A fire station

JAVAGAL SRINATH has been made a Match Referee and he has all the attributes for the job.-NISSAR AHMAD

The ICC claims that international umpires get 95 % of their decisions right. If permitting the players to appeal against the decisions will increase that percentage, then it will definitely help the game.

A decade ago, former England opener and ICC Match Referee Raman Subba Row compared the ICC's laidback style with a post office. But the proactive way the ICC is functioning these days, it can be compared with fire stations. Around a dozen cricket experts of tremendous experience meet regularly in Dubai to initiate debate about improving the standard of the game. And when they do so, the points they raise are of a sufficient magnitude to draw a great deal of both praise and criticism.

The decision to allow players to appeal against the decisions of the umpires and Steve Bucknor's allegations against the producers, who are televising the matches, of doctoring images have already initiated debates. But if one analyses the intent behind these issues, it indicates that the people concerned are keen to make the game more professional. It is said that the ICC Cricket Committee is trying to Americanise the sportby introducing rules of American football.

There is nothing wrong in looking at the rules of other field games or the manner in which these games are organised. Haven't the Australians inducted a baseball coach to improve their fielding standard? Letting players appeal against umpiring decisions has been tried successfully in other field games. But when the authority of umpires in cricket is challenged by modifying rules, the umpires from the subcontinent are the ones to object immediately.

One expected umpires from England and Australia to question the decisions of the ICC Cricket Committee. Unlike the umpires from the subcontinent, umpiring is their priority profession and they have far more experience with many times more matches to their individual credit. But not a word has been said by them. Professional umpires have to be competent to handle crises everyday. And they must have realised that modifying certain rules will benefit both the umpires and the players as it will reduce the stakes on the umpires' margin of error and give a fair chance to players in appealing to the third umpire against some decisions.

The ICC claims that international umpires get 95 percent of their decisions right. If permitting the players to appeal against the umpires' decisions will increase that percentage, then it will definitely help the game. The ICC will also have to ensure that third umpires are appointed from a neutral country, just as the field umpires now are. In the subcontinent, with the level of politics that associations play, we get to watch some inefficient umpires simply because they have the contacts to outweigh their incompetence.

From the players' point of view, they will have to think about the appeal they will be making. If what Steve Bucknor is saying is true, then even appeals made by players against the umpiring decisions may not help improve matters. Yes, the images can be misleading, but we needed someone like Bucknor to say what most knew.

The solution to the problem is that the ICC should have their own production set-up because there is a growing tendency to show umpires in poor light. But when misleading images are shown and commented upon, umpires all over have the right to protest. Imagine an appeal made by a player against an umpiring decision and there is a misleading image that the third umpire is viewing to decide about the appeal. He will not be able to give a correct decision.

The job responsibilities of the Match Referee will also be important. In this regard the appointment of Javagal Srinath is welcomed by the cricketing fraternity, mainly because, having retired from cricket recently, he has witnessed the latest trend of players and that experience and his independent thinking would provide a good input.

Srinath's strength is thinking independently after assessing a situation. This has certainly helped him look at the larger picture. For a Match Referee, this aspect is essential. Interpreting law is as crucial as implementing it. It is unlikely Srinath will be found wanting in this new challenge.

What is important is that the Chairman of the ICC Cricket Committee, Sunil Gavaskar, as per the ICC rules, opted out of the selection process when one of five Indians was to be chosen for the Match Referee's job. Had that not happened, one more issue could have generated controversy.

For some time now, Gavaskar has been mistakenly projected as the BCCI representative in the ICC Cricket Committee, whereas the actual representative is Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. It's not Gavaskar but Pataudi who is expected to ensure that decisions taken by the committee do not adversely affect the game in the country, especially the tight schedule which the top Indian players are now openly objecting to. But as I had written in my last column, the ideal way is for the BCCI and the senior players to have a dialogue and not indulge in a public debate that will invariably degenerate into a free-for-all.