Addressing umpiring woes

S. Venkataraghavan set very high umpiring standards.-M. MOORTHY

With the inception of a more effective system of assessing the umpires, the players now can expect the standard of umpiring to improve considerably.

North Zone’s facile victory against West Zone in the Duleep Trophy final signalled the end of the domestic season as far as the duration games are concerned. The victory meant that the two major trophies for the season will be in and around the Indian Capital, as Delhi had won the Ranji Trophy a few weeks ago.

While the Duleep Trophy without doubt has its own pride of place in Indian cricket, the final of the premier domestic tournament was overshadowed by the IPL auction. This is yet another pointer to the fact that Twenty20 is slowly but steadily corroding the significance of the longer version of the game.

Nevertheless, the hopefuls and the discards would have gone about their endeavours in right earnest to perform and stake their claims for places in the National side sometime in the future. While the domestic season had its share of joys and agonies, the BCCI started an initiative to address the one common grievance of the cricketers — umpiring.

Over the last few years, the one thing that the coaches and captains of all the state sides agreed upon at the annual meeting was the poor standard of umpiring. The BCCI decided on an effective way of assessing the standard of umpiring by recording all the first-class matches on tape. Besides, an umpiring coach was appointed for every game to monitor and assist the on-field umpires. The appointment of the umpiring coach lent some moral support to the umpires as they benefited from his views during the breaks. This enabled the umpires to minimise their mistakes by focusing on aspects they were inadvertently ignoring.

At the end of the season, the tapes were studied by the former India captain and ICC’s Elite Panel umpire, S. Venkataraghavan. He assessed the umpires and graded them on the basis of their performances.

The assessment process would have probably gone through subjectively but for the presence of a perfectionist like Venkat in the committee. He apparently assessed the umpires on their overall efficiency (quite rightly too) rather than just the percentage of good and bad decisions they handed out. For instance, several bowlers in the domestic circuit with suspect action were identified from the videos and a list has been given to the BCCI for further action. I am not quite sure if someone else other than Venkat would have paid such attention to detail.

Obviously, it is the umpires’ job to either call a bowler for chucking or at least report bowlers with suspect action to the match referee. Such reports might have been made by some umpires and match referees, but unfortunately in some cases there has been no significant follow-up action to rectify the bowlers. The inertia in not doing the needful with regard to bowlers with suspect action has been as great a problem as poor umpiring. Here again, the umpires have to be held responsible as they have enough provisions in the laws to do something about such bowlers. The umpires must realise that they are not doing either the game or the players any favour by ignoring bowlers with suspect action.

With the inception of a more effective system of assessing the umpires, the players now can expect the standard of umpiring to improve considerably. But the mere introduction of the assessment process is not enough as the supply is more than the demand when it comes to umpiring. A group of 10 top umpires must be sent to United Kingdom on an exchange programme to help them gain more experience and also broaden their views on handling the players effectively. I have suggested the UK as the English season does not coincide with the Indian season. Besides, there will be more days of umpiring in a span of say two to three months.

Performances can be enhanced only with more opportunities and by being in touch with the sphere of activity that one wants to excel in. Just as the players are bound to improve their game by practising regularly and playing more matches, the umpires too can raise their standards with more opportunities.

Despite all the complaints and misgivings that players have about umpires, they are empathetic towards them. It is of paramount importance that the umpires are provided all possible support as their part is a very important aspect of the game. There is very little scope for the overall improvement of the game if the standard of umpiring is allowed drop.

There are some really good umpires in the Indian circuit who are discontent that they are not elevated to the ICC’s Elite Panel. However, ambition must be backed by consistency. Venkat set high standards during his tenure in the Elite Panel; he did it because of his never-ending quest to improve. Now that Venkat is actively involved with the umpiring fraternity, the current lot of umpires would do well to glean some useful knowledge from him. Thereby they can improve upon their performances, which would give the coaches and captains very little to complain about in the future post-season meetings.