Pitches & umpiring: sore issues still

Sunil Gavaskar... an excellent suggestion to do away with doctoring of pitches.-RAJEEV BHATT

THE new regime of the Board of Control for Cricket in India is busy exploring all avenues to generate a huge amount of money. This is an excellent approach, and well done, BCCI. The game needs money and it's good to see it being marketed aggressively, but there are a few other issues which the BCCI should also address immediately.

For far too long, we have been discussing the standard of pitches and umpiring, but nothing has been done to actually improve either. Though in the Captains' and Coaches' Conclave, pitches and umpiring are discussed, we still don't see any improvement.

In the last Conclave, there was a suggestion that Ranji Trophy matches should be of five days duration instead of four days. This season, most of the games are getting over in four days and the Indian Railways has shown us how to take Indian cricket backwards by preparing rank bad turners. Delhi too did the same thing.

Now that the BCCI is likely to increase the prize money, you can expect more associations to prepare bad pitches so that they can win more matches. Sunil Gavaskar had suggested that the option of batting or fielding should be given to the opposition. But this would have effectively ruined the reason for preparing bad pitches, and none of the associations were willing to `sacrifice' their `home-advantage.'

What Gavaskar suggested was the ideal solution. But, unfortunately, most of the associations have a hand in this particularly sticky treacle-jar. Even those associations, which produce good pitches, are not willing to forgo a future `need' to prepare a bad pitch. This is a problem rooted in `pragmatism'. What then is the pragmatic solution?

Monetary penalties don't solve problems because the associations are perfectly willing to cough up the money. Many former cricketers feel that the only way the bad-pitches trend can be stopped is by deducting four points (points for an outright win) as penalty for the host association. But for this to happen, we have to have match referees of integrity and knowledge.

Once the BCCI thinks of deducting four points as penalty and appoints good match referees, associations will stand to lose if they prepare bad pitches. Another solution is to have a zonal pitch committee, which should meet regularly and chalk out a plan. What is the necessity of having a committee to inspect international centres before a Test or ODI?

If an association produces a bad pitch for an international match, the ICC will ban that venue for future international games. It is for the domestic games that the pitches are `doctored'. If a member of the zonal committee inspects a pitch before a Ranji Trophy tie or matches in junior tournaments and reports to the BCCI about its quality, the erring association could be penalised immediately after the match.

Some of the Talent Resource Development Officers (TRDOs) watching junior matches have complained about poor pitches. On one of the grounds, a lofted shot after landing came back to the batsman! Conditions in smaller venues, according to them, were terrible. Shouldn't the BCCI be taking action? Umpiring is another area of concern. That, in the ICC panel of umpires, India doesn't have a representative is a shame. Nowhere in the world are so many matches played (532 ) as in our country, yet the quality of Indian umpiring is deteriorating rapidly. Not only are the umpires, in increasing instances, quite ignorant of many of the rules of the game, but they are also unable to control the rowdy behaviour of players.

Sairaj Bahutule was the only cricketer to be sent off the field by the umpires in this current season, but there were quite a few situations that one saw when the umpires could have either sent a player off the field or reported him to the match referee. The BCCI will have to seriously consider the system of other field games of yellow and red cards. Let the people know what action is taken. At the moment everything is done behind closed doors.

One would like to know what steps are being taken to improve the standard of umpiring in India. Shouldn't the BCCI have a committee consisting of S. Venkataraghavan and some senior umpires? And why are the services of former first class cricketers who are qualified umpires not used?

And finally the decision of the National Cricket Academy to have zonal branches must be welcomed. With the amount of junior cricket (325 BCCI matches) in our country, we don't have a proportionate number of good qualified coaches to constantly monitor the technical progress of the teenagers, the majority of whom are from the districts. The zonal academies can help players rectify flaws and enhance their skills.

The BCCI's intent of taking measures to identify and sort out problems is commendable and definitely to the benefit of Indian cricket, especially junior cricket. But they need to keep in mind that all this talk about generating big money through marketing is good only as long as that money is invested back in the game to sort out major cricketing problems.