Match referees need to use their powers

Hemang Badani is not one to lament his misfortune and waste time on lost opportunities. Instead this articulate, intelligent cricketer is right there, training hard and getting on with the task of scoring runs.-VIVEK BENDRE

The referee is supposed to control the game and supervise a million things and then submit a report. All of which is terrific in theory but the system collapses, as the men chosen for the assignment are incompetent, the appointment handed out to undeserving persons as some kind of loyalty bonus.

THE BCCI appoints match referees for Ranji with honest intentions, but as it works out this is just another instance of patronage handed out to buy support. The referee is supposed to control the game and supervise a million things (from state of the pitch, umpiring, player behaviour to marketing and sponsorship issues) and then submit a report. All of which is terrific in theory but the system collapses, as the men chosen for the assignment are incompetent, the appointment handed out to undeserving persons as some kind of laddoo and loyalty bonus.

Referees normally have little influence on the game, and are so ineffective that even their presence goes unnoticed. Some, the more enterprising ones, use the opportunity to holiday, they go shopping and see the sights while play is on. And the report? Forget it. Most referees are innocent of putting pen to paper, so either it is not written or even if it is, chances are nobody reads it.

Considering this, it was a surprise to see Srinivas (Chennai based former Railway medium pacer), referee for the Bengal-Delhi game, going about his business in dead earnest. As the ball jumped and squatted at Jamia's slow-low wicket, Srinivas carefully debated whether it was under-prepared, fit for play, unfair or just difficult. When Bengal's Shib Shankar Paul and Ranadeb Bose bowled long spells he kept track of the over-rate, mindful of the fact that bowling sides must ensure 90 overs in a day. Each time close-in fielders shrieked in appeal, and behaved as if they were from the Pune institute not NCA, Bangalore, Srinivas pondered whether this was a case of excessive appealing, a deliberate act to intimidate the umpires.

He was only doing his job seriously; the referee has vast powers specially about player behaviour. For identified breaches (which include intimidating/assaulting a spectator, apart from the usual clauses that cover dissent, unfair play and acts that bring cricket into disrepute) he can use his judgement to dock players up to 75 percent of their match fees of Rs. 30,000. For sluggish over-rates the penalties are fixed by the BCCI — if a side bowls five overs short players lose 20 percent of their fees, and beyond that it is a steep 40 percent. Interestingly, the referee can fine the batting side too for slow over-rates!

As it happened, Bengal thrashed Delhi in less than three days, the hosts looking disorganised and dispirited, lacking momentum or motivation. Whether this is a result of the general mess in DDCA or proof of absence of quality among players is difficult to decide but the team is nothing more than a collection of has-beens and never-to-be players. With seniors in miserable form and juniors not rising to make an impact the team resembles a patient with multiple ailments requiring immediate admission to the ICU. Sarandeep has paid the price for ordinary performances but for Delhi's fortunes to change seniors Amit Bhandari and Akash Chopra have to discover form and pride, and talented youngsters Shikhar Dhawan and Chetanya Anand must make a rapid move forward.

In contrast, Bengal was efficient and professional, certainly this was not the team that needed a massive slice of luck to avoid relegation to Plate last season. Their strength, at least on paper, rests on a correct combination of youth and experience, and a whole lot of bowling options. Their attack is nicely balanced, both medium pacers represented India recently. Against Delhi Paul kept a probing off stump line and pitched the ball up to take nine wickets for very little. Shukla's all-round skills have faded (he did not get a bowl in the second innings), off-spinner Sourashish Lahiri bagged five but left-arm spinner Shiv Sagar Singh has a long way to go to match the utility of Utpal da who could bowl unchanged for hours, and shut one end up by denying gifts to batsmen.

Deep Dasgupta is Bengal's skipper, following successive abdications by two previous captains Rohan and Sourav. Dewang Gandhi remains the main striker at the top of the order, the middle is held together, as shown in the Delhi match, by a composed Gavaskar while Laxmi Ratan Shukla is expected to provide flair and momentum later on. Add Sourav Ganguly to this combination, a dashing batsman and rediscovered first-change bowler, and you have a reasonable squad.

Tamil Nadu is a similar side, a mix of new and old, proven players on one side backed by talented youngsters on the other. The most prominent senior is Hemang Badani, a player who has played quite a few times for India but out of the frame at present which is surprising because runs at the domestic level are not a problem for him. Badani missed out last season when Balaji fractured his hand during practice, an injury which left him with a steel blade planted in his right forearm. It is disappointing, he says stoically, because you lose out, others get a chance and that pushes you back.

But Badani is not one to lament his misfortune, curse ill luck and waste time on lost opportunities. Instead this articulate, intelligent cricketer is right there, training hard and getting on with the task of scoring runs. The same, in a way, is the case with Sriram, another determined cricketer on the fringes of the big league. With them is Aashish Kapoor, a much travelled player who moved from Tamil Nadu to Punjab to Delhi to Rajasthan and then back to Tamil Nadu! But Tamil Nadu's competitive streak comes from its vibrant club structure, it is the only city that still provides regular jobs to players. This security attracts talent from outside and encourages youngsters — who have other options in life — to take to cricket and stay in the game.

Anirudha Srikkanth, TN's opening bat, plays like his dashing father. His partner is Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan (son of former player V. Sivaramakrishnan) who started out as a spinner while Badrinath, in the middle order, is solid, high on application, a player who puts his head down to frustrate the bowlers. Young spinner Ram Kumar has already made the Irani squad but TN's real riches are its pack of pacers led by Balaji (he missed this game because of a back strain), supported by Jesuraj, Kumaran and their latest weapon, left armer K. Naresh who bowled with spirit on the lifeless Railway track.