in the nineties was not such a hugh error. As ian chappel says if the batsman is not playing a shot then the benefit of the doubt has to go to the bowler. Already the rules are heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen if the ball pitches outside leg. Warne might have taken 2000 wickets if that rule wasn’t there. It might not have benefited kumble much since he doesn’t spin the ball anyways. Coming back to the umpiring issue why do we always think that if sachin had not been given out at 30 he would have got a hundred. He might have been out at 35, 35 balls later which might have actually hampered India. It is precisiely to negate this human error component more batsmen have stopped walking( with exceptions like gilchrist and lara)so that they get the rub of the green in their favour and finally things even out. May be technology can be selectively introduced like each batsmen can get 3 appeals ( like the tennis line calls) to go to the third umpire.They need to stay at the crease long enough for that!

blr-quizfamily said...

read. need some lobbyists to handle umpires and others. being a cricket superpower (read money in cricket), we need some favourable treatment.

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

I agree Ram that the system is completely and totally in favour of batsmen.Yes we also assume that if the batsman is given out wrongly he would have made a hundred, and as you say rightly, he may well be out the very next ball!"