Don't tinker too much with umpiring

The point is we can never ever do away with umpiring errors. There have been cases when the third umpire, with all the replays of the world available, has arrived at the wrong decision!


Sri Lankan captain Hashan Tillekeratne (right) joins the three umpires — from left to right: Billy Doctrove, Daryl Harper and Billy Bowden — on the ground at St. Lucia during the recent Test match against the West Indies. The fourth day's play was abandoned owing to inclement weather. The author says that umpires' confidence should not be undermined by the use of more and more technological aids.-Pic. AP

WITH so much technology being used these days, umpiring was always bound to come under scrutiny. No wonder, umpiring or rather changes in this extremely crucial area, were discussed in the recent International Cricket Council meeting.

Over the years, specifically from the late 80s, we have seen some sweeping changes in umpiring. First, we had the concept of neutral umpires, and now we have two of them for a Test match. And there were no third umpires during my playing days. As the television coverage improved, the third umpire became an integral part of the game. Now the flashing of red and green lights has become all too familiar a sight at the cricketing venues around the world.

Although technology has made things easier for the umpires, especially in the case of close stumpings and run-outs, it has also put enormous pressure on them when it comes to some other decisions. The television cameras, catching the action from so many angles, hardly miss anything, and all those slow motion replays do not make it any easier for the umpires, when it comes to thin edges and tight leg-before calls.

The umpire has to make up his mind in a matter of seconds. He does not have the benefit of the countless replays. It is indeed a thankless job, where the mistakes tend to get highlighted. Technology is a double-edged sword, and I am sure most umpires would agree with this view. All these replays suggest that the umpires have become sitting targets, with just about everyone having a tilt at them.

There were some interesting suggestions made during the ICC meeting including the use of a white line, from stump to stump, that would enable an umpire to have a better idea of whether the ball pitched in line.

Now, I understand that the ICC does not have any plans of introducing this experiment in the near future in international cricket. I believe the idea would be first tried out in practice conditions and domestic cricket.

I do not think white lines, dotted or not, will help matters. Instead, they would make a batsman's job tougher. The lines, undoubtedly, would prove a huge distraction for the men holding the willow.

I remember that even if there was a little feather on the pitch, I would stop the bowler in his tracks, and get it out of the way before resuming again. Just imagine permanent white lines along the pitch!

In the case of the white ball pitching on the white line, the batsman could so easily lose sight of it. I am sure, there would be quite a few batsmen complaining.

Even in the case of the umpires, it is hardly going to make a noticeable difference. They would still have only a fraction of a second to see where the ball pitched.

The proposed move to have a third on-field umpire, to oversee the no-balls alone, sounds a better idea though. The umpires, especially, during tense moments, might find it hard to concentrate on where the bowler's front foot is at the point of release. There are occasions when an umpire's view can be obstructed by a bowler's rear leg too. An additional umpire can certainly take some load off the standing men, so that they can focus better on the other aspects.

The proposal to enable the umpires to use microphones might not help a great extent either, since they can hear confusing sounds. Meanwhile, it could distract them from their basic job that of watching intently.

The point is the game should be free from too many interruptions. This not only affects the concentration of the batsmen but can also mar the rhythm of a bowler. Cricket should be free flowing, both for the players and the spectators, who can only then enjoy it.

Technology to an extent is all right. But not to the point where the umpires become dummies. That would hurt the very soul of the game.

Let's remember that the umpires are on the field, bearing the worst of the weather, on all the days of a match. The cricketers get a break, but at no point can the umpires leave the ground.

I think we should not tinker too much with umpiring. If the ICC selects a panel of Elite umpires, then it should display sufficient faith in them. Reducing their powers would serve little purpose.

We had this experimental rule during the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, last September and October, where any decision could be referred to the third umpire, whether it is for a leg-before shout or a caught behind appeal.

The standing umpires were marginalised during that tournament, with the television umpire becoming quite the most important man. In fact, the standing umpires were under so much stress that even some of the routine decisions were being passed on to the third umpire.

The umpires were clearly wary that if they got it wrong, they would come under the line of fire for not using a facility when it was available. I could clearly see that their confidence was being undermined.

Good and bad decisions are a part of the game. A cricketer picks up a lot about the game and its swings in fortunes as he grows up, and learning to accept a rough decision is part of that process.

The umpires are human like all of us. When the greatest of cricketers can have a forgettable game, it is perfectly possible that the most competent of umpires can have a bad day.

Comments will always be aired. It is the job of the commentators to single out mistakes. Similarly, it is the duty of the umpires to just get on with the job.

The point is we can never ever do away with umpiring errors. There have been cases when the third umpire, with all the replays of the world available, has arrived at the wrong decision!

The umpires already have an extremely demanding job to perform. Let's not make it any harder for them.