It's a tightrope walk for the umpires

Bold enough... Darrell Hair has been among the few umpires who have shown the courage to call bowlers for chucking.-AP

Empowering the on-field umpires with the discretion to call bowlers for chucking is a bold decision by the BCCI. However, it will be interesting to see to what extent the umpires will exercise the power bestowed on them.

The IPL-5 is underway and even though it is early days, the turnout at the various venues has been more than encouraging. The cricket fans have made it clear that they are not going to sit back and brood over the dismal performances of the Indian team in the recent past. This coupled with the signing of the TV rights contract will obviously make the BCCI officials think that the financial year could not have started better.

The IPL opening ceremony may not have delighted one and all, but the fans are looking at the main product — quality cricket — and they have got it in the matches played so far. The BCCI has done a good job of subtly separating the entertainment aspect from cricket and a few directives issued by the apex body well and truly reflect the seriousness of the administrators in improving the quality of the sport.

The BCCI has set guidelines regarding pitches, which is a step in the right direction as all the franchisees play to their strengths in their own backyard. The results of the matches played so far would have been different had the guidelines not been issued. However, the bigger challenge will be in ensuring that the pitches remain hard right through the tournament. The peak summer sun will be a deterrent as it will bake the pitches and the curators will need to work hard, and also with imagination to sustain the standards set in the earlier rounds.

The other bold directive from the BCCI is empowering the on-field umpires with the discretion to call bowlers for chucking. The umpires have been vested with the power to go by their naked eye, which is going against the grain as the procedures are different as per the ICC guidelines. Since the IPL is a BCCI tournament, it is within its limits to tweak the playing conditions. It will be interesting to see to what extent the umpires will exercise the power bestowed on them. For those who are courageous and are currently on the ICC panel, it will be a major conflict of interest to call an international bowler in the IPL for chucking and not do so in international cricket in the future.

Primarily, the umpires are employed all round the year by the ICC and as such they would rather play it safe. On the other hand, there are some who are not in the ICC panel as yet, but they will not take the bold step of calling any bowler lest their careers be jeopardised. Remember Darrell Hair. Of course, there are enough and more bowlers who are almost daring the umpires and referees in the current edition of the IPL, but the way the ICC has handled the malady of chucking over the years has created a myriad of practical issues for the umpires as well as the administrators.

The BCCI is right in that it wants the laws of the game to be adhered to, but given the fact that not many umpires have great tightrope-walking skills to do their jobs in a manner that offends none, one can rest assured that they will turn a blind eye with regard to the flex of the elbow. In a way, it is better that the umpires don't call for chucking as it might boomerang on Indian cricket. There are some so called “talented” young bowlers who are not only flexing their elbows but completely disregarding even the 15-degree allowance that the ICC has given. The irony of it all is that the slower bowlers are perhaps more culpable than the medium or fast bowlers, but it is impossible for the umpires to take a call as there is no guarantee of what the consequences are likely to be, as we are in an era where scientists are most sought after by the aggrieved to bail them out with compelling information. Who knows, a bowler called for chucking might employ the services of a leading oculist and go on to establish that it is not possible for the naked eye to see how much flex is employed by a bowler, taking into account parameters like the distance from which the umpires are watching and the time available for the umpire to see. In the event that happens, the umpire will become the most convenient entity to be used as the fall guy.

The intent of the BCCI may not achieve the desired results as the laws stand now, but it can always take up the matter seriously with the ICC to revise the laws pertaining to chucking. It may be criticised initially by other nations, but like the UDRS, the BCCI might well end up having the last laugh which obviously is the best. Until such time the ICC decides to take hard decisions to put an end to the chucking menace, there is nothing that can be done by either the umpires or the administrations of the various Boards across the world. Since the BCCI has been on a roll of late, this may well be the time to take the matter up with the ICC.