Bring third umpire more into play

Published : Oct 23, 2004 00:00 IST

ANY keen follower of cricket knows that when a batsman is dropped during an innings he is given a `life.' In that case when he is declared `out' it's death for him.

ANY keen follower of cricket knows that when a batsman is dropped during an innings he is given a `life.' In that case when he is declared `out' it's death for him. And when he gets the dirty end of the stick from an umpire of the elite panel, he has good reason to feel upset. Though the wrong decision most certainly stems only from human error and no bias can be attributed, the end result is that the poor batsman's tenure at the crease is terminated for no fault of his.

Ever since the third umpire, or the TV umpire as he is also known, was introduced during the India-South Africa series in November 1992, a raging debate has been going on as to what his powers are. The resistance to the use of technology has gradually abated and more and more rulings are now within the ambit of the third umpire. At first it was thought that the technology would make the on-field umpires redundant and therefore there was much reluctance to use it. There were also some fears that the on-field umpires would be subject to post-match enquiries as the probing cameras would highlight their errors, but that was bound to happen.

The third umpire usually gives his ruling when the on-field umpires are unsure. With the help of television replays, the third umpire is able to reach a conclusion after which he gives his decision via a signal light system. In the event that the TV umpire too is unable to get a clear picture, the benefit of the doubt again goes to the batsman. Over the years, the TV umpire has been asked to assist in dismissals such as run-outs, stumped, caught and hit-wicket. The time has now arrived for assisting in bat-pad catches as well as leg-before wicket decisions (inner-edges) where the camera can make the decision more fool-proof. The use of TV technology has also been tried out on a trial basis during international tournaments for assisting in no-ball calls and whether the ball pitched outside the leg stump to decide leg before appeals.

The umpires on field, however, cannot be blatantly castigated for their wrong decisions. They have to work in adverse conditions with their concentration disturbed by thousands of fans roaring noisily every moment of the match. Depending solely on their eyes and ears, the on field umpires are prone to making mistakes when they are tired and mentally exhausted. Dust and haze often make visibility poor and worse still the cricketers exert huge pressure with incessant appealing. The stakes are so high now that every side wants to win at any cost.

The recent Bangalore Test will certainly go down as one of the matches remembered for the poor decisions handed out by the neutral umpires. From the first day when New Zealand's Billy Bowden deemed it appropriate to go to the third umpire when Parthiv Patel appealed for a caught behind, almost every day of the match witnessed confused umpiring both by Billy Bowden and Steve Bucknor.

It may have had no real material bearing on the outcome of the match, but the fallibility of the umpires was underscored and that is a strong case for using the technology available to ensure that correct decisions are made AS FAR AS POSSIBLE. To be fair on Billy Bowden and Steve Bucknor, erroneous decisions have occurred in almost every series around the cricket playing countries.

The Pakistan-England series in 2001 in UK showed that the umpires missed calling no-balls on a number of occasions and some four of these missed calls resulted in wicket-taking deliveries. Once again it was a case of a batsman being given out when he clearly was not out. At Old Trafford, during that series, Pakistan won the match when a different result could have ensued.

Ironically, prior to the commencement of the present India-Australia series, the Board of Control for Cricket in India got involved in a legal wrangle on the issue of the telecast of the matches. When the BCCI asked if the series could be played without TV coverage, the ICC insisted that a third umpire was a pre-requisite for making the series `official.' Malcolm Speed, the ICC Chief Executive, made it clear also that the TV Umpire had to have adequate facilities.

Why then should the third umpire, who is in a better position to make more accurate judgments be a mute spectator to a blatantly wrong decision? The theory of the human factor in cricket and the possible time delays just don't wash. Also it has been said in defence of the umpires that batsmen often are judged not out when they are plumb in front and the two wrongs cancel each other. Here again why settle for a wrong decision when the right one can be made?

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